Our first year working with Long Miles’ new project in Kenya.
The Long Miles Project in Kenya
We have been looking forward to this new project from our long term partners at Long Miles for some time. We’ve been working together with the Long Miles team since 2014, and during this time they have made great strides in Burundian coffee; bringing vibrant and varying lots of coffee to roasters and consumers, while also bringing a sense of stability and prosperity to large groups of farmers in rural northern Burundi.
They now aim to create a similarly fair and equitable system in Kenya. Although a much more established and stable coffee origin, there are still several challenges facing producers here. The dominant cooperative structure here leads to a power dynamic in which producers end up into long term agreements with regard to things like payment and fertiliser use. Often these agreements can be mutually beneficial, but we have heard of some instances of questionable practices. For example, as a farmer who can only harvest and therefore sell coffee once per year, it’s often necessary to ask for an advance from the cooperative in order to keep food on the table. These advances are often available, but involve locking in the entirety of the next harvest with the cooperative at a rate far below the market price, as a type of interest. Cooperatives who aim to produce large amounts of high value ‘AA’ lots, consisting of very large beans, push small producers to use a great deal of chemical fertiliser on their farms, often in collaboration with fertiliser companies. This high level of fertiliser usage, while leading to the required large bean size, is a threat to groundwater supplies and a direct threat to producer’s health.
"We see these coffees as an investment in the future of Long Miles’ project in Kenya, and will be following developments closely over the coming seasons"
The Thunguri Mill
Long Miles are aiming to break this structure, and support producers in the same way they do in Burundi. They have purchased a mill in Nyeri, Thunguri, and have processed a small amount of coffee here during the past harvest season. They have already begun to assemble a team of young agronomists who will serve the same role as the Coffee Scouts team in Burundi. Based at the Long Miles Thunguri mill, they will provide agronomic advice and support to the farmers delivering. The first production from Thunguri was very small, but Long Miles are committed to growing slowly, building trust within the community and creating a real difference for their partner coffee farmers, just as they have in Burundi. Furthermore, Long Miles are in discussions about a small plot of land in western Kenya, not far from the border with Uganda, where they look to establish their own farm, planted from scratch with a focus on regenerative farming practices. The reforestation work started in Burundi with the ‘Trees for Kibira’ project will continue here, planting green belts of trees and encouraging shade-grown coffee.
The coffees we have purchased this year are part of the start-up phase of Long Miles Kenya. As the production from Thunguri was so small, Long Miles have worked together with some neighbouring mills, visiting and participating in their quality control procedures. They have then exported these coffees through their existing channels, involving roaster partners like us in this early stage of the project. We see these coffees as an investment in the future of Long Miles’ project in Kenya, and will be following developments closely over the coming seasons, and hope to share as much as possible with you. It’s very exciting to have one of our closest and most trusted partners involved in one of our favourite origins, and have every confidence that this is just the start of a fruitful and delicious adventure.
Soft stewed fruits drive the cup, with a gentle body like fruit poaching liquid.
This lot is from the Chinga station in Nyeri, our second lot of the season from the Othaya cooperative. This year they have struggled with lower yields than normal, and an ageing farmer population means the future of their cooperative looks rather unstable. Attracting younger farmers through more sustainable business conditions and more involvement in the supply chain is also part of Long Miles’ aims for the future. Lack of space on drying tables during the peak harvest season was also an issue, so they have invested in larger tables for next year. Like many Kenyan lots from this region, the coffee that makes up this lot has been grown in fertile volcanic soil, rich in natural phosphorous, leading to both high quality and yield. This washed lot is over 90% SL28 and SL34, also leading to high quality in the cup due to the lack of rust resistant Robusta hybrids. This varietal make up, alongside the rich soil conditions and careful processing, lead to a soft and rich Kenyan profile, with stewed fruit, and a body reminiscent of fruit poaching liquid.
The washed process involves completely removing both the cherry and the mucilage from the outside of the parchment with the use of friction, fermentation and water. After being harvested, the coffee cherry is then sliced open by either a metal or a sharp plastic blade.
The two seeds (also known as beans) are pushed out of the cherry, which leaves the seed with mucilage as their outermost layer. It is essential in the washed process that all mucilage is removed from the seed which leaves only the flavour that developed in the cell structure of the seed prior to processing.