Tuesday 29 January 2013
The driver, Kim, speeds through the congested streets of Nairobi. He is explaining how good he is at getting places on time, and finding places.
“That is in fact what my friends call me, ‘GPS’, because if you name a place, I will find it,” he tells me. After a short stop on a rutted dirt track where he inexplicably has to ask someone for directions, we pull in to a secure warehouse district. He points at the clock- 10:00. “You see,” he says, “we are on time.”
And so we are at the warehouse and cupping lab of Kenya Cooperative Coffee Exporters, KCCE.
There I meet with Phyllis and Lucy, managers who work with marketing of coffees from Kenyan cooperatives. They run the cupping lab as well, and make contracts with buyers and cooperatives- one contract between the buyer (from outside Kenya) and the KCCE, and another contract between KCCE and the cooperatives, a so called “Growers contract”. Also working at the warehouse were a team of several logistics personnel who coordinate the transfer of coffee to the warehouse from cooperatives around Kenya, and eventually into containers and on to Mombassa by truck before being shipped all over the world.
My goals for the day were to learn more about KCCE- the who, what and how of it all. I also want to find out if they know anything about organic coffee from cooperatives in Kenya. I also want to dig into the traceability question: how much money do the actual farmers get after all the administrative and logistics costs are out of the way, and how can I SEE that.
I was together with a Coffee Roaster from South Korea named Peter. Peter has been buying from KCCE for three years now, which is pretty good since KCCE have only existed for about four years.
We started with a tour of the warehouse. Here are stacks of 60 sacks of green coffee, all traceable through a unique number code given to the coffee when it is delivered to the dry mill for processing. The number therefore represents coffee grown by a particular cooperative, or part of a particular cooperative, after having been processed at the wet mill.
There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of sacks of green coffee in the ware house- the harvest is pretty much over now, and all the coffee is being drymilled and sorted according to grades, Kenya AA, Kenya AB, Kenya PB and so on. This will be a busy time for KCCE, with lots of buyers coming from around the world to cup coffees and make contracts.
After our tour, we returned to the cupping lab. Here Lucy, the field services manager, and her two assistants were grinding the day’s samples to be cupped. We went ahead with the cupping, where we tasted about 25 different coffees. It was however not exactly 25 different coffees- It was about 10 Kenya AA grade coffees, the same 10 coffees in grade Kenya AB, and then about 5 of those coffee in the peaberry form, Kenya PB. It was interesting to try and taste the differences between the AA, AB and PB varieties.
All in all it was tasting that covered a spectrum of the beloved sweet, acidic and citrusy Kenya coffee to the more mellow Blue Mountain strains (mostly from the Rift valley areas). We found one coffee with a defect, but otherwise everything is top quality. The only problem with these coffees is that they are not organic!
But that is something I hope to learn more about in the next few days as I continue my stay in Kenya, meeting also with some organic producers (not cooperatives), and visiting some coffee farms in the central high lands.