Royal Coffee - Mwirua is a producer organization that has been around since before Kenya's independence from Britain, since 1954. It is robust in membership and exemplary in quality. This washed lot from the Kariaini factory is a quintessential Kirinyaga coffee: citric and jammy with red currant, tangerine, and berry-like acids.
Central Kenya & Kirinyaga County
Mt. Kenya, at the helm of Kenya’s Central Province, is the second tallest peak on the continent of Africa and a commanding natural presence. The mountain itself is a single point inside a vast and surreal thicket of ascending national forest and active game protection communities. The central counties of Kenya extend from the center of the national park like five irregular pie slices with their points meeting at the peak of the mountain. It is along the lower edge of the forests where, in wet, high elevation communities with mineral-rich soil (Mt. Kenya is a stratovolcano) many believe the best coffees in Kenya, often the world, are crafted. Kirinyaga is one of the best-known of these central counties.
Mwirua FCS and Processing Style
Kenya’s coffee is dominated by a cooperative system of production, whose members vote on representation, marketing and milling contracts for their coffee, as well as profit allocation. Mwirua Farmers Cooperative Society (FCS) is an umbrella organization that represents 8 total factories (centralized wet mills), including Kariaini—which was the first processing site registered under the society in the 1950s. The cooperative society is headquartered in the town of Mukure, in northern Kirinyaga close to the border of Mt. Kenya National Park.
Kenya is of course known for some of the most meticulous at-scale processing that can be found anywhere in the world. Bright white parchment, nearly perfectly sorted by density and bulk conditioned at high elevations is the norm, and a matter of pride, even for generations of Kenyan processing managers who prefer drinking Kenya’s tea (abundantly farmed in nearby Murang’a county) to its coffee. Ample water supply in the central growing regions has historically allowed factories to wash, and wash, and soak, and wash their coffees again entirely with fresh, cold river water.
Kariaini typically ferments for 18-48 hours depending on ambient conditions (the changing mountain climate, as for many processors, tends to dictate fermentation temperatures, and processing staff are required to check fermentation progress every three hours). After fermentation, the parchment is washed in fresh water and brought to the factory’s raised tables to dry, which takes anywhere from 5-30 days, again depending on local conditions. After drying is complete the coffee is conditioned in large perforated bins on site to allow moisture to stabilize, preparing the coffees for transit and a long shelf life. The established milling and sorting by grade, or bean size, is a longstanding tradition and positions Kenya coffees well for roasters, by tightly controlling the physical preparation and creating a diversity of profiles from a single processing batch.
Kenya's Outturn System
“15CK0017” in the title refers to this coffee’s “outturn” number. Outturn numbers are unique microlot codes that are given to each and every batch of parchment delivered to dry mills from individual factories or estates anywhere in Kenya, and are the units on which Kenya’s entire microlot export system is built. Outturns in Kenya are tracked with a shorthand code that places the specific batch of parchment coffee in time, place, and sequentially with other coffees. Outturns are stylized as an 8 or 9-character code, including a 2-digit “coffee week” number, a 2-letter mill code, and a 3 or 4-digit intake number for the coffee’s delivery. So, this particular lot was delivered in harvest week 15, to the Central Kenya Coffee Mill (code “CK”) and was the 17th delivery that week.