Kenya, Mwiria washing station in Embu county
What happens when beautifully ripe, specific selections of bourbon, along with a couple of hybrid cultivars are processed in an insanely meticulous way? Juicebox!
If you pressed anyone who’s been working in coffee to tell you what their favourite origin is - Kenya almost always comes up. It’s not arbitrary - These coffees grow mainly above 1500 meters, in the volcanic soils of either side of mount Kenya and are among the juiciest, most vibrant coffees on the planet. Filled with phosphoric brightness (think cola), zippy mango and blackberry - Especially in lots that have a high amount of Sl-28 - That signature blackberry flavour is often right up front.
For this coffee, however, we get to direct our attention to Embu County - Namely, the Eastern side of Mount Kenya, where the coffees veer more toward creamy full texture and darker berries (and in this case, with Mwiria, we get to have bright mango too). This particular lot (or out turn) from Mwiria washing station represents the collective efforts of over 1000 smallholder producers who tend to smaller plots of land (300 trees more or less). What's particularly special about how the flavour profiles turn out to be so vivid and clean has a lot to do with how coffee is typically processed in Kenya. Processing techniques are of course different depending where in Kenya you are and the practices of individual factories, but there are some commonalities we can talk about.
Ready for the rundown on that? Let's go:
Step 1: Ripe coffee fruit is delivered by farmers to the washing station in the afternoon.
Step 2: The fruit is depulped using a disk style depulper, which also grades the coffee into the different sizes (AA, AB etc) - The coffee seeds then hit multiple water channels and are screened by density again.
Step 3: The coffee seeds are then left to sit and yeasts from the air eat the mucilage for 2-3 days, with the tanks replenished with fresh water each day.
Step 4: After the mucilage is broken down, the coffee seeds are then transferred to a second set of cleaning and grading channels to do another round of sorting by density - At this stage the coffee is called 'parchment' since it still has a layer that will be removed when milled for export.
Step 5: The really nice stuff (P1) is large and dense, and is often sent to a final tank to be soaked in fresh water overnight. There's a couple things this is said to do: a) there are still yeasts kicking around, so there may be opportunity to develop a unique acid profile that is known and loved as uniquely Kenyan. b) that soaking prepares the coffee seeds for a level playing-field for drying evenly since everything is thoroughly soaked before the seeds are transferred to raised beds to evenly dry.
Step 6: The coffee is then dried on raised beds for a period of 1-2 weeks, and then is put into conditioning bins to allow the movement of the remaining water in the seeds to clam down and become more stable, reaching a moisture of around 11%
Um, so if you're still reading this, you officially know more than most on Kenya coffee processing! The people who contribute to Mwiria do an incredible job, and the result is in your cup - Juicebox!