Phil visited Othaya for the first time in early 2016, and was so impressed with the coffee quality that we bought all of our 2016 Kenyans from their factories. Othaya is a large operation, but nevertheless very quality-focused. They boast their own dry mill and a quality control lab. Both operations are led by Mr. David K. Wairagu, who graciously spent an afternoon with Phil during his visit.
Thuti is a wet mill (called a “Factory” in Kenya), built in 1958 as the first and founding factory of the Othaya Co-op. Presently, there are 19 factories in the co-op (although not all of them operated in the 2016 season, given the smaller crop). The factory remains mid-sized compared to the other factories in Othaya, producing 176,024 kgs of coffee cherry. The Thuti factory is managed by Hannah Wangui Kibu. Although he has never met Hannah, Phil has seen enough factories in Kenya to appreciate the importance of the manager. Most of the factories in Nyeri utilize a similar approach to processing, but the diligence of the factory manager can be the key quality differentiator between factories. One very important step that can make or break the lot quality is the wet parchment sorting after de-pulping. A good manager will ensure that this is done properly.
Kenya is facing some challenging times due to climate change. The El Niño weather phenomenon and other climate change effects have introduced some chaos to the traditionally predictable weather patterns. Not only is climate change affecting the yields (generally lowering them), but it is also affecting coffee quality in more subtle ways. In Kenya, the systems are set up to mill parchment as quickly as possible upon delivery to the dry mill. This differs from every other country we work in, where the parchment is only milled just before export. The reason for this unique setup is to allow the coffee to be sampled and sold on the Kenya national auction, as only green (dry milled) coffee can be sold there. The implication of this early dry milling is drastic, though. Dry milling, although a necessary step, does irreversible damage to the coffee seeds’ outer protective layer and makes the coffee more susceptible to microbial growth. Additionally, in Kenya, the green coffee is stored in sisal bags after milling. This sisal is strong but a relatively open weave, easily allowing humid air to pass into the coffee. These two issues combine to create a fragile product that is subject to premature fading. The solutions to these issues are nontrivial and require cooperation between many stakeholders. Phil hopes to continue to dialogue with Othaya and Kenyan Co-operative Coffee Exporters during this next season to create mutually feasible and agreeable solutions moving forward.
This green coffee was frozen immediately on arrival in Calgary, to preserve freshness.
REGION: Othaya, Nyeri County
CO-OP: Othaya Farmers Co-op Society, Ltd.
FACTORY MANAGER: Hannah Wangui Kibu
PROCESSING: Washed, Double Fermentation
PACKAGING: Vacuum Packed
STORAGE: Green coffee frozen to preserve freshness