In November I, Jacob Salomonsen, got to join co-founder Klaus Thomsen on his second trip to Kenya of 2017. In the following I have tried to gather my thoughts on key topics from this particular trip.
More thorough descriptions on wet processing, varieties or how our Direct Trade works in Kenya can be found in previous blog posts. We also posted all photos from this trip on our Flickr page.
The drive from Nairobi to the Nyeri region only takes a few hours but the change in landscape is dramatic. Suddenly the terrain becomes hilly and houses emerge sporadically on the ridges where vegetation is less dense. Most people here are farmers growing several crops such as maize, beans, potatoes, tea and coffee.
The coffee fields are often visible from the road and while these were the first coffee trees I had ever seen, the mere abundance made your eyes adjust to the scenery rather quickly. This made room for new impressions like the occasional whiff of fresh coffee cherries being depulped as we got closer to one of our main stops on the trip: Kieni
We have visited and bought from the Kieni factory for 8 years now. One of the reasons for paying a visit in November is that the main harvest is at its peak. It is the perfect time to witness how fresh cherries are processed and just how much attention it requires during all stages. This includes adjusting the depulper according to cherry size and assessing the amount of remaining mucilage (a sugary layer on the beans) during fermentation. The latter is a critical stage which is purely assessed by hand despite being very dependant on weather conditions.
Charles (chairman, board member of Mugaga Society) and Josphat (Kieni mill manager) are very skilled at making the right calls at the right time but also open to discuss how to keep improving quality. This time we discussed the benefits of acquiring a moisture meter to monitor when the coffee has dried sufficiently and the pace at which it is doing so. This is commonly done by biting into a bean or shaking a handful using sound cues to indicate the moisture content.
One could draw a parallel to measuring the strength of brewed coffee to double check at which strength a given coffee tastes the best. We do this daily in our bars to ensure quality and consistency. The combination of sensory skill and simple quantitative tools could perhaps be useful for Kieni too.