Kamwangi AA – Rhubarb, Black Currant & Black Tea
Producer: Kamwangi Washing Station
Origin: Gichugu division of the Kirinyaga district
Varietals: SL28, SL34 & Ruiru 11
Harvested: January 2020
Roaster: Drop Coffee
Roast Date: 08.01.2021
A wonderful juicy cup with a vibrant acidity bringing our minds back to Summer and highlighting the massive diversity of coffee next to our thick and sweet natural Brazilian Estiva.
Due to the Corona Pandemic, the consumption of Specialty Coffee decreased and some Roasters still got a few last bags of Kenya in their shelfs. This brings us the beautiful opportunity to sip such a vibrant and juicy Kenyan cup during the winter months when it's normally out of season.
Due to the high density of the coffee seeds growing in Kenya, we strongly recommend to let it sit a bit longer as it takes more time for them to Degas after roast. In our experience coffees like this are peaking after 3-5 weeks of degassing.
This coffee is a familiar coffee for those of you who have been drinking Drop for years, and it is our favourite Kenyan coffee. Kamwangi is one of two factories run by the New Ngariama Cooperative in Kirinyaga in Central Kenya. The regions’ growing conditions and the many hours of sorting the coffee meticulously is the main reason Kamwangi has great quality and sparkling taste profile. The AA selection is the largest bean size of the harvest and gives the coffee a more pronounced and intensified flavour.
The Kamwangi factory
We are so in love with Kamwangi and have been a loyal buyer for seven years now. This year we decided on having both the AA and the AB, and have previously also bought the Peaberry, the smallest screen size.
In Kenya, the process stations, or also called wet mills, are called factories. Kamwangi factory is one of two factories under the cooperative named New Ngariama Cooperative Society located in the region of Kirinyaga in the hills surrounding mount Kenya, with a third factory soon to become operational. This area is less known than its neighbour Nyeri but has surprised us from the beginning with some outstanding and memorable coffees.
The New Ngariama Cooperative Society is mainly made up of small farms, each with around 100 trees. In the Gichugu division of the Kirinyaga district where the surrounding farms to Kamwangi are located, the harvest started in early November. The farmers are organized in Cooperative Societies that act as umbrella organizations for Kamwangi and their other cooperative, where the smallholders deliver their coffee cherries for processing freshly every day after picking in a period of about two months, normally delivering about 25-50 kilo by foot or bike for a few kilometres. When arriving at the factory, each producer will sort their cherries manually to separate defect and lower grade since they are paid more in relation to quality.
The great processing of coffee in Kenya
Part of what makes the Kenyan taste profile so unique is achieved through the highly controlled way in which it is processed and sorted. Rigorous sorting is done at each stage of the processing and the dry milling, creating an extremely consistent final product. Once the cherries are delivered to the factory and have been sorted for over and under-ripe cherries, they are generally de-pulped directly by a large 4-disced pulper, which removes the cherry from the coffee bean. The coffee is from here on known as parchment.
This pulper also acts as the next stage of sorting, as the low density beans float to the top of water channels after the pulp is removed and are washed down into a separate fermentation tank from the denser, higher quality beans. Once they are de-pulped, the coffee parchment is fermented in large concrete tanks overnight, breaking down the sugary layer (mucilage) so that it may easily be removed during the washing process. Fermentation can take 12-16 hours depending on the temperature.
The farm manager checks when the coffee has finished fermented by rubbing the parchment between their hands: if there is abrasion, then the mucilage has deteriorated sufficiently and the coffee may be washed further along the line to the washing channels. If the parchment is allowed to ferment further, its delicate flavour characteristics would be ruined so washing must occur at a very particular time in order to stop the fermentation process.
The parchment is washed in freshwater in order to remove the residual sugars from the mucilage and is here further sorted by density. Lower density beans are once again separated to be sold as lower grade coffee whilst the higher density parchment is held back by gates in the channels whilst workers sweep along the channels with paddles in order to move the coffee. Once the washing process is complete, the coffee is moved to drying beds in order to lower the moisture content to a stable level before storage.
During the warmest hours of the day, the coffee is being covered to protect the beans from too much sunshine (that can damage the beans) and to keep the drying time longer. On the drying tables, the coffee is sorted and stirred by hand in order to ensure even drying, until the moisture content reaches 13% when it is moved to conditioned bins for storage where they sink about 1.5% more.
The past few years Kenya’s coffee production has been struggling a lot with coffee berry disease (CBD) and tough weather conditions due to climate changes. This has led to more people planting the varietal Batian which is more resistant than SL28 and SL34 for example. However, the Batian plant is not always as high in acidity or as intense as the Kenyan coffee we have had the last decade that Kenyan coffee has been known for. The soil and the weather is changing due to climate changes
When visiting Kamwangi factory, the manager Edwin Gichori is quick to speak of the work being done at the factory in order to help raise quality levels and of where changes can be made in the long-term.
Last year, Kamwangi was able to pay their farmers 75 Kenyan Shillings per kilo of delivered coffee cherries, which is on the higher side of premiums we found whilst travelling. Although it is ours and the factories cooperative aim to raise this in the future.
Kamwangi gives a small advance payment to the farmers at delivery. Some well-managed wet mills are able to give more than 85% of the sales price back to the farmers; Kamwangi is in general able to give back 80% after the cost of milling and marketing is deducted.
Registered in 1997, Kamwangi is Rainforest Alliance certified and have a good structure for tracking payments to producers. They also have established soaking pits for wastewater treatment as well as good quality control systems for processing.
The FOB price we paid for this coffee was 5,02 USD per pound. The current world coffee market price is currently under 1 USD a pound, which is not covering for the coffee’s production cost and gives no profit for the farmers.