Tuesday, January 31, 2012

LAT 09.02.12

It’s time to put up or shut up!

L.A.T. is back for the new year with guns blazing!

The scene is set for the 9th of February 2012 at 20:00 at TCC Torvehallerne. We’re looking at two hours of steaming, pouring madness and fierce competition. The competion will start at eight and end when the final cup’s been poured and last bottle opened. Anybody can enter wether your a working barista or just a homegrown milk-slinging bandit. The machine will be available an hour before the competition starts if you want to familiarize yourself with the beast. A 10 kr. entryfee will get your name on the board and a simple draw will point out your first opponent. It will be a one-on-one format, three neutral judges will point out who will get to proceed while the loser gets to hang back and drink beer. At the end the latte art champion will run away with everything – being the entry fee pot.

So, get in gear, grab your milk jugs, steam skills, steady hands and join us for a night of cheap beers and milky goodness.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Kenya 2012 Part 2: Kieni, Gichathaini, Karatu and more...

This second part will be a bit more about the trip we had. I had the pleasure of travelling with Mathias Peterson from Sigfreds Kaffebar in Aarhus, who we are proud to say is now solely using our coffee.

We began our trip with morning cupping sessions at Dormans in Nairobi, together with Bridget, Kennedy and Daniel. Lots of AAs and AB, which were going on the aution the following day. At first we were quite surprised how low the quality was on most of the coffees, but since this was the first auction of the season, everything was early crop. We were happy to hear that harvest this year is very big, more than double the year before and there’s a high percentage of AA.

After the cupping we became a bit concerned that maybe we had arrived too early. The early pickings just don’t taste as good as what come in later, in our experience. But two coffees stood out in that first cupping; Kieni and Karatu. However, we would see later that for our coffees the timing was perfect.

In the afternoon we drove up to Nyeri to the Central Kenya Coffee Mill, where one of my favourite cuppers is to be found; Ernest Njuguna. Not only is he a great cupper but also a very nice and laid back guy. We immediately started making a list of coffees to cup early the next morning. We selected 12 coffees based on Ernest’s recommendations, our previous experiences from cupping there and from the cupping at Dormans. It was hard to narrow it down to 12, but we managed. After several visits we have a pretty good idea about which facotries we like, and Ernest cups everything that come through the mill, so he knows which coffees are good. We had coffees from several societies, including Mugaga, Tekangu, Murue, and Gikanda.

We decided to blind cup the coffee the next morning, not to be biased towards certain factories. All the coffees except two were really good. So good I would be happy to buy and roast them. Four of them were exceptional. And three really stood out for us.

The first one was super sweet and clean and classic top Kenya, with black currant and blackberry notes. But it has an extra layer of a deep floral aroma, somewhat like Jasmine but even heavier (I’m not that strong on flowers, sorry). The second was intensely aromatic and with the best acidity I’ve tasted in a long time. Citrus, gooseberries, elderflower and a vibrant, mouth watering acidity. The last one was more full bodied, syrupy sweet with bergamot/orange peel aromas.

We pretty much went nuts over these coffees. So I couldn’t help smiling like an idiot when we turned the bags and the coffees were Kieni, Gichathaini and Karatu. The same two coffees we bought last year plus a new one. I was glad to have both Ernest and Mathias there who had agreed with me before, so I couldn’t just write it off as being used to the taste profiles of Kieni and Gichathaini.

We decided to do a second cupping, with the best ones and e few new, plus three different lots from Kieni - and also to find a coffee specifically for Sigfreds. The past three years, they’ve had coffee from the Murue Society in Embu. Another district about 100 km east of Nyeri. The factory Kianyangi, where they bought from last year, won the regional award for that area. But the Karatu really had caught his eye and just tasted amazing. Both Casper and I had loved that coffee the year before as well and know they deliver amazing quality.

In the second cupping it was again clear which coffees we wanted. And that the first picked lots didn’t cup nearly as well as the later ones. So our timing turned out to be great. Although there was only one or two lots in from the Tekangu society factories, all but the final picking was in from Kieni. And since we needed a lot more coffee than last year, we had to take two full week lots of AAs. Of course it would have been nice to cup all the coffees from the other societies as well, but we’re very happy that we’re able to continue to buy and support the Kieni and Gichathaini factories.

In the afternoon we got a tour of the demonstration plot that the agronomists, Philip Kamau and Philip Home, use to teach farmers about good growing practices. Philip & Philip are very kind and knowledgeable people and showed us a lot of stuff about how to germinate and grow coffee, insects, pests, fungi, keeping water at farm level and pruning. I could have written a whole blog post on that subject alone.

The rest of the days, after morning cupping sessions, we went to visit the different factories and societies.

So as mentioned in my last post, Kieni is part of the Mugaga Farmers Cooperative Society Ltd. Kieni currently have around 900 active members, who elects the board and chairman. Total production this year (2011/2012) up to the week we visited was 561.740 kg cherry plus another 15.000 on the way from the very last picking, where the trees are cleaned. That will amount to around 1.500 bags green coffee for export total of all sizes and grades. They were getting close to 50% AA out of that though, which is really impressive.

Peter Macharia is the Factory Manager. In a lot of the societies the factory managers rotate on a two year basis between the factories. So Geofrey Wanjau, who was there the last two years we visited is now at one of the other mills (don’t know which one). The factory manager really is key to the success, and we heard good things about the very experienced Peter. It’s part of his job to help educate the members and he’ll determine which days the member should pick and deliver cherry to the mill. He oversees the depulping, fermentation, washing, drying and resting. So naturally we feel we should thank him for a large part of the quality we experience on the cupping table.

Charles Musai Ihatu is the Kieni Factory Chairman. He’s a very tall guy with a clear sense of the importance of continuously developing the quality of the coffee to make sure that Kieni can sell to buyers like us. We met him several times last year and also got to cup with him.

Map of the Kieni factory:

Last year we spent a lot of time at the mill, trying to understand fully what they do there. Something that had caused us a bit of confusion at that time, was how exactly the fermentation happens. We had heard numbers of fermentation up to 72 hours, which seemed like a very long time. What happens is this:

  1. Depulping
  2. First fermentation in first row of tanks, from afternoon/evening till next morning, approx 10 hours.
  3. Intermediate washing. After the first fermentation the coffee is washed with clean water while it is moved into a second fermentation tank. According to one of the agronomists around 80-90% of the mucilage (that sticky sugar goo that surrounds the parchment bean) is removed in this process, but especially at that little line in the middle of the flat surface of the bean, there’s some left. Some mills only have one set of fermentation tank, which can be perfectly fine, but makes the intermediate washing somewhat more difficult.
  4. Second fermentation, somewhere between another 10 and up to 48 hours. The last bit of mucilage will be easily removed by then, and of course it’s important that the coffee doesn’t over-ferment.
  5. Final washing in washing channels, and grading. The grading done here is by weight of the beans. The lighter ones will flow on top and come out faster at the end of the channel. The coffee is here separated in Parchement 1 (better) and Parchment 2. Again, washing at this stage requires lots of water, and especially that all the water from fermentation and washing is cleaned before being let back into nature. Fortunately this is law in Kenya.
  6. Soaking tanks. Here the coffee is left with clean water for 16-18 hours. Earlier I’ve heard up to 48 hours. The purpose of the soaking tanks remains somewhat a mystery to me. It acts as a holding place for the coffee if there isn’t space on the drying tables. But how it affects taste has not yet been clear to me.
  7. Drying tables. The coffee is pumped from the soaking tanks up to the drying tables, where it dries for around 10 days to a humidity content of close to 11%.
So as you can see the whole process can take up to 72 hours. I’d like to point out straight away that all the above numbers are approximate. As any farmer or miller will tell you it all depends on when the coffee is done, which will vary a lot depending on temperature, humidity, and so on.

But actually, this year I was more interested in getting to know more about the work that the farmers do. So we went around to visit some of the member of the Kieni factory and talk to them.

John Githaga Murage

One of the farmers we visited was John Githaga Murage.
He is member no. 2016 of Kieni and his farm is right next to the mill. On it he grows beans, maize, banana, mango, avocado and of course coffee. He has around 800 coffee trees. Besides the crops he has a few cows and pigs that also provide manure for the trees.

When he bought the farm back in 1983 there were rocks everywhere. He had to move a ton of rocks (literally) to make the soil ready for growing anything. Walking around the farm you see that it’s still quite rocky compared to the deeper clay in other areas, but it’s hard to imagine there wasn’t coffee and banana trees growing there. Now he says the land is very fruitful, with good yields from all his plants.

From the 800 trees he got around 3000 kg cherry, which isn’t bad, but not as high a yield as some of the other farms. Usually agronomists and farmers are very keen to get a high yield as it signifies healthy trees and of course will give more money to the farmer, but we also speculate whether lower yielding trees might give better taste quality. In wine production you sometime remove grapes to allow more nutrients to the remaining. But of course you have to have a tree that is capable of providing enough nutrients before you would get a better taste quality.

Picking begin in October and ends December. This year it went a week into January though, because of rain in beginning of December, which delayed the harvest. In Kenya you have two harvest cycles and the other is called Fly Crop, which is harvested around May and usually is of a lower quality.

John was an amazing guy to meet and talk to, and I was glad he spoke English as my Swahili is… well… not quite there. He stressed that a few years ago he was planting more banana trees and considering uprooting his coffee trees. Prices had been so low that it was just not worth it. But the past couple of years, prices have gone up and he feels ready to produce great coffee again. ”Farmers want to make great coffee. We just have to get the right price for it!” as he said, several time. Couldn’t agree more.

We visited a few more farmers afterwards. At Peterson Muliuki’s farm we saw how the trees are cropped. His trees date back to 1956 but every 7 years they need to be cropped, or else it won’t produce enough cherry or the quality will drop. What really impressed me was the sixe of the old trunk at the bottom. The root system is from 1956 and gone very deep down into the soil. In theory it is capable of supplying a tree that could grow 10 meters high, but because of stumping and cropping, it can supply the remaining stems and ultimately cherries with nutriens and water from a much larger and deeper area. From his 760 trees he this year got between 4.600 and 5.000 kg cherry.

The president of the Gikanda Society and their bookkeeper welcomed us to their beautiful office building, next to the Gichathaini mill. We talked for a while about the new projects they have going, Rainforest Alliance being one, and drank coffee. Unfortunately the coffee was a generic blend of Mount Kenya Coffee, but they had both a Skerton hand grinder and French press to brew it. We talked quite a long time about prices and Direct Trade and their bookkeeper showed us detailed accounts of the previous years’ harvest and the finances of the society. Gikanda is definitely amongst the most well run and organized society I’ve seen in Kenya.

After coffee we toured the Gichathaini mill with the factory manager Veronica Wambyi Muibiri. I first visited Gichathaini in 2007, before their impressive offices were build. Most of the mill itself hasn’t changed since then. They have however gotten a lot more drying tables since then and most of them in metal.

We also visited several other factories, Tegu, Gatina and took a day to drive to Embu to visit the Murue Society and their four mills: Kavutiri, Gituara, Kianyangi and Ngurueri. It’s a lot closer to mount Kenya with lots of tea growing in the higher regions. Generally coffee grows up to around 1.800 masl and tea above that. It was quite interesting to see the tea plants about which I feel I know very little.

On our last day we wanted to visit Karatu, part of the Gitwe Socitey. It is in the Thika region, about 60 km north of Nairobi, close to the town Gatundu. The factory was started in 1963 under a much larger society. In 1995 the Gitwe society was formed and Karatu became part of it. The other factories are Karinga and the brand new Kifiru, which is delivering the first coffees this year. There’s 2.156 total society members and 636 members of Karatu factory.

Surprisingly to us, they had actually harvested less this year than anticipated after flowering. Frost and hail in October had destroyed some of the cherries, the manager of Gitwe society George Kib Njoroge told us. The harvest is still much better than last year though, so they weren’t worried. The Karatu factory manager is David Kanya, who this year has overseen 262.000 kg of cherry.

This coffee is for Sigfreds Kaffebar in Aarhus, who will soon open their third coffee shop. Thomas Sigfred is very devoted to developing quality and especially to Direct Trade. When you buy Direct Trade you of course have to pay for the full amount straight up, when you enter the contract. Thomas therefore has decided that he will pay for the green coffee himself, to be even further involved with the farm. For the same reason we’ll also want to keep this coffee exclusive for Sigfreds kaffebar, so we make sure there’s enough for his customers. We’re really looking forward to roast it though.

Back in Nairobi
On our last day in Kenya we took it pretty easy and enjoyed the warm weather before returning to sub-zero degrees in Denmark. But on the way to the airport we were chatting with the taxi driver, Patrick Nyagah, who we found out was a coffee farmer as well. It turned out to be a really interesting conversation, and a little bonus to the trip. He had taken over part of the farm with 300 coffee trees after his father’s death. Because of the low prices for coffee he had changed part of the farm to banana trees, but now that prices were good he wanted to return to more coffee. The problem of course is that it takes several years from planting a coffee tree till you get a good yield.

We also talked about the importance of picking only the ripest cherries. He actually didn’t pick the coffee himself, but hired pickers for it. He said, they are very poor people and he pays them as much as he can, which is 60 ksh for a container of 20 litres. This was pretty much in accordance with what we heard at Kieni, but it was a good reminder for us to keep paying good prices and make sure the money gets to the farmer. We heard over and over again how much farmers appreciate Direct Trade and that it means a lot more money to them, compared to when the coffee goes on the auction at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange. I think both Mathias and I left Kenya with a feeling that we need to make more consumers as well as roasters aware of the possibilities with Direct Trade, so we can keep getting these amazing coffees from Kenya.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Kenya 2012

Recently returned from an 8 day trip to Kenya I will try to dot down a few thoughts while they are fresh in my memory. I’ve decided to split this into two blog posts. The first is a bit more general about how things work in Kenya, trying to perhaps clear up some confusion that I’ve notice exict amongst both consumers and baristas. I also wanted to touch on prices this year.

Structure of farmers in Kenya
There’s some confusing about the different names of coffees coming out of Kenya, so I’ll try to explain it briefly.

You might have seen names like Mugaga, Tekangu and Gikanda on coffees. These are society names. Each factory is a member of a society. In a lot of cases you can de-code the society name. For example Gikanda is made up from Gichathaini, Kangocho and Ndaroini. Tekangu is Tegu, Karogoto and Ngunguru. Mugaga is an exception to this with Kieni, Gatina, Kiamambara and Kagumoini.

Factories are wet mills. They’re just called factories in Kenya. This is where the members, or smallholders as they’re also called, deliver their freshly picked cherries. The factory manager decides when the members should pick. At some factories it’s every week, others every 10 days. Each member is paid 50 ksh pr kilo of cherry upfront and can even get an advance on their expected delivery of cherry, if they have bills to pay before the harvest. After the coffee has been sold the factory know how much they’ve earned, the profits are paid out to the members. By law at least 80% has to be paid out to the members, so running the factory can cost 20% at the most. New drying tables of repairs of machinery will of course make it more expensive to run the factory, but a lot of the better factories are only taking 10-15% of the profits. Last year the members of Kieni was paid a total of 138 ksh pr kilo cherry. Please note that this is cherry of all sizes and densities, and even though they are picked ripe there will still be a lot to sort out. The price paid to farmers at Kieni was some of the highest in Kenya last year.

Typically the factories we visited had between 600 and 1000 members. Each member is typically a farmer and his family and can have anything from 40 up to several hundred trees. Some of the larger members hire work for picking, and others manage to pick their own trees themselves with help from the family.

It’s the members that choose the board and chairman of the factory. In the Mugaga society (and many other societies) the managers change between the factories every two years.

We've decided to identify the coffees we buy with the factory name, as that's the most precise identification of where that particular coffee came from. Naturally, with 900 small farmers delivering cherry we can't identify further where it came from. If you would like to know more certain you can guess it's within an approximate 3 km radius of the factory.

Two farmers at Kieni

The fresh picked cherry is delivered at the factory, where each member’s amount is weighed and they are given a receipt for final payment once the coffee is sold. The cherries are then depulped and put into fermentation tanks. The cherries are delivered in the afternoon and depulping is finished in the early evening. The first fermentation goes on over night while it’s cooler and in the morning the coffee is washed to remove most of the mucilage. It is then moved into a second fermentation tank. Here it stays for 12 to 48 hours for the second fermentation. After that the coffee is washed in channels with lots of clean water to remove the last mucilage and ensure it is clean. Then the coffee is put in soaking tanks for 10 to 18 hours before finally going to the drying tables.

At this point the beans are around 50% moisture and over the course of approximately 10 days it is dried to around 11% moisture (10% if you count the parchement). It’s important that the beans aren’t exposed to hard direct sun light, as they will then crack from too fast drying. The rasied beds used in Kenya unsure good airflow from underneath and turning the coffee often will help a uniform drying.

Some mills use a moisture meter to determine when the coffee has dried. But much like an un-calibrated Extract Mojo this can be dangerous to trust. Properly calibrated it can be a great tool though. Lots of millers will determine it by look and feel, though, and can get it just as precise. After drying the coffee needs to rest for about 2 weeks before it is delivered at the Dry Mill.

Drying at Gichathaini

Central Kenya Coffee Mill
This is our hub for quality coffee from the central region in Kenya, including of course Nyeri. The coffees we’ve cupped come through this mill and we like to do a lot of cupping here. It means we can evaluate the coffees close to the facotories and cup them as soon as they arrive.
At the dry mill the coffee is hulled, sorted for size and density - AA, AB, C, PB, T, TT and UG (Un.Graded), and finally sorted for defects. We pay an extra premium for an additional hand sorting on top of the electronic sorting, as well as for vacuum packing in stead of jute bags. All these costs are on top of the price we pay directly to the farmers, on a separate contract to avoid any confusion.

Cupping at Central Kenya Coffee Mill

Prices 2012
Last years prices were at an all time high, due both to very high global market price, but especially because of the unusual low harvest last year. Low supply and high demand simple drew prices up.

This was good news for farmers, who would otherwise (with a low harvest) have lost a lot of money. In stead it turned out to be invigorating news for many smallholders. Once again they could see that it can be profitable for them to produce coffee.

Many farmers we talked to on the trip have told us that a few years ago they were uprooting coffee trees and changing to other crops, like banana or maize. But with last years high prices they feel that coffee can be a profitable crop and more importantly young people can see a future in growing coffee. This of course is significant for us as coffee roasters, and once again stresses why roasters need to make sure that the farmers are paid well for their coffee.

This year the prices will probably go down quite a bit. The harvest is more than double of last year and there are lots of AAs (the largest size beans, which fetch a higher price). I do hope prices won’t drop all the way back to what they used to be a couple of years ago. Even though we paid a high price back then, it’ll be a blow to the feeling of economic rise that the farmers have seen in the horizon. On the other hand the price for the top lots last year, were so high that many roasters didn’t feel that was sustainable for them as well. I believe that we need to prepare our customers to pay that kind of prices for that kind of quality. We cannot expect farmers to produce quality if consumers are not willing to pay for it. 

You can view pictures (with titles and description on some) on a little Flickr slideshow here:

Monday, January 9, 2012

New Espresso Blend and Fresh Daterra

It seems we have forgotten to share a pretty important detail with you good folks that follow our blog and Facebook site:  We have received and started roasting the new crop of Daterra Sweet Collection. As always a fresh coffee that has just arrived tastes better than the year-old crop and it gave us a chance to dial in the roast profile further. We hope you’ll enjoy it. We roast this coffee with espresso in mind. That’s where we think it tastes the best. But many of our customers enjoy it on french press or filter, where the low acidity and heavy mouthfeel also has its place.

More freely growing 

See all the pictures from Linus’ visit to Daterra last summer in this Flickr set or in the slideshow below.

At the beginning of the new year we have also changed our espresso blend. We wanted to do try out something new and have decided to make it a blend of four coffees from two producers. Again it’s the Daterra Sweet Collection making up the majority of the blend. There’s just no way around how much we love that coffee for espresso. But we’ve added 15% of Daterra’s Organic Reserve which is a bit more fruitful. Then we have two different week lots from Kieni in very different roast profiles. One is roasted with the same profile as our old blend, which for espresso is relatively fast (relative to our Daterra roast profile anyway). This brings out the floral and light fruit notes in that coffee. The other lot is quite the opposite. A much slower roast with a different temperature curve that lowers the acidity quite a bit but keeps the darker berry notes of blackcurrant and cherries adding a very oily mouthfeel to the espresso.

The blend consists of:
55% Daterra Sweet Collection, Brasilien
15% Daterra Organic Reserve
15% Kieni Lot 15, Kenya
15% Kieni Lot 17, Kenya

Both coffees are available in our coffee shops and webshop.