Farm: Kalua Factory; Mitaboni Farmers’ Co-Operative Society Ltd
Varietal: SL28 & SL34
Processing: Fully washed & sun dried on raised beds
Altitude: 1,400 to 1,600 meters above sea level
Owner: 3,000 members total FCS - 600 members deliver to Kalua Factory
Town / City: Mitaboni
Region: Machakos district, Eastern province
Kalua AA - Kenya
This coffee was produced by numerous smallholder farmers, all of whom are members of the Mitaboni Farmers’ Cooperative Society (FCS) delivering to the Kalua Coffee Factory, as wet mills are known in Kenya. These farmers all live in the hills around 70 km to the southeast of Nairobi. The region is less well-known for its coffee than nearby Kiambu and Embu, but its high elevation and rolling hills make the land very amenable to the production of high-quality beans. The harvest here is earlier than some other regions in Kenya, making it perfect for those who just can’t wait for their Kenyan’s to arrive.
Kalua is one of five factories, along with Umanthi, Kithima, Mbee and Utooni, near to the town of Mitaboni that are managed by the FCS. Temperatures in the region range from 12 to 25 degrees Celsius year-round, with a bimodal rainfall about 700-1,100mm per year. The main season for harvest begins in June and continues through August, with the fly crop beginning in October and finishing in December. The average smallholder farm size is less than 1 hectare, with half an acre planted in coffee for an average of 250 trees per farmer.
Mitaboni FCS is part of the larger umbrella organisation, the Machakos Co-operative Union, along with around 28 other FCS’s. The Union offers the societies services that include coffee milling and marketing, education and training and the provision of farm inputs at subsidised prices. These benefits enable producers to bring in a great, high-quality harvest at exactly the right time. The Union also offers a wide range of services, including transport, bookkeeping and accountancy and also access to coffee seedlings.
As well as receiving support provided by the Machakos Co-operative Union, Kalua Factory aims to improve the quality of the coffee annually. To do this, the FCS offers training courses to producers, enabling them to improve their harvest and post-harvest practices.
Farmers selectively handpick the ripest, reddest cherries, which are then delivered directly to the cooperative’s wet mill on the same day they are picked. Cherries are stringently hand-sorted before pulping, with damaged and under-ripe cherries being separated from the red, ripe lots (the process is overseen by the ‘cherry clerks’ who are specifically tasked with overseeing and keeping records for payments). The factory uses a disc pulper with three sets of discs to remove the skin and fruit from the inner parchment layer that is protecting the green coffee bean. After pulping, the coffee is fermented overnight to break down the sugars, before being washed through washing channels (which separate for density) using cool clean river water, which is later recirculated before being disposed of into seepage pits.
Once clean, the coffee is spread out on raised drying tables. The coffee is then dried for between 7 to 15 days, depending on climate, ambient temperature and volumes under processing. While drying, the parchment is repeatedly moved and sorted to remove any damaged or discoloured beans and is covered during the hottest part of the day to maintain even temperatures.
Once dry, the parchment coffee is taken to the dry mill for secondary processing. Mitaboni FCS mills their coffee at the Lower Eastern Coffee Mill (LECOM), which was started in 2013. With the mill, farmers are making enormous savings on milling and transport costs they have previously been incurring when taking the produce for processing outside the region. Here, coffee is hulled of its parchment, before being graded by density and size.
The AA, AB and other grades used to classify lots in Kenya are an indication of screen size only. They are not an 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. PB (denoting Peaberry) is the smallest screen size.