Farm: Mutheka Farmers Co-Operative Society
Varietal: Sl28, SL34 & Ruiru 11
Processing: Fully washed & sun dried on raised beds
Altitude: 1,600 to 1,700 metres above sea level
Owner: Approx. 1,900 members deliver to Kiandu;FCS = Approx.6,000 members total
Town / City: Tetu & Nyeri
Region: Nyeri County, Central Kenya
Kiandu AA - Kenya
This AA lot was produced by numerous smallholder farmers, all of whom are members of the Mutheka Farmers Cooperative Society (FCS) delivering to Kiandu Coffee Factory (as washing stations/wet mills are called in Kenya). The factory is located near the town of Tetu, in Kenya’s famed Nyeri County. Dedan Kimathi (liberation leader) and Wangari Maathai (Nobel peace prize laureate) are two famous Kenyans who hail from nearby.
Mutheka FCS is a relatively new entity formed in 2004 after the split of the Giant Tetu Coffee Growers Co-Operative Society. The FCS is situated in Nyeri County in the east of Aberdare ranges and West of Mt. Kenya and operates 7 factories: Chorong’i, Kaiguri, Kamuyu, Kigwandi, Kihuyo and Muthua-ini (along with Kiandu, of course) with total membership of around 6,000 small scale coffee growers. Kiandu Factory for many years had gone through political difficulties and disagreements with Mutheka (as is typical of so many factory-FCS relationships in Nyeri), making it difficult to acquire their coffee. At one point they, themselves, had threatened to leave the group and go it their own, a situation which would have almost certainly made it more difficult to continue to operate. Things have settled out now, and we feel lucky to have secured this year’s lot (2018) at auction with the help of our exporting partner.
The FCS’s motto is Urumwe, Utheri na Utonga (Unity, Transparency and Wealth), and the group’s purpose is to cooperate in order to alleviate poverty amongst the members of the organization. The group’s factories are well-known for producing high quality coffee and have, in fact, won several Kenyan coffee awards for lots they have produced.
Kiandu factory has nearly 1,900 registered members, making it one of the largest in the Mutheka group. Like many Kenyan coffee factories, only a portion of them actively deliver coffee in any given year. Currently the mill processes somewhere in the vicinity of 2,500 metric tonnes of coffee cherry annually.
Processing at the Kiandu wet mill adheres to stringent quality-driven methods. All coffee cherries are handpicked and are delivered to the mill the same day, where they undergo meticulous sorting. Factory employees oversee the process and any underripe or damaged cherries will not be accepted by the ‘Cherry Clerk’ – one of the most important harvest-period staff, who keeps meticulous records of how much coffee each producer delivers on any given day (and thus how much payment is due once the coffee has sold). Any rejected coffee will have to be taken home again, and the farmer will need to find a place to dry it (often a tarp in the yard) to be delivered only at the end of season as low quality ‘Mbuni’ – natural process coffee that earns a very low price. Thus, farmer members are incentivised to only pick and deliver the ripest cherry that they can.
After being weighed and logged, the weight of the delivery and the farmer’s identification are recorded in the Cherry Clerk’s register and the cherries are introduced into the hopper to be pulped. Pulping will only begin when a sufficient quantity of cherries has been received.
After pulping the cherries are delivered to one of the factory’s fermentation tanks, where it will ferment for between 12 to 48 hours depending on the ambient temperature at the time. After this, the coffee is fully washed to remove all traces of mucilage, during which time it will be graded. The coffee will then either be delivered to dry on the factory’s raised drying beds or will be soaked under circulating water for up to 24 hours, depending on if there is room on the factory’s beds (during the peak of the season, there is often a backlog). The coffee will dry here slowly over the course of 2 to 3 weeks, during which time it will be turned regularly and covered during the hottest part of the day.
Mutheka is managed by a board of 7 members; each one is elected and will represent one of the seven wet mills. Mutheka also employs a Secretary Manager who oversees its permanent staff members, as well as the day to day running of the Coop.
Coffee farming in Nyeri goes back far into Kenya’s colonial past, but many members of the Cooperative still rely on additional economic and agricultural activities for their livelihoods. In addition to producing coffee, most farmers in the area also produce tea, maize and legumes for sale at local markets and for their own tables.
Some of the issues that farmers face are low production due to pests and diseases and the relatively high cost of inputs compared to income from coffee. Many cannot afford to plant disease resistant varieties and face being priced out of the market as their yields diminish. The cooperative has undertaken actions to increase yields and improve their member’s livelihoods. By paying the producers some of the highest returns for their coffee this objective can be achieved.
Screen sizing in Kenya
The AA, AB and other grades used to classify lots in Kenya are an indication of screen size only. They are not any indication of cup quality. The AA grade in Kenya is equivalent to screen size 17 or 18 (17/64 or 18/64 of an inch) used at other origins. AA grades often command higher prices at auction though this grade is no indication of cup quality and an AB lot from a better farm may cup better. PB (denoting Peaberry) is the smallest screen size.