The Roastery & Cafe
COMMUNITY: RITHO FARMERS’ COOPERATIVE SOCIETY
LOCATION: KIAMBU, KENYA
ALTITUDE: 1600-1800 MASL
VARIETY: SL 28, SL 34, RUIRU 11
Tasting Notes: White Grape, Rock Candy, Earl Grey, Syrupy
In an industry where we continually commit an increasing amount of time, focus, and notoriety on single farmer, single varietal nano-lots, the historical and generational rhythms that have sustained coffee growers through years of adversity and uncertainty have fallen out of the spotlight. And while these nano-lots consume a large market share of “popular” coffees, they make up only a tiny fraction of specialty coffee production annually.
In reality, most coffee farming depends on small communities of coffee growers contributing their yearly harvests to a local washing station or factory where their lots are processed, blended, and exported as a singular product. In this model, farmers are contributing their part to a whole. This system absorbs a significant amount of the intrinsic risk of growing coffee; farmers are allowed a larger margin of quality and volume for consistent prices. And while this may be an overly simplistic snapshot of a complex supply chain, its value is clear - communal coordination alleviates risk and provides a high quality product.
These kinds of community lots are both the past and the future of coffee. The price of coffee is more volatile than ever and the global climate crisis threatens coffee production with continued severity, all while the global populace is consuming more coffee than ever.
This particular community lot from the Wamuguma Factory in Kiambu, Kenya serves as a perfect case study for this topic. Farmers are encouraged to become members of a cooperative, which markets and sells coffee on the whole communities behalf. Most farmers in Kenya are smallholders and typically produce enough cherry for just a few bags. Washing stations are often called ‘factories’ and play an enormous role in the quality of the final product.
Kenya’s coffee processing techniques are particular and world-class. After picking, ripe cherry is brought to the factory by smallholder farmers, before it undergoes processing to remove the skin and pulp – known as the wet processing method. In this case, the nearest water source is the Kangunu stream, and the factory is dependent on electrical pumps to move water to reservoir tanks before using it for processing. Water is also recirculated for conservation. The factory is using a disc pulper with three sets of discs to remove the skin and fruit from the inner parchment layer that is protecting the green coffee bean. After pulping, the coffee is fermented overnight to break down the sugars, before it is cleaned, soaked and spread out on the raised drying tables. Time on the drying tables depends on climate, ambient temperature and volumes under processing, and can take from 7 to 15 days in total.
The result of this meticulous processing is a bright, acidic, sugary sweet coffee that we think tastes like earl grey tea, pink rock candy, and white grapes.