Roaster’s tasting notes:
This AB lot was produced by numerous smallholder farmers, all of whom are members of the Gititu Farmers Cooperative Society (FCS) delivering to Gititu Coffee Factory (as washing stations/wet mills are called in Kenya). The factory is located near the town of Kiambu, in Kenya’s Kiambu County.
Gititu means, itself, ‘big forest’ in Kikuyu, one of the native languages of the region, though these days there is not a great deal of unbroken forest in this part of Kenya, whose hills are populated by numerous smallholder farmers and their families. Farmers such as these form the backbone of Kenya’s coffee industry, producing more than 60% of the country’s coffee.
Gititu FCS is one of the oldest in Kiambu, being founded in the 1970s. Today, the FCS operates 8 washing stations within Kiambu (Gititu, Kiairia, Karweti, Ikinu, Kimathi, Mutuya, Ngochi and Ngemwa Factories). The total active membership is around 5,200 small holder farmers, but only a portion (around 500) of these deliver to the Gititu Factory, which processes around 2,500 metric tonnes of coffee annually.
Gititu FCS is well known for the high quality of coffee processed at all of their factories. As such, processing at the Gititu wet mill adheres to stringent quality-driven methods. All coffee cherries are handpicked and are delivered to the mill the same day, where they undergo meticulous sorting. Factory employees oversee the process and any underripe or damaged cherries will not be accepted by the ‘Cherry Clerk’ – one of the most important harvest-period staff, who keeps meticulous records of how much coffee each producer delivers on any given day (and thus how much payment is due once the coffee has sold). Any rejected coffee will have to be taken home again, and the farmer will need to find a place to dry it (often a tarp in the yard) to be delivered only at the end of season as low quality ‘Mbuni’ – natural process coffee that earns a very low price. Thus, farmer members are incentivised to only pick and deliver the ripest cherry that they can.
After being weighed and logged, the weight of the delivery and the farmer’s identification are recorded in the Cherry Clerk’s register and the cherries are introduced into the hopper to be pulped. Pulping will only begin when a sufficient quantity of cherries has been received.
After pulping the cherries are delivered to one of the factory’s fermentation tanks, where it will ferment for between 12 to 48 hours depending on the ambient temperature at the time. After this, the coffee is fully washed to remove all traces of mucilage, during which time it will be graded. The coffee will then either be delivered to dry on the factory’s raised drying beds or will be soaked under circulating water for up to 24 hours, depending on if there is room on the factory’s beds (during the peak of the season, there is often
a backlog). The coffee will dry here slowly over the course of 2 to 3 weeks, during which time it will be turned regularly and covered during the hottest part of the day.
Kiambu, being very close to Nairobi, has a long history with regards to coffee production. However, recent history and urbanisation pose many issues for the future of coffee production in the region. Some of the issues are the same that farmers across the country face, such as low production due to pests and
diseases and the relatively high cost of inputs compared to income from coffee. Many cannot afford to plant disease resistant varieties and face being priced out of the market as their yields diminish.
The more pressing threat is arguably that of urbanisation and industrialisation. Kiambu County abuts directly up to the northern boundaries of Nairobi, encompassing wealthy suburbs and industrial areas alike in its southern edges. It is worth mentioning that Gititu factory, itself, is only around 50km from the northwest edge of the sprawling metropolis. As the expansion of the Thika Superhighway and other infrastructure projects advance, it becomes easier and easier to set up businesses (and homes) on the outskirts of Nairobi, more deeply penetrating Kiambu’s borders. The highway construction has already led to an explosion of the real estate market with several big projects under development, such as Tatu City, Thika Greens and Buffalo Hills complexes. Other modern housing developments include Bahati Ridges, Fourways Junction and Juja South schemes.
Such urban expansion has already eaten away at many of Kenya’s larger coffee plantations: many of the oldest and largest are now housing developments. The impact on small holder farmers – who currently live
farther from the city’s bounds – remains to be seen. One thing is sure: continued investment in quality coffee such as this lot is one of the sure actions that will continue to give coffee in the region a ‘leg up’, hopefully preserving coffee in the area for many generations to come.
Screen sizing in Kenya
The AA, AB and other grades used to classify lots in Kenya are an indication of screen size only. They are not any indication of cup quality. The AA grade in Kenya is equivalent to screen size 17 or 18 (17/64 or 18/64 of an inch) used at other origins. AA grades often command higher prices at auction though this
grade is no indication of cup quality and an AB lot from a better farm may cup better.