About Kenya Kamwangi Beans
Origin: Kamwangi – New Ngariama Cooperative Society
Multiple smallholder farmers
The Kamwangi Factory (wet mill) is one out of two wet mills of the “New Ngariama Cooperative Society” in Kirinyaga. They have proven to be very consistent on quality over the years, and have great systems for traceability and quality control.
The factory was registered in 1997. They are Rainforest Alliance certified and have established soaking pits for wastewater treatment. Kamwangi collects cherries from about 1000 smallholders with an average of 0,4 hectares of coffees, about 250 trees each. Fermentation is done with Fresh River Water. The same water is recycled during the day through a recycling process enabling them to significantly reduce water consumption.
The New Ngariama Farmers Cooperative Society is in Kirinyaga in Central Kenya. Kirinyaga is located on the slopes of Mount Kenya and is neighboring the well-known region Nyeri.
Nyeri and Kirinyaga are known for coffees with intense, complex, and flavor-dense cup profiles. It is made up of mainly smallholder farms, each with some 100 trees. They are organized in Cooperative Societies that act as umbrella organizations for the Factories (wet mills), where the smallholders deliver their coffee cherries for processing.
The soils around Mount Kenya are rich volcanic soils. Mainly Nitisol. Nitisols occur in highlands and on volcanic steep slopes. They are developed from volcanic rocks and have better chemical and physical properties than other tropical soils.
The main flowerings are in February – March, the main harvest from October to December, and the coffees normally come available for purchase between January and April.
The smallholders mainly have SL 28 and SL 34. Small amounts of other mixed varietals can occur.
AA, AB, and PB refer to the bean size.
Cherries are hand sorted for unripe and overripe by the farmers before they go into production. An Agaarde disc pulping machine removes the skin and pulp. The coffees are graded by density into 3 grades by the pulper. Grade 1 and 2 go separately to fermentation. Grade 3 is considered a low grade. The coffee is fermented for 16-24 hours under closed shade. After fermentation, the coffees are washed and again graded by density in washing channels and are then soaked under clean water from the stream for 16-18 hours.
Sun-dried up to 21 days on African drying beds. Coffees are covered in plastic during midday and at night.
Kenya mainly produces fully washed coffees and is considered by many as the world’s number one quality producer. There are more than 700 thousand coffee farmers (smallholders) representing about 55% of the production. The rest is mostly Estates.
Farming And Production
The Cooperative Societies are the umbrella organization for one or several wet mills. Typically you have the Tekangu society that represents the wet mill’s Tegu, Karogoto, and Ngunguru. The wet mills in Kenya are called Factories, e.g. Karogoto Factory.
A typical wet mill can have about 1000 farmers delivering cherries. They give a small advance payment at delivery. The better and well-managed wet mills are able to give more than 85% of the sales price back to the farmers. That’s after the cost of milling and marketing is deducted.
Is done at the wet mills or at collection centers. When the farmers arrive at the place for delivery they would normally have to empty their bags on the floor (on a cover) to sort out unripe, overripe, and CBD infected cherries.
When they start the pulper the cherries go by gravity into the machine.
They normally use disc pulpers such as old three-disc Agaarde or similar brands. The parchment flows from the discs with water allowing the parchment to be separated by density. The densest beans will sink and are pumped straight through a channel to the fermentation tank as P1 (parchment 1 and is what we generally are buying.
After pulping, the coffees are drily fermented (water is drained off) in painted concrete tanks. Normally they are fermented for 18-24 hours. Many factories do intermediate washing every 6 – 8 hours, meaning they add water, stir up the parchment, and drain it again.
Washing and Soaking
When fermentation is completed and the mucilage is dissolved the parchment gets washed in washing channels and graded again by density. The lighter beans will float off and the remaining dense parchment will normally be soaked in clean water for up to 24 hours.
Drying and Conditioning
After soaking, the coffees are skin dried at hessian mesh mats for skin drying for up to one day. After a day the coffees are moved to the traditional drying tables. The coffee is then normally dried on a surface of jute clothing or shade net on top of the wire mesh.
The drying time varies between 12 and 20 days depending on weather and rainfall.
Sourcing, milling, and export
The dry mills in Kenya work very well and are highly professional and efficient. The coffees go through their standard grading systems:
E (Elephant beans) = screen 19 and up, AA = 17/18, AB = 16/17, PB = Peaberries.
In the mill, everything is kept separate for the auction, and it’s a great opportunity to cup through the different grades from the same outturns and consignments.
At this point, we are able to do extensive cupping at the mill or at the lab of the marketing agent to be able to pick out our coffees before they enter the auction catalog.
Whenever we have found a coffee and want to commit, we will have the marketing agent negotiate the price directly with the producers (in our case the Cooperative Society as we normally buy from the smallholder’s cooperatives).
The good thing with the system in Kenya is that everything is more or less separated into small lots and different grades.
If you buy coffees direct through the second window, the producers expect to get prices above the average auction prices at present time.
In addition, the system is transparent as everybody knows what’s going back to society after the cost of milling and marketing is deducted.
In fact, many of the more serious Societies and factories are competing, getting cherries in from the same areas, and are putting effort and pride in giving the best payback to their farmers. Some of the Coops we work with have been able to pay up to 90% back to the farmers.