Origin Spotlight: Kenya May 18 2013
You may be wondering how we chose the two single origin coffees we're currently offering (Kenya and Sumatra) out of all the different places around the world growing the trees producing this most tasty of beverages. The truth is, it was a tough decision. There are so many great coffees and such a variety of flavor profiles out there that choosing only two seemed to limit us- that's why our single origin selections will rotate throughout the year. The two we have now, though, were chosen for two main reasons.
First, they were chosen because they represent the two ends of the coffee spectrum. On the one hand, Sumatra produces a quintessentially earthy and rustic coffee, while Kenyan coffees are usually much brighter, with cherished floral and winey notes. The former is heavy and brooding, the latter light and fruity. It's this contrast we hoped to show off with our selections.
Second, we thought Kenya was a logical place for us to start because coffee itself got its start in eastern Africa. The arabica coffee tree was originally found growing wild in the forests of Kenya's neighbor Ethiopia, but it was Kenya that established what is probably the most viable coffee industry on the continent. This has turned the country into a real driver of coffee production in Africa with well-educated smallholder farmers, a meticulous sorting process, and a streamlined system to bring coffee to market.
Arabica coffee tree
All this started when a group of missionaries carried coffee of the Bourbon varietal from Ethiopia to the Kiambu district just north of Nairobi in the late 19th century. The few trees they planted grew into an industry that today consists of over half a million smallholder farmers organized into 275 coffee cooperatives (or "societies" as they're locally known) contributing alongside the relatively sparse 1,200 or so coffee plantations to an annual harvest large enough to elevate the country to 18th in world coffee production.
These plantations and cooperatives send their harvests to one of eight wet mills in the country where the coffee tree's cherry is initially processed and sorted according to screen size (where it may be assigned the commonly encountered AA or AB rating). The coffee continues its journey through one of Kenya's three marketing agents to the enormous auction house in Nairobi, where it is cupped and purchased by any of the fifty or so members, or exporters, there.
The enormous auction house in Nairobi
By the time the coffee been ends this long journey in our mugs, it has become something truly unique and exceptional. Everything from the careful attention of the farmer to the meticulous selection in the auction house has combined to create a bright cup with complexity that touches on diverse notes ranging from one end of the tasting spectrum to the other.
Unfortunately, all this is currently threatened by the political instability developing throughout the region. Most importantly, this could serious affect the lives of those living there, but it could also force farmers to replace the high quality coffee varietals currently in use there (especially SL-28 and SL-34) with varietals of a higher disease resistance but poorer quality taste in the cup (such as Ruiri-11). Hopefully neither of these will ever come to pass, as many in the coffee industry are working in the area to restore stability to Kenya- a country working hard to bring us some of the best coffee on the planet.