We feel that these coffees showcase new facets of Kenyan terroir, one more classic, going through the more traditional channels of Kenyan processing and trading, and one that takes a slightly different route, creating a new flavour experience that we hope you enjoy this month.

- John Gibson

Subscribe Learn more

This month

Our first ever natural coffee from Kenya

For your July pack, we are excited to share some of our first fresh crop coffees from East Africa. This month we are focussing on Kenya, sharing a classic washed lot from the Ngandori Cooperative in Embu, and our first ever natural coffee from Kenya, from the Gulmarg estate in Kiambu. This is a unique opportunity to taste two very different interpretations of an already unique origin. Most speciality coffee purchased from Kenya is grown processed and traded through a very specific system, but it is often interesting to break out of this system and see what kind of quality lies in the further reaches of Kenyan coffee production. We feel this month is a great example of this.

Kenya operates on a system similar to its neighbour Ethiopia, where small-holder farmers are often part of cooperatives, delivering their harvested cherries to wet mills owned by the cooperative to be processed. In Kenya, these wet mills are more often referred to as factories, and many cooperatives own several within a small region, keeping the distance from farm to mill down. The cooperative pays a price to each farmer for their cherries, depending on the quality and quantity they delivered to the mill, and on the price they receive from green coffee buyers for the processed product. Cooperatives often employ a mill manager, a very important role, as they are ultimately responsible for the quality of the mill’s output. Their stewardship of coffee fermentation is a huge factor, but the quality of raw cherries arriving at the mill is also important to control. Careful sorting during fermentation stages can help, but often managers will reject damaged or unripe cherries before they even enter the mill. Many cooperatives also pool their resources to provide support to their members, such as visits from agronomists, and low interest loans for investment in farms.

This is exactly how the first coffee in your pack is created. Around 1000 members of the Ngandori Cooperative deliver ripe cherries to the Mwiria factory, located at around 2000 masl in western Embu. Mwiria means ‘huge’ in the local Kikuyu dialect; the factory is named for a large tree that used to sit on the factory lands. During colonial times, freedom fighters hollowed out a large tree and used it as a hideout away from colonial forces. Your other coffee comes from a very different system. It was grown on a single estate, located further south in the Kiambu region, just outside the Kenyan capital Nairobi. The Gulmarg estate has bucked the trend by continuing to produce high quality coffee in a region known for its large estates, established by British colonists in the early 20th century. After decolonisation, the estates were sold to local Kenyans, but in the intervening years, the increasing size of Nairobi, and the corresponding increase of land value in Kiambu has made it difficult to continue growing coffee profitably. Gulmarg has been able to survive by diversifying into specialty coffee and aiming to sell to high end clients paying premium prices.

Kenya’s traditional washed process is a big factor in the unique character of Kenyan coffees. The cherries are first depulped mechanically, as soon as they arrive at the factory. The cherries should arrive for depulping as soon as possible after picking, hence why cooperatives make a great effort to have factories located close to concentrations of smallholders. After depulping, the seeds are covered in a layer of sticky fruity pulp, or mucilage. The mucilage is fermented in large tanks for between 12 and 24 hours, breaking it down to a point that it can be thoroughly ‘washed’ from the seeds, using long washing channels. Then, before drying, the cherries are taken to another set of fermentation tanks, and fermented again under water, normally for a shorter time, between 10 and 12 hours. This ‘double soak’ is popular in Kenya, and is useful not only for enhancing the cleanliness and intensity of the final cup, but also as a second opportunity to sort for lower density floating seeds, as these are often of lower quality, or from unripe cherries. This attention to detail is the reason Kenyan coffees are so consistently of very high quality, and why they carry a price premium above many other producing countries.

Again, this is how the Ngandori is processed, creating a very classic acidity forward Kenyan profile. There is a distinct raspberry character, a creaminess that alongside the bright acidity is reminiscent of lemon curd, and a gentle plum-like sweetness. The lot from the Gulmarg Estate is processed using the natural method, very unusual for Kenya. This method is usually associated with M’buni, the Kikuyu word for a very low quality standard normally consumed locally. Often all of the defect, under and overripe cherries will be simply laid out on a tarp in the farmer’s yard and sold at the local market as M’buni. Due to this association, it has been difficult for high quality natural processing to take hold in Kenya. At Gulmarg, the cherries are first floated in the same channels as washed coffees to sort for low quality cherries, then laid out on raised beds in a single layer. The raised beds create airflow around the cherries, and along with the single layer and frequent turning, this ensures even drying and fermentation. The coffee takes around 6 weeks to reach target moisture content, and along with laying the cherries out in such thin layers, this leads to a large investment in terms of drying space for the estate. However, we think the clean and transparent profile produced was worth it, a great balance between the softer and wilder characteristics of naturals, and the classic high level of acidity and syrupy sweetness we expect from great Kenyan coffee.

1st coffee

Ngandori AA - Kenya

(250g / 8.8oz)

Around 1000 members of the Ngandori Cooperative deliver ripe cherries to the Mwiria factory, located at around 2000 masl in western Embu. Mwiria means ‘huge’ in the local Kikuyu dialect; the factory is named for a large tree that used to sit on the factory lands. During colonial times, freedom fighters hollowed out a large tree and used it as a hideout away from colonial forces. Your other coffee comes from a very different system. The water supply for the factory comes from the Rupingazi river, formed when Mt. Kenya was still an active volcano. The cool clean water flowing from the top of the mountain is used for all stages of the processing at the factory. The dormant volcano has other advantages for coffee production here; the volcanic soil in the area is highly fertile, and also contains a very high level of natural phosphorus, so much so that an appreciable amount makes it’s way into the processed green coffee. During roasting, this forms into phosphoric acid, which we can taste in the final cup. This inorganic acid is an additive in cola, so gives the same refreshing blackcurrant or cola like character in some Kenyan coffees. The lot consists of the classic Kenyan varietals SL28 and SL34, strains of Bourbon selected by Scott Laboratories due to their high quality potential and drought resistance, as well as being well suited to Kenyan growing conditions. There is also a small amount of Batian, a hybrid variety with a high level of tolerance to disease. Batian is closely related to Ruiru 11, another disease resistant hybrid popular in Kenya. Both count SL28 and SL34 as parents, along with some Robusta crossing. Since it’s release in 2010, many farmers have experimented with small amounts of Batian and Ruiru, but so far these varietals still make up a tiny minority of exported lots. This lot has a distinct raspberry character, a creaminess that alongside the bright acidity is reminiscent of lemon curd, and a gentle plum-like sweetness.

2nd coffees

Kiambu Natural - Kenya

(250g / 8.8oz)

This lot from the Gulmarg Estate is very different from most of the other Kenyan coffees we buy, for several reasons. It was grown on a single estate, located in the Kiambu region, just outside the Kenyan capital Nairobi. The Gulmarg estate has bucked the trend by continuing to produce high quality coffee in a region known for its large estates, established by British colonists in the early 20th century. After decolonisation, the estates were sold to local Kenyans, but in the intervening years, the increasing size of Nairobi, and the corresponding increase of land value in Kiambu has made it difficult to continue growing coffee profitably. Gulmarg has been able to survive by diversifying into specialty coffee and aiming to sell to high end clients paying premium prices. Buying from a single estate also means a little more traceability and separation. We are able to have separated varietals, for example this lot is 100% SL28, unusual in an industry where many smallholders are starting to plant small plots of rust-resistant varietals like Batian and Ruiru 11.

This lot is also processed using the natural method, very unusual for Kenya. This method is usually associated with M’buni, the Kikuyu word for a very low quality standard normally consumed locally. Often all of the defect, under and overripe cherries will be simply laid out on a tarp in the farmer’s yard and sold at the local market as M’buni. Due to this association, it has been difficult for high quality natural processing to take hold in Kenya. At Gulmarg, the cherries are first floated in the same channels as washed coffees to sort for low quality cherries, then laid out on raised beds in a single layer. The raised beds create airflow around the cherries, and along with the single layer and frequent turning, this ensures even drying and fermentation. The coffee takes around 6 weeks to reach target moisture content, and along with laying the cherries out in such thin layers, this leads to a large investment in terms of drying space for the estate. However, we think the clean and transparent profile produced was worth it, a great balance between the heavier and wilder characteristics of naturals, and the classic high level of acidity and syrupy sweetness we expect from great Kenyan coffee.

Our first ever natural coffee from Kenya

We feel that these coffees showcase new facets of Kenyan terroir, one more classic, going through the more traditional channels of Kenyan processing and trading, and one that takes a slightly different route, creating a new flavour experience that we hope you enjoy this month.

Stay bright and curious - John Gibson

Subscribe to get this months coffees

Ngandori AA - Kenya (250g / 8.8oz) and
Kiambu Natural - Kenya (250g / 8.8oz)

Available from the 20th of June to the 16th of July

Subscribe Learn More

Coffee Subscription

Two Unique Coffees Every Month

La Cabra is a modern coffee roastery based out of Aarhus and Copenhagen, Denmark. Every month we ship out two unique coffee experiences and provide insight into how these coffees were grown and processed by talented producers.

Subscribe Learn More coffee line-up