Behind the Beans: Kanjathi AA from Kenya

With nearly 700,000 coffee producers, roughly 70% of which are smallholder producers, Kenya shines as a unique coffee-producing country in East Africa. Within the Murang’a County along the slopes of the Aberdare Range is the Kanjathi Factory, or wet mill. 1,300 smallholders in this region contribute coffee cherries to this mill and belong to the Kangiri Cooperative Society. 

The Cooperative was established in the early 1960s, and works with a number of Factories, including Kanjathi, to provide better opportunities to smallholder producers. The Murang’a County is known for its agriculture, and in addition to coffee, locals may also grow tea, maize, and beans whilst also fishing, maintaining livestock for milk and hives for honey.

With varying altitudes ranging from 1,500 to 1,700 meters above sea level, this region is defined by its bright red soils, full of rich nutrients for coffee trees. The high altitudes allow for ideal temperatures and rainfall for the slow maturation of coffee cherries. Smallholders in this region grow coffee on small plots of land and pick the cherries during harvest to deliver to the mill. There are two harvests in the Murang’a County, the main occurring from October- December, and a fly crop harvested between April and July.

The coffee trees are carefully monitored and picking ensues only when the cherry is at the ideal level of ripeness. Picking occurs in the morning and buckets of bright red coffee cherries are carried to the mill. As the sun traverses across the sky into the afternoon, the cherries are piled high as underripe cherries and foreign objects are removed from the gleaming pile. The cherries are then poured into a hopper located just above the pulping station.

From here, clean local river water is drawn upwards and directed into the hopper to cover the coffee. This force pushes the cherries down a chute into the pulping house. Here, the outer pulp is removed, and the coffee is moved to a fermentation tank to breakdown the exterior mucilage for 12-24 hours. Once the fermentation is complete, the coffee is washed and sorted by density until being sent to one final fermentation tank to soak for an additional 24 hours. This step increases the proteins and amino acids in the coffee to help create a more flavourful cup profile.

Finally, the coffee is evenly dispersed onto raised tables to dry in the open sun for 2-3 weeks. Once completely dried, the coffee is moved to the dry mill to be prepared for export.

After being hulled, the coffee rests and is soon filled into 60kg hermetically lined Jute export bags.

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