For the sixth year running, Robert will be heading to the Nyeri district in Kenya to buy coffee. Starting Monday and for the following two days, he will spend his days cupping as many coffees as possible to find us the "cream of the crop".
The Place At the foot of Mt. Kenya is the town of Karatina and our favourite coffees have consistently originated from here. The Tekangu cooperative owns the washing stations (called "factories" in Kenya) and the Tegu, Karagoto and Ngunguru stations have, in particular, produced fantastic coffee.
For now, we'll focus on the Karagoto station because today we cupped a table of samples from Kenya and our favourites come from here. Karagoto is a washing station/factory with 1000 members and the harvest this year has been substantial: three times as big as last year's. While this year's yields are larger than normal, they are also substantially higher than last year's catastrophically low volumes. One of the results of last year's low yields were sky-high prices (the demand remained the same). Karagoto has developed a great reputation and steadily garner more and more interest from coffee buyers based on the merits of their consistently great coffee (i.e. excellent management and farming practices follow through in the cup). This season is a good example of Karagoto's solid management: the people at Karagoto decided to put the proceeds from last year's sales to good use and invested in better husbandry and fertilization. The results of these decisions are showing: the trees are healthier and there is better/more even maturation of the cherries.
Management happens on several levels and I will elaborate one in particular: that of factory management. Coffee that is processed at Karagoto is of such a high standard because the managers there are rigid about the quality of the cherries they receive. They will reject cherry that is not up to standard, or they will take the time to sort the unripes out.
The Buying Process It is important to elaborate on how we approach buying coffee here because it is both similar to how we approach buying from other regions and is more complex than simply flying into a region, cupping coffee, telling the supplier we want it and then coming home and waiting for it to arrive.
The first step is to visit the region early in the season (even prematurely, as Robert did in December last year) to cup samples and determine what the coffee might/will be like when it is eventually harvested. Although he was early and couldn't predict exactly which lots would be best, today's cupping acknowledged the benefits of "going early": the coffees most interesting in December are the ones we liked the most today. In particular, we enjoyed Karagoto's AA and AB samples. AA was sweet and showed a lot of complexity and AB was a more acidic and interesting profile.
And now it's time to follow-up on December's trip. As mentioned above, Robert will spend the first few days of his week in Africa (he's going to Ethiopia at the end of the trip) cupping extensively and intensely and will begin the process of getting a shipment together for delivery at the end of this month.
We are incredibly excited about the coffees coming from Karagoto - if you want to get your hands on some, contact firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible. The sooner we know how much you would like, the sooner we can have the coffee sent.
Have a great weekend!
Addendum: I would like to add an important development that wasn't fleshed out above that has to do with the process of buying coffee in Kenya. Traditionally, coffee is bought at auction - even the fantastic ones we cupped today. We would like to do away with this time consuming and unnecessary process. We are currently working with the Karagoto factory on buying directly (this term is problematic for me but the discussion on that is for another post/series of posts). Within this context, "direct" means outside of auction. What are the benefits? There are many but from a quality perspective, buying before auction means quicker transport and thus, fresher coffee. But the only way for us to bypass auction is to offer a good enough price. Which is where you come in. Expressing your interest in these coffees now means we can commit to them and have them shipped sooner. Fresher coffee, new crop to your customers sooner, quicker/more direct payment to the supplier. Enough said.