James is a rare man in the context of Kenyan coffee. For a start, he's an agricultural entrepreneur, not a subsistance farmer or a big Estate owner. He's also young and very adaptive to the requirements of the buyer, seeking to process cleanly, store parchment well, and separate lots.
This has all come about because James has cleverly arranged to lease and manage a bunch of small farms (shambas) whose aging owners no longer have the interest in doing so. This enables him not only the opportunity to employ good agricultural practices but – importanty – gives him the critical volume that allows him to get his coffee milled and represented by the marketing agent for export as a differentiated lot. He brings all the cherry down to his family compound where they're processed and the parchment is dried. Our lot was built only from shambas possessing traditional cultivars SL28 and 34.
James has had great success with this approach. In 2017, his coffee won the “Taste of Harvest” competitiion and his coffee has subsequently gained a wider audience and is in higher demand. We feel fortunate to have been able to secure what we did of James' coffee.
We were super happy to see James's new wet milling and drying beds around his house when we visited in January. (This was particularly relevant as last year he had a very rudimentary arrangement and in 2017 his coffee was processed with his uncles.)
What makes this coffee so special? (we often ask this question ourselves!) Something in the water.. ?
We actually don't know. But we do know it's becoming endangered, not only by encroaching real estate developments, climate change, disease vulnerability, aging producer population, continual legitimate concerns over pricing received by farmers.
Whatever the larger conversation that very much needs more time, what we can say for the moment is that Kenyan coffee is special and unique. It's flavour profile simply cannot be found elsewhere in the world.
Deep tropical and/or winey fruit, shades of florals, sweet/savoury intensity, acidity profiles that *define* what acidity is in coffee. It's good stuff.
James depulps the cherries on the same day of picking, leaves the parchment to ferment overnight, and washes the next morning. Then the coffee soaks underwater for 12-24 hours until it's taken to the 'skin drying' beds where the water is allowed to drain quickly. The key part of this process – which is the standard one employed in Kenya, across factories and estates country wide – is the quality of the cherries to begin with. James controls this with aplomb since he coordinates the picking of the shambas himself.
After keeping closely in contact with James and assessing parchment samples gained directly from him, we followed this lot carefully through the commercialisation process and purchased it at Auction.
Learn how to brew cafe quality coffee at your place...Go to Brew Methods