When harvest time arrives, each producer will carefully handpick the coffee, selecting only the ripe cherries. Kenya typically has two crops which include an early, or fly crop, harvested from June to August and the main or late crop, which is harvested from October to March, mainly from farms at higher altitudes. As soon as producers finish picking their cherries, they are bagged and transported to the wet mill on the same day. The cherries are then de-pulped to remove the exterior fruit. The remaining parchment is fermented in tanks filled with water from the local Ragati River. Fermentation allows for the breakdown of the exterior mucilage.
Once complete, the coffee is then spread evenly on raised beds to dry in the open sun. After drying is finished, the coffee is hulled by the Highlands Coffee Company and bagged to be prepared for export. The coffee will either be sold directly or at the Nairobi Coffee Auction.
Conservation is important at the Gichathaini Factory, especially regarding water usage. The water used from the Ragati River is transported via gravity-fed channels to reduce environmental impact. During processing, the water is re-circulated to prevent overextraction of river water. After processing is complete, the water is transferred to soak pits, away from drinking water sources to prevent contamination. This allows for the water to purify naturally before being re-introduced into the system.
Despite its proximity to the birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia, coffee growing was introduced in Kenya relatively late – by Scottish missionaries, initially, and then commercially around 1900. Despite the late start, today, it is a country renowned for having some of the best coffees in the world. Nonetheless, Kenya’s coffee sector faces challenges for the future, and low global prices combined with climate change and population growth have diminished the country’s output over the last decade.