At Little City we always aim to expand our microlot offerings by regularly bringing in coffees from new origins. And whenever possible we make it a priority to travel to those origins to meet with potential direct trade partners and expand our knowledge of their customs, production systems, and trade models. For years, Kenya has been on the top of our list, and although we’ve had a few offerings in the past and know how amazing and complex Kenyan coffees can be, we’d never been there to witness the harvest firsthand. After reaching out to some friends with more Kenyan coffee buying experience than myself, I was able to connect with a few exporters with access to some of Kenya’s best and set up a trip.
I spent most of my time in Kenya, visiting farms and wet mills in Nyeri County, a region famous for its intensely complex coffees and high-quality production. Over six days in Nyeri, I visited dozens of wet mills, known locally as “coffee factories.” Most of these mills are owned and operated by local growers groups known as FCS’s (Coffee Farmers Societies). The societies range in size from a few dozen families to a few thousand, and the factories are centrally located to allow members to conveniently deliver their cherries for processing. Most accept deliveries three to four days per week but often expand their receiving hours during peak harvest.
In visiting these factories it became clear that, aside from the inherently beautiful flavors influenced by genetics and terroir, Kenya’s renowned quality is also the result of an industry of meticulous standards and careful management of post-harvest processing. Best practices, cleanliness, and organization were the norm and were more consistent from mill to mill than many other coffee origins I’ve visited. For the rest of this post I will walk you through, with photos, the typical post-harvest processes observed in most of the mills I visited. Of course there are variations and outliers and large estates that do things differently (look for more on these in a future post), but these photos represent the typical FCS-operated wet mill in central Kenya and help explain why Kenyan coffee’s quality floor is so high—and its ceiling so limitless.
Coffee is run through the pulper to remove the seed from the cherry, then passed through water channels to separate lighter beans from more dense beans, another quality control step. The most common pulper in Kenya is this model of disk pulper, manufactured in the mid-20th century and used to outfit many of the factories built in the 1950s and 1960s in the year’s just before and after Kenya’s independence. This was the period when agricultural reform made it legal for Kenyans to produce cash crops on their own land, as opposed to only on British-owned plantations.
Cupping and Selection
Kenya exports around 750,000 60kg bags of green coffee per year, mostly via the port of Mombasa. This year we’ve decided to air freight our coffee due to the major delays and rising costs of ocean freight—and our desire to have some of the first and freshest arrivals of the season. Stay tuned and look out for some really beautiful new Kenyan offerings coming to Little City very soon.