Blueberries, stone fruit, currants and mollasses-like sweetness. Floral, bright and juicy.
About Mwiria AB (with thanks to Melbourne Coffee Merchants)
Mwiria is a washing station – or factory, as they are called in Kenya – located in Embu County in Kenya’s former Eastern Province. Mwiria is one of three washing stations, along with its sisters Kiini and Karuriri, owned by the Central Ngandori Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Society (FCS). Central Ngandori is made up of over 3,000 active members.
Mwiria receives coffee cherries from around 1,000 local members of the cooperative who grow coffee trees on nearby farms, located between 1,300-1,900 meters above sea level. Farmers deliver ripe red cherry, which is meticulously sorted to remove under-ripe cherries before being processed.
The coffees in this lot are grown in the south-eastern foothills of the extinct volcano, Mt Kenya, in an area defined by its bright red, nutrient-rich, volcanic soil, high elevations and cool climate. The geographical conditions of the area contribute greatly to the outstanding quality of coffees produced here. Most farmers in Embu are smallholder cooperative members – with farm size averaging just one hectare – and grow coffee as a cash crop alongside food crops like banana, maize, macadamia, avocados and vegetables. Tea and dairy are also important sources of income for the producers. Once harvested, coffee cherries are delivered to a centralised factory where it they are processed and dried, ahead of being transported to Nairobi for sale (either directly or through the auction system).
Many of the producers in the region are second-generation landholders, whose parents would have purchased and planted the land. Most coffee farms in Embu were planted in the 1950s, after agricultural reform allowed for small Kenyan farmers to produce cash crops on their family farms (instead of only on large, British owned estates). At that time, it was recommended to plant SL-28 and SL-34, which remain the predominant varieties found in the area and make up over 50% of this lot. Both cultivars have Bourbon and Moka heritage and are named after the laboratory that promoted their wider distribution in Kenya during the early 20th Century: Scott Laboratories. This lot also contains around 5% of the hybrid varieties Ruiru 11 and Batian, which were cultivated as more robust varieties, with better resistance to Coffee Berry Disease and Coffee Leaf Rust. Both varieties have been backcrossed with SL-28 and SL-34 to achieve a high cup quality.
This is the second year that Central Ngandori FCS have employed Sucastainability as their marketing agent. Sucastainability takes an on-the-ground approach to improving productivity and quality for Mwiria’s farmer members through training and education programs. Beyond this, Sucastainability connects Central Ngandori to specialty-focused buyers (like MCM) that will pay high premiums for exceptional quality.
This coffee was sourced through Sucastainability, who act as a marketing agent for Central Ngandori FCS. The cooperative receives assistance from Sucastainability to maximise the potential and profitability of their coffees, both through training and education programs that improve the productivity and quality of the coffees and in the marketing and sale of those coffees. Sucastainability’s objective is to ensure sustained industry growth by establishing transparent and trust-based relationships with small-holder producers. By training farmers on improving yield and quality, Sucastainability helps to improve the premiums that their coffees are sold for, which ultimately has a positive impact on the quality of life for coffee-producing communities.
Sucastainability was established in 2014 and has grown quickly to be the third-largest marketing agent in Kenya in 2020. The team currently works with over 1000 independent farmers and about 70 cooperatives across all coffee-producing regions of Kenya. The agency is managed by Wycliffe Odhiambo Murwayi (pictured above) who has over twenty years of experience working in the Kenyan coffee industry. His team of agronomists is headed up by Lucy Wanjiku Njoroge (also pictured) and they have a representative in each of the six coffee growing regions in Kenya. Lucy and her team provide training seminars for the smallholders focused on sharing best agricultural practices, with advice and resources to help improve yields and quality. These sessions are extremely well attended and have had a positive impact on coffee quality from Mwiria, as farmers emerge from trainings with a better understanding of the impact that fertilisation, pruning, and quality-driven harvest techniques have on the prices their coffee receives at auction and with direct buyers.
As part of their program, Sucastainability provides pre-financing to producers for school fees and farm inputs. They also buy farm inputs in bulk and then pass on the discounts they gain directly to the cooperative, who in turn sell these at cost to producers, ensuring that they distribute the correct fertilisers and pesticides at the correct time for application.
Sucastainability are responsible for milling the coffee, and also provide important sensory analysis of the coffees and feedback to producers. They are also responsible for marketing and on-selling the coffee either directly to traders or via the Auction system, who then sell the coffee to the final buyer. To learn more about the chain of custody in Kenya, click here.
HOW THIS LOT WAS PROCESSED
All the coffee cherry is hand-picked and delivered on the same day to the washing station, where it undergoes meticulous sorting. This is also done by hand and is overseen by a ‘cherry clerk’ who ensures any unripe and damaged cherries are removed. The ripe cherry is then digitally weighed and recorded, and the farmer receives a receipt of delivery.
The coffee is then placed in a receiving tank and pulped using a pulping machine to remove the skin and fruit from the inner parchment layer that protects the green coffee bean. After being pulped, the coffee is sorted by weight using water, with the highest quality and densest beans being separated out from the lighter, lower-quality beans.
The coffee is then dry fermented for 12-24 hours, to break down the sugars and remove the mucilage (sticky fruit covering) from the outside of the beans. Whilst the coffee is fermenting it is checked intermittently and when it is ready it is rinsed and removed from the tanks and placed in a washing channel.
The parchment-covered coffee is then washed with fresh water from the nearby Rupingazi River and sent through water channels for grading by weight. The heavier coffee, which sinks, is considered the higher quality, sweeter coffee, and any lighter density or lower grade coffee beans are removed. The beans are then sent to soaking tanks where they sit underwater for a further 12-24 hours. This process increases the proteins and amino acids, which in turn heightens the complexity of the acidity.
After soaking, the coffee is pumped onto deep drying beds where they drain for 1-2 hours, before being transferred to raised drying tables (also known as African beds). As they dry the parchment is turned constantly to ensure even drying, and so that any defective beans can be identified removed. Time on the drying tables depends on the weather, ambient temperature and processing volume: taking anywhere from one to two weeks to get to the target moisture of 11–12%. After drying the coffee is moved to conditioning beds, where it rests in parchment for about a month. This resting period helps to stabilise water activity and contributes to long-lasting quality and vibrancy in the cup.
Once the coffee is ready it is transported to Kahawa Bora Mill (“good coffee mill”) to be dry milled and prepared for shipping. Kahawa Bora is located in Thika, about 1hrs drive from Nairobi.
Kenya uses a grading system for all its exportable coffee lots. The grading system is based on the size and assumed quality of the bean. A coffee’s grade is directly correlated with the price it attracts at auction or through direct trade.
This coffee is AB grade. This grade is easily defined by size (in this case, AB means that the beans are screen size 15 and above) and to a certain extent, quality. While it is assumed that AA lots represent the highest quality, we have often found AB and PB lots to be just as delicious, if not better.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
“Mwiria” is the Kikiyu word for a very large, indigenous tree which used to grow in this area. During Colonial times, Mau Mau freedom fighters would shelter and hide under these trees. The name was given to the factory when it was opened by Jomo Kenyetta – a former freedom fighter and Kenya’s first president post-independence – in the 1960s.