What started in 2016, has become a yearly ritual. Just as many Specialty Coffee Roasteries world wide we travelled again to the most fantastic coffee country in the world: Kenya. (Well, Ethiopia would maybe be equally spectacular, but a tad more difficult to travel and buy from. That's why we asked our partner Kenyacof to get us some Ethiopia coffee samples over as well. Easy and efficient) 

First the traveling: together with Mans Akne, coffee importer from 32cup Antwerp, we took a plane that brought us via Istanbul, where Simon from Climpson & Son London joined us, to Nairobi. Landing in the middle of the night on Sunday. Yes as a coffee buyer you need to be ready for some long and hard work. 

After a short night we attack the cupping tables at Kenyacof, partner of 32cup in the Sucafina group, on Monday morning. This is done on purpose. On Tuesday the Nairobi coffee auction takes place. It's a ritual to cup all interesting samples each Monday, so bidding can be done the day after the cupping. 

Together with Joakim from Nord Oslo and the people working at Kenyacof, we first cup around 40 auction lots, all coffee that hasn't been bought by anyone. The cuppings at Kenyacof or other coffee exporters need to get used to, since they dose higher and roast a little darker than we are used to. Also the cupping temperature is lower. You can start as high as you want, but mostly we only attack when the coffee is around 45 degrees and then cup it till it totally cooled down, before making any decision. 

Of course we cup everything blind. After everything is cooled down and notes are taken, we see the names of the producer/co-op/washing station. 

Before deciding what auction lots could be of any interest we cup the lots that has been bought already by the exporter (Kenyacof), but not yet sold to roasteries or traders. 

Again around 40 coffees are cupped with the highest concentration. 

For me, besides cupping score and flavors, a couple of things are also in consideration; i like to have a good mix between Peaberry, AA and AB lots. We tend to inform people on the differences between these three different screenings and also hope to find back the typical flavors that goes along with it. PB's for more fruityness and less acidity. AA's for extra acidity and brighter notes. AB's for a mixture of both and eventually lightly lower prices - in case the AA's are overpriced... The good news this year is that we found some really typical AA's, something missing in 2016. And even better; some AA's are cupping sky high. Last year the average level was very high and it was relatively easy to find dozens of 86/88 coffee's, but the real top lots were missing. Well guys, i think we find a couple 90 or 90+ coffee's this year!!

You could ask me why we didn't buy more AA's and less AB's, but i think it's smart to keep a balance and have a bit of everything. We also need to wait and see how this coffee will land in Antwerp, conserves and roasts. Every year we have coffees that surprise or disappoint us at arrival.  

Because the general harvest was lower, the PB lots were very small and this resulted in 5 different PB lots, two of 7 bags (60K), one of 6, one of 5 and a mini one of 2 bags. 

Then 3 AA lots (2 big ones and a small one) and 3 times 10 AB bags. 

Three lots where bought at the auction and the rest from the Kenyacof stock. 

This should be enough for the full year; for own roasting and a bit for (green) sales to micro roasteries....

So quality was smashing i think. I also heard lots of bad news from other people who cupped earlier on the season, also regarding the price, but probably they were too early to jump to conclusions. The general market price went down and many of the good ones landed relatively late, like some of the better Kiambu and Mt Elgon lots. Not the typical area's we buy from, but with the climate change and hard work in this region things are changing.

Another remark is that the price for the Kenya coffees are strongly influenced by the names. Surely in Asia we see people are looking for familiar names. When two similar cupping coffees go to auction, the best known always gets higher prices.

Luckily for Caffenation our clients are not looking for names, but quality. Except for the well known names of Gakuyuni and Kapsokisio it is fairly unknown material. Of course we were dreaming to find some Thunguri (the coffee Jeff used when winning his first Aeropress World title) or Kiriaini (our #1 coffee at Caffenation the last 2 years), but the first one hasn't been heard of in years and at the Kiriaini region they had really bad weather and their crop was sold as bulk. It's a pity for us, but mostly for the farmers that produce this coffee and a proof that coffee after all stays a natural product.

On Tuesday we cupped the best Kenya's again, we cupped cheaper lots - just for fun and learning and we cupped 50 Ethiopian samples. Quality of Ethiopians was comparable to last year. Probably even a bit better. The naturals were a bit more refined and higher in acidity. Later more Ethiopia news on this blog.

On Wednesday we knew auction results but before placing our final orders we went on the road to see some people and farms in Kirinyaga county, our favorite region in Kenya.

Thursday in the middle of the night we already came back. Tired but satisfied after another fantastic coffee adventure.

Thanks 32cup and Kenyacof and people of Slopes Of 8 for the hospitality and friendship. 

March 12, 2017 by Robrecht Berghmans