The first time I travelled to Kenya already dates back to the year 2013. Up to this day I can vividly recall how impressed I was by its inhabitants and the different cultures among them. During that first trip I discovered a lot about the local coffee sourcing and dreamt about coming back to source and buy our own coffees for Caffènation.
Kenyan coffee has always been an important part of our global offering and by far the number one go-to country for filter roasts. In 2016 Jeff and me finally fulfilled this dream and stayed in Kenya for the duration of a week. We were able to buy 10 different lots after cupping hundreds of coffee samples at the Kenyacof and Dormans tables.
In 2017 I travelled to Kenya once more, this time together with Mans from 32 Cup, a sister company of Kenyacof. Last year I travelled on my own and had even better results with 9 lots and sublime coffees from three different regions; Kirinyaga, Nyeri and Muranga. We even managed to buy two coffees which cupped a whopping 90 points at our cupping tables, namely Giathugu and Gatura. This year I decided to give other people at Caffènation a chance to visit this wonderful country.
This year I decided to give other people at Caffènation a chance to visit this wonderful country.
My business companion Lieke was of course a logical choice when looking for someone to replace me. She arranged the whole trip together with Kenyacof CEO Mette Hansen. Emiel, an experienced cupper and coffee roaster, became the second member of our team. For Scarlett the trip served as a goodbye present after many years of commitment to the Caffènation company – apart from the fact that she's a stellar coffee cupper as well. And last but not least, former barista at Caffènation and now head of Butchers Coffee, Dave completed our delegation.
Landing on Sunday eve, they merely had one evening to acclimatize before attacking dozens of different coffees on Monday.
Most of these coffees were already bought by Kenyacof, weeks before our arrival. Other ones were brand new samples that were still awaiting purchase on Tuesday's auction, during which hundreds of coffee lots are sold to the highest bidder.
Since recent years Kenyacof and its mother company Sucafina have been aiming to work in a more direct manner with coffee corporations in coffee producing regions. By doing this they hope to achieve more unique coffees, offer local people a chance of receiving more money and also improve their crop by collaborating with each other.
They acquired their own dry mill in Thika to ensure a more precise and faster production. Small estates also come here to simplify proceedings and can make full use of the nearly direct access to Specialty coffee buyers from all over the globe.
Last year we bought our first (semi) direct trade this way. The Kiranga AB might not have been our best lot, but all new things need some time. This year we found two really special lots which will arrive by boat in the Antwerp harbour around June.
In general we are aiming for 9 lots, equally spread over AA, AB and PB screen sized beans. It’s a bit too early for final names, since the full production and shipping needs to be finalized, but some well-known names, coupled with four new ones are on our wish list.
After three exhausting days of cupping coffees, the team went to visit the mill and some coffee farms nearby the holy mountain of Mount Kenya.
A small field report by Lieke:
We nervously embarked on our journey to Nairobi on Sunday. It was the first time for each one of us to leave for Kenia whilst bearing the important task of having to taste and buy new coffee. To Rob and Jeff cupping and deciding which coffee is best has almost become a second nature. To us however this was something completely new.
After a short first night on African soil, our taxi driver Joseph picked us up on Monday morning and took us to trader Kenyacof. Tasting a lot of different coffees in a row makes it difficult to separate the good from the bad. We tasted more than 60 coffees on the first day, of which we selected a small amount to re-cup the day after. By Tuesday noon we had pinpointed the winners after our second cupping spree. It was time to go to the auction!
What seemed to be just another typical Kenyan building from the outside, looked truly fantastic on the inside. Just plain beautiful. After a few minutes in the auction room, we went up some floors to go to the sample room. Wow! Never before had I seen such a variety of coffee beans! Impressive to say the least!
On Wednesday morning we had another cupping moment. We once again tasted our chosen coffees of the day before, together with some new ones from the auction. Our decision was easily made, we were 100% convinced of our choice!
Wednesday afternoon was reserved to visit the Kahawa Bora Millers. We enjoyed a grand tour and ended with a cupping session. Once again, the four of us preferred the same coffee (Kiangundo). Dave afterwards impressed the locals with his infamous AeroPress skills. They were fascinated!
Finally, it was time to visit the farms. Our first stop was Kiama Farmes Cooperative. This is where the management of the farmers is seated. It’s ran by eight people who used to be farmers as well. Every three years, the management is evaluated and decisions are made whether people should leave or not.
The two farms we visited were Ichuga and Kiangundo. The first one is a rather small farm which was established in 1967. Kiangundo, founded in 1956, is a larger and somewhat more advanced farm. It has 1500 farmers and has about 194,000 cherries in its fields. They produce more coffee and own pumps which transport the beans from the cherry hopper to the dry beds. They also use a system to re-use the water that comes down from the mountains. They even dedicated a small piece of land to train new farmers. How cool is that?
After business comes pleasure. We had decided beforehand to book a safari in Sweetwaters. Around 5 am, Dave (Butchers Coffee) woke us all up with an AeroPress. What an excellent way to start the day! What followed next was a long ride to get to Sweetwaters. And then came the long-awaited moment: the safari. All four of us were awestruck! We didn’t manage to spot the big five, but apart from the leopard we caught ‘em all!
In the afternoon we headed towards our final destination. Our three-hour drive ended up being a six-hour drive, but the hotel with a swimming pool we had booked made up for it. It was time for us to relax and enjoy the sun before we had to leave for Belgium again.
It truly was an unforgettable trip! We had so much fun. I can’t wait for the next one!