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KENYA - Mwiria / Washed

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Tasting Notes:
Juicy, green apple, plum, starfruit, almond. Lingering maple sweetness.

Origin Kenya
Region Embu County
Producers of Central Ngandori
Variety SL 28, SL34, Ruiru 11
Altitude 1,300-1,900 m.a.s.l
Proc. Method Washed

This AB lot was produced by numerous smallholder farmers, all of whom are members of the Central Ngandori Farmers Co-Operative Society (FCS) delivering to Mwiria Coffee Factory (as washing stations/wet mills are called in Kenya). The factory is located north of the town of Mutunduri, in Kenya’s Embu County.

Mwiria is one of three factories operated by the FCS (the other two are Kiini and Karuriri). The society has over 3,000 members in total and is one of the highest-producing groups in the county. The advantageous position of Mwiria Factory certainly helps. It is located at the base of Mt. Kenya, with amazing views on a clear day, perfect soil and microclimate for high quality production and valuable access to the famous Rupingazi River for water. The River was formed when Mt. Kenya was still an active volcano and is characterized by hard deep black volcanic rock and cool clean water flowing from Mt. Kenya.

The washing station serves the towns of Kirigi, Kiini, Mukangu and Kathangari, among others. Members are all smallholders with around a hectare or less of land. Coffee is usually grown on only a small part of the ‘shamba’ (farm), and farmers grown other crops such as carrot, banana and fruit to help support and feed their families.

Mwiria gets its name from a very large, very old indigenous tree which used to exist on the factory grounds. During colonial times, Mau Mau freedom fighters dug a huge hole inside this tree so that it could serve as a shelter and a hideout from their colonial opponents. During the grand opening of Mwiria factory, which was conducted by Jomo Kenyatta (the first president of Kenya and a freedom fighter, himself), Kenyatta named the factory ‘Mwiria’ or ‘Huge’ in Kikuyu.

The factory has three permanent employees and brings in an additional 30 people during the peak of the harvest season. There are nine waste water soak pits, used for draining waste water from the pulping process. Napier grass and trees are planted around the pits to help purify the waste water.

Processing at the Mwiria wet mill adheres to stringent quality-driven methods. All coffee cherries are handpicked and are delivered to the mill the same day, where they undergo meticulous sorting. Factory employees oversee the process and any underripe or damaged cherries will not be accepted by the ‘Cherry Clerk’ – one of the most important harvest-period staff, who keeps meticulous records of how much coffee each producer delivers on any given day (and thus how much payment is due once the coffee has sold). Any rejected coffee will have to be taken home again, and the farmer will need to find a place to dry it (often a tarp in the yard) to be delivered only at the end of season as low quality ‘Mbuni’ – natural process coffee that earns a very low price. Thus, farmer members are incentivised to only pick and deliver the ripest cherry that they can.

After being weighed and logged, the weight of the delivery and the farmer’s identification are recorded in the Cherry Clerk’s register and the cherries are introduced into the hopper to be pulped. Pulping will only begin when a sufficient quantity of cherries has been received.

After pulping the cherries are delivered to one of the factory’s fermentation tanks, where it will ferment for between 12 to 48 hours depending on the ambient temperature at the time. After this, the coffee is fully washed to remove all traces of mucilage, during which time it will be graded. The coffee will then either be delivered to dry on the factory’s raised drying beds or will be soaked under circulating water for up to 24 hours, depending on if there is room on the factory’s beds (during the peak of the season, there is often a backlog). The coffee will dry here slowly over the course of 2 to 3 weeks, during which time it will be turned regularly and covered during the hottest part of the day.

Some of the issues that farmers face are low production due to loss due to pests and diseases and the relatively high cost of inputs. Many cannot afford to plant disease resistant varieties and face being priced out of the market as their yields diminish. It is perhaps no surprise that many young people in the region see no future in continuing to farm coffee. This is a challenge across much of Kenya, and one that cooperatives such as Mwiria must confront in the future.

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