Situated on the equator on Africa's east coast, Kenya has been described as "the cradle of humanity". In the Great Rift Valley palaeontologists have discovered some of the earliest evidence of man's ancestors. Kenya’s topography is incredibly diverse. The country is a land of mountains, valleys, open plains, deserts, forests, lakes, savannahs...
Situated on the equator on Africa's east coast, Kenya has been described as "the cradle of humanity". In the Great Rift Valley palaeontologists have discovered some of the earliest evidence of man's ancestors. Kenya’s topography is incredibly diverse. The country is a land of mountains, valleys, open plains, deserts, forests, lakes, savannahs and a golden sanded coastline. With its scenic beauty and abundant wildlife, Kenya is one of Africa's major safari destinations.
Coffee was introduced to Kenya by the British with seeds from neighbouring Ethiopia and also from Reunion (Bourbon) island. The development of hybrids during the 1930s brought about the highly successful varietals, SL28 and SL34 – coffees that are now world famous and highly admired for their wonderful complexity in the cup with unrivalled lemony acidity. The country’s best coffees are grown in the Central Highlands on the southern slopes of Mt. Kenya to the north and in the foothills of the Aberdare Mountains to the west.
Here the coffee is grown on farms with altitudes of up to 1,800 metres above sea level - and this, along with the fertile volcanic soils of the region, is the key to the almost unbelievable flavours that can be found within the cup. The best coffees in Kenya are produced by the cooperatives of which there are around 300 comprised of between half a million to 600,000 smallholder members. About 60% of Kenya’s coffee is produced on cooperatives with estates and plantations making up the balance. Typically a smallholding or ‘shamba’ is comprised of shade-grown coffee, a house, the family cow and a good variety of vegetables and fruit for the use of the family.
The Mutitu factory is located in Giathugu around 4km away from the town of Murkurwe-ini in Nyeri. This factory, along with Mihuti, Igutua, Giathugu, Mweru, Kanyiriri, Gumba and Karunda make up the Rugi Farmers Coop Society. There are 639 members who deliver coffee cherries to the Mutitu factory who each have on average around 1 acre of land for coffee growing alongside macadamia, beans and maize. The area has rich and fertile red volcanic soil at altitudes of 2000 metres above sea level. Smallholder members of this cooperative have access to advances for farm inputs along with training in crop husbandry and land management.
The coffee is handpicked by the smallholder members and delivered to the Kamunyaka factory where it is pulped. This initially separates the dense beans from the immature ‘mbuni’s (floaters) using water floatation which means the denser beans will sink and be sent through channels to the fermentation tank. This first stage of fermentation will last for around 24 hours, after which the beans are washed and sent to the secondary fermentation tank for another 12-24 hours. Once the fermentation process is completed, the beans enter the washing channels where floaters are separated further and the dense beans are cleaned of mucilage. The washed beans will then enter soaking tanks where they can sit under clean water for as long as another 24 hours. This soaking process allows amino acids and proteins in the cellular structure of each bean to develop which results in higher levels of acidity and complex fruit flavours in the cup - it is thought that this process of soaking contributes to the flavour profiles that Kenyan coffees are so famed for.
The beans are then transferred to the initial drying tables where they are laid in a thin layer to allow around 50% of the moisture to be quickly removed. This first stage of drying can last around 6 hours before the beans are gathered and laid in thicker layers for the remaining 5-10 days of the drying period. The dry parchment coffee is then delivered to a private mill and put into ‘bodegas’ to rest – these are raised cells made of chicken wire which allows the coffee to breathe fully. Coffee is traditionally sold through the country’s auction system, though recent amendments to the coffee law of Kenya have brought about the introduction of direct trading whereby farmers can by-pass the auction and sell directly to speciality roasters around the world.