Farm: Oaklands Estate
Varietal: SL28, Ruiru 11, Batian & K7
Processing: Fully washed & dried on African beds
Altitude: 1,575 metres above sea level
Owner: Coffee Management Systems
Town / City: Ruiru
Region: Kiambu County, Central Province
Oaklands AA - Kenya
Oaklands Estate is one of Kenya’s oldest and largest coffee farms. Dating from colonial times, the farm was long owned by the Socfinaf Company, Kenya’s largest coffee plantation company at the time, which owned some twelve estates spread over 37,960 acres. The company, for many years, was one of only three licensed milling agents in Kenya and had significant influence over the development of the coffee sector in the country.
Today, many of these farms have been broken up, redistributed and/or subsumed by urbanisation, as Nairobi lies just beyond the farm’s bounds. Oaklands was acquired by the Kofinaf Company about a decade ago, and in 2017, Coffee Management Systems (CMS), one of Kenya’s premier marketing and agricultural extension services, took over the farm’s management. True to their reputation, CMS are making the most of Oaklands’ potential. They are working towards expanding and improving the farm’s specialty coffee offerings and are investing in the coffee mills and central workshop that lie within the farm itself.
The estate lies at a fairly level altitude of 1,575 metres above sea level. The soil is of the deep red volcanic type so common to the region. This area of Kenya has two distinct rainy seasons: March through May and October through December. Irrigation water is used to supplement the needs of the coffee farm in between seasons. The famous Ruiru River and two dams (Karimu and Bradgate) provide good access to water year round, and four boreholes scattered around the farm ensure that there is always sufficient water for domestic and processing use.
The estate is currently overseen by Levine Nyakundi, who works closely with CMS to ensure best practices are carried out. There are 3 administrative staff and 66 permanent workers year-round, all of whom are housed with their families on the farm itself. This substantial work force grows to around 700 people during the peak of the harvest season. These day labourers are brought in by bus and extra lorries during the height of picking. The farm has a well-stocked dispensary for its workers and their dependants, a primary school for workers’ children and those of neighbouring communities, as well as a day-care facility for those under 5 years old, for whom a nutrition programme is also sponsored by the company.
The workers duties include weeding, pest and disease control, pruning, irrigation, and fertiliser application. Seasonal duties include security, picking, pulping, coffee drying & hand sorting, along with weighing, bagging and delivery to the group’s dry mill.
Coffee is harvested twice annually. During the harvest, a great deal of effort goes into ensuring that quality is maintained. All pickers are well–trained in quality harvesting methods, and only the ripest cherries are picked at each pass. These are delivered on the same day to the ‘factory’ (as Kenyan washing stations/wet mills are called), sorted to remove any damaged or underripe cherries, and pulped using the farm’s large drum pulpers. The pulped coffee is then fermented for around 12 hours before being fully washed to remove all the remaining mucilage.
When it is ready, the coffee is washed and graded. After coffee is washed is delivered to rest in the factory’s soaking tanks under circulating, clean water from the farm’s boreholes for around 24 hours. Once soaked and clean, the parchment is delivered to pre-drying tables (with slightly larger screen holes) for around two hours. Here it will be sorted, again, as it loses excess surface moisture, before it is delivered to the main drying beds.
Usually drying times are around 7 to 14 days. Coffee is turned and sorted every two hours or so and is covered under Nylex during the hottest part of the day to prevent splitting and to promote even drying. Very occasionally, depending on weather and volume, the coffee may be delivered to mechanical driers, though this is not the preference. After the optimal humidity of 10.5 to 11% is reached, the coffee is bagged and rested in the farm’s ample warehouse.
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.