Farm: Mchana Estate
Varietal: SL28, SL34, Ruiru 11 & K7
Processing: Fully washed & dried on African beds
Altitude: 1,600 to 1,766 metres above sea level
Town / City: Ruiru
Region: Kiambu County
Overall: black tea, currant, slight savory, blood orange, carob
Mchana AB - Kenya
After the Second World War, the situation in the Far East remained unstable and the future of foreign investments was quite uncertain. A French Group with large interests in palm oil and rubber plantations in Malaysia decided to look for agricultural investments in East Africa as a security in case of adverse development in Asia.
In February 1950, they sent their agent, Mr. Jas Nicoll, with a comfortable check book and a very large mandate (any country and almost any crop) to East Africa. Very quickly he came to the conclusion that an investment in coffee plantations in Kenya was the answer to his quest.
In a few months he managed to set up a company (Socfinaf) and acquired the first coffee estate in April 1950. It was N'gewe Estate (619 acres with 200 acres planted with coffee). In the description of this estate that he sent to his colleagues in Malaysia, we read: "N'Gewe means "Little Paradise" as it should be since it is a sort of Rantau Panjang with a replica of the Maison des Palmes in White Highlands style: Orchids are only replaced by roses and carnations, flame of forests by sugar blooming jacarandas and wooden floor are made of cear instead of Changai while the Bukit Fraser range is replaced by the snow clad Mount Kenya."
Jas Nicoll acquired the neighbouring M'Chana Estate in May of the same year. M’Chana – with 1,090 acres, 659 of them under coffee – was already one of the larger estates in Kenya. He didn’t stop there, however. In January 1951 he managed to acquire two other estates close to M'Chana and N'Gewe. Kiki Estate (412 acres with 100 acres under coffee) and Mukuyu Estate (325 acres with 136 acre under coffee) were added on.
The four estates were regrouped into one entity, called M'Chana (seeing as it was the largest of the four units). By doing so, M'Chana Estate became the largest single coffee plantation in the whole of Kenya and was in "full bearing". In 1950, the newly created Socfinaf produced 267 tons of clean (or Washed) coffee and 21 tons of Mbuni (as natural coffee is known) out of 9,700 tons produced that year in Kenya. In 1950, the yield was 450 to 500 lbs an acre as against an average of 250 lbs for the whole of Kenya.
Today's M'Chana Estate is 906 ha with 442 ha under coffee - Almost the same original amount of hectare used to grow coffee as in 1950! However, production per ha is now 2 tonnes. One reason is due to irrigation that was installed on M'Chana Estate in the sixties.
It is interesting to note that 2/3 of the trees still bearing at M'Chana were planted before Socfinaf's acquisition and they are mostly SL28. In March 1960 a full block (75 ha) was replanted with SL34 and in 1991-92 24 ha were replanted with Ruiru 11. A few hectares have also been replanted with K7. K7 cultivar was selected at Legetet Estate in Muhoroni from the French Mission Coffee. It is distinguished by its spreading habit on young laterals although older primaries tend to be decumbent or drooping. It has characteristic medium to narrow leaves with young shoot-tips that are intermediate bronze in colour. The cultivar has resistance to some races of CLR as well as partial resistance to CBD. It is suited for lower altitudes where CLR is prevalent. The bean and liquor qualities are good.
Today, M'Chana is one of the best producing estates of Socfinaf and, perhaps, in Kenya. The farm employs 350 permanent workers, which are all housed on the estate. A dispensary, a creche and a primary school are also available on the estate.
The Estate Manager is Mr Peter Mburu, a Kenyan agronomist born in 1959 and who has been working for Socfinaf for the last 23 years. His father was already working for Socfinaf as a mechanic supervisor.
M'Chana Estate has been UTZ Certified since 2005. The farm is also certified Rainforest Alliance.
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.