I’m so happy right now, because there are amazing new Kenya coffees everywhere. It is probably my favorite origin, and I’m happy to share with you that one of our Kenya offerings for this year, Karinga, is now online for you to buy and enjoy
. It will also be available at our uptown coffee bar soon, as well as some other places where Dogwood Coffee is served.
Kenya is one of the most progressive producing countries in terms of quality, traceability and varietal development. There is always work to be done of course, but systems like the auction process are great for rewarding quality and fetching great prices for delicious coffees.
COMMON KENYA VARIETALS
SL28 - Developed by Scot Laboratories in the 1930s, they cross bred mutations of existing varietals to create high quality, resilient hybrids. The SL28 varietal is a low yielding shrub, but the most valuable and generally thought to be the most delicious!
SL34 - A similar project also created by Scot Labs around the same time as SL28. It is a mutation of the French Mission Bourbon varietal.
Ruiru11 - A dwarf varietal that was developed to resist disease after a bad spell of coffee cherry disease in the late 1960s, and was introduced in the mid 80s. Cup quality was generally poor, as some of the breeding of the varietal included hybrids of the Robusta coffee plant. The Ruiru 11 has since been bred with the SL28 and SL34 to improve cup quality. It does not make up a very large percentage of production in Kenya.
These are just the varietals that are present in Dogwood's current Kenya offering, from the Karinga mill in the Gatundu district. There are a number of other varietals that have been developed for Kenya by Scot Labs and others that are not as widely known.
The double fermentation process is generally unique to Kenya, though other origins have experimented with it as well. After the coffee is depulped (cherry removed) it is soaked in water, intermittently washed and soaked again. The resulting seeds are ultra clean and nearly mucilage free. Processing is an important part of the production of coffee, and Kenya does it meticulously well.
The auction process in Kenya began in 1934, along with much of the coop system that exists in Kenya. This process allows for transparency and rewards for high quality. The process is carried out by the Nairobi coffee exchange every Tuesday, with March being the busiest time of the year since it is right after the main crop season. Here is a video from the Sweet Maria’s youtube site that shows an auction in process:
I am always encouraging people to spend absurd amounts of time on the Sweet Maria’s website.
The Cup of Excellence auctions are modeled after Kenya’s system, and are another great example of how quality is rewarded with price paid for green. Other auctions that exist are the Best of Panama competition and the El Injerto auction (which broke a record this year with the top coffee selling for $211.05/pound. Whoa!)
Kenya coffee is graded by bean size, shape and density. AA, AB and PB (peaberry, when only one seed forms in the cherry) are the most prized grades. Generally it is understood that the AA packs the most flavor because of its size—though, if what you really want is in the cup, whether or not it’s AA or AB shouldn’t matter (at least in my opinion). Our Karinga is an AB, and after cupping a good grip of different lots with AA, AB and peaberries, this Karinga AB was our favorite. Other grades that exist that are generally of lesser quality are grade C (smaller than grade B), T—which is generally lots of broken beans, chips and tiny beans, E or Elephant, which is when two beans join together to form one big bean (not necessarily associated with poor quality, just a genetic mutation). Peaberries and Elephant beans are not specifically grown, they are a product of sorting in the final stages of processing.
This grading system is specifically for Kenyan coffee, different producing countries have different systems and ways of grading coffee for quality.
One of my favorite things about Kenyan coffee is the sinus clearing, fresh, fresh sugar smell that happens during first crack. It’s almost overwhelming how amazing this sensation is, and I wish I could send that along with the coffee...