We’re excited to return to Kenya with this coffee from Nyeri, one of our favourite regions in the country.
This coffee is the SL-28 varietal, which is quite common to see on farms in Kenya. It’s been present in our past Brew Crew coffees from Kenya, though this is the first time it’s been in a harvest without other varietals also being in the crop.
The SL stands for Scott Labs, who were commissioned in the 1930s by the Kenyan government to survey and catalog all the different varietals that existed in Kenya to find the ones best suited to commercial farming. In particular, the government was looking for a coffee varietal that showed strong resistance to drought and produced a high yield of coffee cherries.
The two strains that were selected were SL-34 and the varietal in this release: SL-28.
The SL-28 didn’t turn out to have particularly high yield, but what it does bring is big, complex delicious flavours.
Serious Eats has more on the story of this varietal.
Nyeri County is between the eastern base of the Aberdare (Nyandarua) Range and the western slopes of Mt Kenya.
The cool temperatures and red volcanic soils combined with the altitude (around 1,700m above sea level) mean coffee develops slowly, producing relatively small crops of intensely flavoured beans.
Most of the coffee is grown as small family plots alongside the homes, located on the slopes and upper plateau. The main harvest months are from October to January.
Kenya’s coffee production is made up of smallholder coffee farms, large estates and small estates. There are over 700,000 smallholders who make up about 55% of the Kenya’s production.
Smallholders are organized in to cooperative societies, which act as umbrella organisations for the factories (also known as wetmills) where these producers deliver their coffee crops for processing.
There can be several factories in an area which farmers are free to choose to deliver their cherry. Due to the traditional auction system in Kenya, quality is rewarded with higher prices. Better factories attract more farmers by producing coffee that fetches the highest prices, in turn giving higher returns to the farmers.
Ichamara is a Kenyan AA grade coffee.
Different parts of the world have different ways of categorising beans, usually to indicate either size of quality. In Colombia the letters A, AA, and AAA represent quality grades.
But in the African and Indian coffee trade, AA and AB refer to the size of the bean. AA coffee beans, such as the ones in this delivery, are over 7.2mm in size and generally fetch the highest price at auction in Kenya. Beans graded AB are slightly smaller, at least 6.8mm in size and will get the second highest price.
Beans are sorted using numbered screens with holes of a uniform size, so farmers, exporters and roasters can all use the same terminology to describe things. AA is screen 17 and 18; whereas AB beans are screen 15 and 16. Tom at Sweet Maria’s in Oakland has a blog post about screen tests with photos of how a simple screen setup works.