Varietal: SL28, SL34 and some Ruiru 11
Processing: Fully washed & dried on African beds
Karatu 1 - Kenya
These two AA lots of coffee were produced by numerous smallholder farmers, all of whom are members of the Gitwe Farmers Cooperative Society delivering to the Karatu Coffee Factory, located near the town of Thika in Kenya’s Central Province Town. The factory was established in 1965 and rests on a 11 acre piece of land serving Karatu, Gitwe, Kibiru and Kigaa Villages.
Currently a member of the Gitwe Farmers Cooperative Society (FCS), the factory is also home to the head office of the Gitwe FCS. Factory manager David Kanya runs the operations with a staff of six permanent employees. Coffee varieties grown by members are SL 28, SL 34 (99%) and a very small amount (about 1%) of Ruiru. Ruiru 11 is named for the station at Ruiru, Kenya where it was developed in the '70s and released in 1986. Although composing very little of cooperative member’s total production, Ruiru is slowly becoming more widespread in the region due to its resistance to Coffee Berry Disease and Coffee Leaf Rust. It has also been backcrossed with SL28 and SL34 to ensure high cup quality.
Coffee farming in this region goes back to the very beginning of the colonial era in Kenya (those early days were famously represented in Elsbeth Huxley’s memoirs), but many members of the Cooperative still rely on additional economic and agricultural activities for their livelihoods. In addition to producing coffee, most farmers in the area also produce tea, maize and legumes for sale at local markets and for their own tables. Growers benefit from the nutrient rich, red soils typical for the area. Nonetheless, coffee production in the recent past has been slowed due to regional preference toward growing tea instead of coffee. With the assistance from field partner Coffee Management Services (CMS), production has been slowly increasing for farmers, though there are still significant gains to be made.
During harvest season, farmers selectively handpick the ripest, reddest cherries, which are then delivered directly to the cooperative’s wet mill on the same day as picking. Cherries are stringently hand sorted prior to pulping, with damaged and under ripe cherries being separated out from the red, ripe lots. The factory has two disc pulpers installed 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 and is then sent through washing channels to be sorted by density before being delivered to the soaking tank by water pumped from the River Rwabura. After soaking, coffee is spread out on raised drying tables. Time on the drying tables depends on climate, ambient temperature and total production volume undergoing processing. Drying can take from 7 to 15 days in total. 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.
Wastewater is managed through the use of soaking pits. The water used for processing the cherry will spend time in the pits to insure that the nutrient rich water created during depulping will not be returned to the nearby water source without proper treatment. This additional step will cut down the risk of contamination and after adequate time for reabsorption the water will be recirculated. Currently Karatu Factory is employing five soaking pits for this process.
Some of the issues that farmers face are low production due to loss due to pests and diseases and the relatively high cost of inputs compared to income from coffee. Many cannot afford to plant disease resistant varieties and face being priced out of the market as their yields diminish. The cooperative has undertaken actions to increase yields and improve their member’s livelihoods. In partnership with Coffee Management Services (CMS), their field service agent, the long term goal is to increase coffee production through farmer training, ready access to inputs, Good Agricultural Practice seminars, and providing the most current printed materials on sustainable farming. By paying the producers some of the highest returns for their coffee our objective can be achieved, Mercanta and our exporting partner strongly believe in establishing a transparent, trust based relationship with smallholder farmers, helping to support sustained industry growth throughout the country, and continuing to elevate the standards of quality coffee produced in Kenya.
Screen sizing in Kenya
The AA, AB and other grades used to classify lots in Kenya are an indication of screen size only. They are not any 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.