César MAGAÑA | 2022-02-09
The Kenyan origin figures among the most famous in the world of specialty coffee, because of its high altitudes, specific varieties, unique preparation processes, and many other factors that make their coffees so special.
Kenya’s agricultural coffee production is higher than the world average due to a huge and intensive SL28, SL34 planting and seed distribution programme and new varieties like Batian and Ruiru. At the beginning of 2019, I visited my colleagues at the Belco agency in Ethiopia and we cupped eight microlots with the agency’s manager, Jacques, and quality manager, Fantanesh. It was a fairly common cupping with scores between 83 and 85. Afterwards, we had a long chat with Jacques about the farms, their sourcing policies, their farming practices, their histories, and so on. I found many similarities with Central American farms, which I know well, for example plantations with fruit trees for shade, banana trees and forest trees. We discussed the incredible potential of these farms, but remained puzzled by their intensive use of water for their process. Which is how we came up with the idea of a new project centred around the environmental impacts of Kenyan coffee production, with three areas of focus:
1 --> Reduce use of water THROUGH DEVELOPMENT OF THE NATURAL PROCESS
2 --> Improve cup quality to have a POSITIVE IMPACT ON PRODUCERS’ INCOMES
3 --> Identify microlots AT SMALL FARMS AND EXPORT THEM DIRECTLY
Water consumption during process : Kenyan washed VS Natural
KENYAN WASHED PROCESS
Jacques put me in touch with David Maguta, a producer and exporter from the Nyeri region, in whom Belco has full confidence. David attaches great importance to traceability and has a strong environmental awareness of coffee production… We immediately clicked! David has a degree in business, and he’d quickly realised that producing and selling his coffee at local auctions held little future and would not bring in much remuneration for producers of his size, farming about six hectares. So he chose to become an exporter, and has been very successful, because in 2021 he was able to export his coffees directly to Belco having had to use a much a larger structure for the previous two years. In 2019, Jacques visited several plantations, and by early 2020 the need for concrete action had become clear, to turn the idea of developing use of the natural process into a reality. Thanks to Jacques’ visits, we built a relationship of trust with some small producers and Belco began making a name for itself.
Organise a distance learning course with Kenyan producers on the natural process, provided by Marjorie, an expert in processes and agricultural engineer who runs our Belco agency in El Salvador.
African beds financed by Belco, GrainPro, precision equipment (moisture meter, etc.).
Organise one month of Belco presence on Kenyan farms to make the project a reality with the help of David, as the project’s lead coordinator and a carrier of messages in the field.
PROJECT LAUNCH, EARLY DECEMBER 2020
We arrived in Nairobi under torrential rains – a bad start for our natural process... But on visiting the first plantation, run by John Mitchuki and his family, I immediately felt they wanted to do things right, and this changed everything. From the very first hours, we accomplished a lot, sorting warehouses, identifying lots, putting beans into bags and, most importantly, improving the drying technique. They clearly needed more drying beds, and we corrected bad practices causing mould to form on beans (unwanted moisture, overheating etc.). We then we repeated these analyses and corrective measures at the other plantations in the Embu and Nyeri regions.
Producing regions in Kenya
At each farm, we have explained to producers the importance of taking measurements when their coffees are drying to avoid high temperatures. We identified some defects in lots prepared before I arrived, including humidity superior to 13%, fungus and heterogeneous drying.
By setting these right, we were able to avoid similar damage in future large lots. And so we continued our journey, visiting 3 to 4 farms a day to:
#1 See how humidity was affecting the coffees in these high-altitude areas
#2 Train David’s staff on the importance of ventilation and temperature control
#3 Share with producers, day after day, the importance of selective harvesting according to fruit maturity and green bean storage
END OF DECEMBER
I returned to France, slightly worried, leaving over 40 drying tables full of coffee behind me. Some of the samples I’d brought with me and cupped with the Belco sales team scored 89… but it was only January 2021, too early to celebrate.
Lot sorting began, with a good yield and few defective grains. Jacques helped to hull the lots in Nairobi and first samples were sent to our lab in Addis Ababa for cupping by Fantanesh.
David ensured each coffee was transported safely, packed in jute and GrainPro bags, and that the trucks were secure and well insulated to avoid changes in temperature and humidity.
The first coffees arrived and exceeded our expectations. And the story is just beginning.
The idea behind developing production of natural coffees was of course to save water and learn more about the profile of each terroir, but also and above all to empower the people who produce them.
THINGS DON’T ALWAYS GO ACCORDING TO PLAN BEHIND THE SCENES! AND THERE WERE A FEW SETBACKS DURING THIS PROJECT:
• 7 bags of premium dried cherries stolen from the Olo Mayana farm
• Some lots developed mould problems that didn’t survive quality control
• Some machines were ruined during processing, delaying hulling and sorting by one week