KENYA Kirinyaga Konyu (CHOICE)
Mt. Kenya, at the helm of Kenya’s Central Province, is the second tallest peak on the continent of Africa and a commanding natural presence. The mountain itself is a single point inside a vast and surreal thicket of ascending national forest and active game protection communities. The central counties of Kenya extend from the center of the national park, like six irregular pie slices, with their points meeting at the peak of the mountain. It is along the lower edge of these forests where, in wet, high elevation communities with mineral-rich soil (Mt. Kenya is a stratovolcano) many believe the best coffees in Kenya, often the world, are crafted.
Kirinyaga county is certainly well-known among these central counties for its jammy, exuberant coffees. Kenya’s coffee is dominated by a cooperative system of production, whose members vote on representation, marketing and milling contracts for their coffee, as well as profit allocation. Konyu processing station, or “factory” as they’re known in Kenya, alone has 1000 contributing farmer members, and is one of 11 factories that comprise its local cooperative society, Kabare. Farmers belonging to Konyu average 500 pounds of picked cherry each, the same as roughly three-fourths of one 60kg bag of exportable green coffee. High FOB prices for great Kenyas, while the norm, are not a panacea, and in Kenya in particular the number of individual margins sliced off an export price before payment reaches the actual farms is many, leaving only a small percentage to support coffee growth itself, and most often this arrives many months after harvest. However, Kenya coffees are sold competitively by quality, which means well-endowed counties like Kirinyaga achieve very high average prices year after year, and the smallholders here with a few hundred trees at the most are widely considered to be middle class.
Kabare Farmers’ Cooperative Society (FCS) is the central management body for 11 different cooperatives in Kirinyaga County: Kiringa, Konyu, Karani, Kiangombe, Kaboyo, Mukure, Mukengeria, Kimandi, Kathata, Kiangothe, and Kiamiciri. Combined, these groups represent almost 10,000 farming households, whose land spans from nearby Kerugoya town all the way to the forest border at Mt. Kenya National Park.
Kenya is of course known for some of the most meticulous at-scale processing that can be found anywhere in the world. Bright white parchment, nearly perfectly sorted by density and bulk conditioned at high elevations is the norm, and a matter of pride, even for generations of Kenyan processing managers who prefer drinking Kenya’s tea (abundantly farmed in nearby Muranga and Kiambu counties) to its coffee. Ample ground and river water supply in Kirinyaga has historically allowed factories to wash, and wash, and soak, and wash their coffees again entirely with fresh, cold river water. Conservation is creeping into the discussion in certain places–understandably in the drier areas where water, due to climate change, cannot be as taken for granted—but for the most part Kenya cooperatives continue to thoroughly wash and soak their coffees according to tradition. Cooperatives at Kabare FCS are no different, sorting their pulped and fermented coffee into 4 different density grades with the use of fresh nearby water, and conditioning the moisture of each grade independently during drying, before transport to the mill.
This lot from the Konyu Factory impressed us on the cupping table with its classic profile. Zesty Ruby Red Grapefruit acidity and savory tomato notes jump out immediately, and are accompanied by honey-like sweetness, notes of kiwi and dried raspberry, and a fragrant aromatic of fresh cedar.
You have in your hands some of the freshest roast coffee you can get, so how do you do justice to it and get the best to your cup ?
Although it can be so tempting to grind (more on that in a moment) your beans and brew up, there is some evidence to suggest that allowing your coffee to relax for about a week after the roasting date can help enhance some of the more subtle flavours, particularly in the case of those "fruity blueberry" Ethiopian varieties. It's not going to taste bad but it might taste better in a subtle way.
As with humans, too much rest can be a problem - after about thirty days from roast date your beans will start to lose some subtle characteristics. Unlike wine, if it has been resting for a year, then don't expect too much.
Yes, it can be problematic adding another piece of equipment to your already cramped counter tops but this one is worth it. You should be grinding to order as part of the coffee "ritual". Tempting though it may be to re-use a whirly blade spice grinder (often sold as dual purpose) or buy the cheapest grinder you can find, hold out for something that is at least a burr grinder (conical or flat doesn't hugely matter at this point) from a reasonable manufacturer - OXO, Cuisinart, Kitchen Aid, Baratza, Eureka are some names that come to mind.
What's wrong with whirly blade grinders ? Well, as you can tell, they resemble upside down lawn mowers and their contact with the beans is going to be random at best. You are going to get larger and smaller chunks of bean depending on the quantity and grind time. That's going to be a problem when brewing as the finest will extract quickly and the coarsest not as quick, if at all. So this results in uneven extraction which can affect the overall balance of the taste. A burr grinder, like a flour mill, is more even and consistent.
Depending on your brew method, you may want to experiment with different grind settings, usually for non-espresso you are looking for something between coarse sand and table salt. For immersion methods like French Press, usually you want to be at the more coarse end of the grind.
Taste the water you are going to make coffee with. Is it off or less than palatable ? Well as coffee is 98% water, if the water tastes bad by itself, your coffee isn't going to be great either. Use either bottled water or a filter system to remove the chlorine smell/taste that is present in many municipal water supplies.
How Much Coffee:
Try and resist the urge to use the "scoop" per cup method - grab your kitchen scales or buy a cheap one which can measure to 0.1 of a gram. The problem with the scoop is it is by volume so that can change by up to 10% depending on your grind level. The average scoop is probably 10g.
A good starting ratio is 60g of coffee per liter of water. You can make your coffee stronger or weaker depending on your taste but start there and adjust the grind if your coffee is sour or bitter before changing the amount.
If the coffee seems bitter you have likely over extracted and should grind a little coarser. If sour, you under extracted and should grind a little finer.
Filter paper or metal permanent:
A number of coffee machines now come with a permanent metal filter as an alternative to using one time paper filters. Depending on your personal ecological stance, you might prefer the reuse of the metal. This will likely result in a more "bold" coffee taste as some of the coffee oils that add "body" will not be absorbed as they would with a paper filter and will find their way into your cup. This might be suitable if you like a lighter roast but may get too heavy with a darker roast. Try and avoid reaching for the sugar or creamer to compensate if a paper filter would save the day.