Newsletter: Kenya Gakuyu-ini Offer

I remember speaking with my old pal Ryan Brown a few years back about what makes Kenyan coffees so special. Is it producer acumen? Is it terroir? Or varietal? Or processing? As is always the case, many things contribute to the tasteable outcome, but in the instance of Kenya, process itself has a tremendous impact on profile. These are the cleanest coffees in the world in the most literal sense. Red Fox has its own buying mantra, built around the idea of repeatability in coffee production. Not the repeability of a specific profile, per se, but of a certain level of quality year after year. If our buying philosophy centers around cleanliness and sweetness, then we’re giving producers the chance to deliver to us every year if they can meet those standards. In this sense, picking ripe fruit and maintaining a clean processing environment are of foremost importance for us.

Nowhere are coffees as thoroughly cleaned as they are in Kenya. The typical process looks something like this: after depulping, coffee beans are left to ferment. Then, after 24 hours they are washed and left to ferment again, without water, for another 12-24 hours. The parchment is then washed before being soaked in tanks for another period of roughly 12-18 hours. At this stage, the beans are moved to skin drying beds where they are laid out in thin layers to allow the mass of water weight to fall. This happens over the course of a morning. This entire process is sometime referred to as the 72 hour process. From there the coffee goes to raised drying beds for the next 8 to 12 days. By the end of this process, the coffee is as clean as a whistle. The work is already done. Not a drop of mucilage will be found on the pristinely white parchment, and no extra flavor is imparted to the beans except by what happened at the farm and in the fermentation tanks.

Due to this impeccable standard of processing, flavor profiles of Kenyan coffees are as perceptible as anything we know. Gakuyu-ini is a shining example of that concept this season. Most years we’ll buy an AA from one outturn, an AB from another, and we’ll usually look for a few PB lots as well. Only in the rarest of instances is an outturn so beautiful that we buy it top to bottom, or AA to AB through PB, meaning we buy each separated part of an entire lot.

I spent several days on cupping tables across Nairobi this past February. Coffees were nice the first day or so, but I hadn’t come across something that knocked my socks off. Not until day three, that is, when I tasted Gakuyu-ini. The floral character of the fragrance stopped me in my tracks. That heady, fleeting, ultra-sweet, fresh-cut lilac aroma was irresitible; the crisp green apple, sweet lime juice, and ripe pineapple character in the cup too perfect to deny. It was the most refreshing coffee I’d tasted all year, which is saying something, considering I spent all of January in Ethiopia selecting lots.

All of our Kenyan coffees from this season have cleared into warehouses on both coasts, and our selection is the best it has been since we opened the doors at Red Fox three years ago. We’ll make them available over the course of the spring — a few of the best lots were listed last week, more of those classic, ripe, dark fruit bombs that are not to be missed — but I wanted to kick off the newsletter campaign with my personal favorite of the season.

Kenyan coffee is many different things. To say that Gakuyu-ini is the quintessential Kenya profile would not necessarily make sense. I love blackcurrant and blackberry, too, but those are descriptors more charateristic of Nyeri. What I will say is that this Gakuyu-ini outturn is Kirinyaga at its finest, where the floral character reminiscent of Ethiopia meets the heavy, juicy fruit tones of its neighboring producing zones in the Central Highlands.

The Gakuyu-ini Factory is a member of the Thirikwa Cooperative Society. Altitude reaches 1700 masl. SL28 and SL34 are the primary varietals, although Ruiru 11 can also be found in the area. This outturn was harvested in December.

We are offering two lots today that are essentially the same thing, i.e. coffee from the same cooperative that was harvested, processed, and bulked together over the same period of time. The only difference between them is bean size, and yet they couldn’t be more different from each other. Aromatically speaking, the AB exudes the fresh cut flower character of lilac alongside golden honeycomb notes, while the AA has heavy sweetness ranging from clove and allspice to dried cherry and raw pipe tobacco.

In the cup, the AB is lighter and more ethereal, with the brilliance of lemon-lime soda and passion fruit. The AA is clearly AA — blackcurrant and blueberry are clear as day. Melted butter and something tropical like kiwi surface in the AB’s finish, while the AA stays strong and very sweet through the finish with a distinct apple cider quality.

Both coffees are from the same outturn, but you’d never guess by tasting them. They’re 90 point coffees by industry standard, but they’re more than just that. We suggest procuring a bit of both and offering them side-by-side for conversation’s sake alone.

Cheers,

Aleco

Newsletter: Kenya Gachatha Factory

Living in the Bay we’re fortunate to be around some of the American wine industry’s finest participants, from importers, to bars and shops, to natural winemakers in Sonoma county and beyond. It’s a beautiful place to be and we often find ourselves sharing anecdotes with our pals on that side of the fence. One of my favorite terms used by wine folk is “unicorn wine.” A unicorn wine is a wine that everyone talks about, a wine that everyone wants to drink, but a wine that is very rarely found on shelves or even tucked away in the deepest cellar in Berkeley.

It’s a dreamy concept that instantly makes me think of the tales of grandeur I’ve been hearing for years from some of the elder coffee statesmen that I respect most; romantic rants about the lucid blackcurrant and blackberry flavor of the most exquisite Kenyan coffees; conversations that habitually end with the lament that Kenya just isn’t quite what it used to be, that maybe, although forever and always a complex player, Kenya doesn’t quite offer the power and the purity that it once did.

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I would classify today’s Kenya offering as a unicorn coffee. To put it simply, this AA lot from Gachatha offers unadulterated flavor. It’s pure. Its sweetness is perfect. The aromatics are fragrant, fresh peach blossoms. Cup character? Take those sweet floral aromatics and turn them into ripe peach and creme fraiche with a drizzle of wildflower honey on top. The acidity? Dramatic. Think fresh redcurrant, golden raspberry, and the whole dang basket of ripe stone fruits from cherry to apricot. This is the best Kenyan coffee I remember purchasing in years. Maybe ever. We scored the arrival 92. The AB is every bit as sweet and wild, just slightly more contained. A stunner of a coffee nonetheless — we scored it 90 on arrival. If this Gachatha outturn doesn’t rival those mythical lots from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, then I say they truly no longer exist. Maybe they never did.

The farmer members of Gachatha received nearly 85 Kenyan Schillings per kilo of cherry for this outturn, one of the single highest prices paid for a lot in the entire country this season. This is the second consecutive year that Red Fox and C. Dorman have paid to keep these folks at the head of the class.

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Newsletter: Kenya Nyeri Offerings 2014

If anything is certain in the coffee industry in Kenya, it’s that politics will always have a presence. This past 2013/2014 season was no exception. The industry saw a heavy dose of interference from outside players, politicians with no prior experience in the coffee trade, and it has taken a serious toll on farmers across Kenya’s most fabled coffee growing region. Sadly, the propaganda driven by the county office of Nyeri has resulted in unfulfilled promises and greater hardship for farmers in the region. Not only were the record prices promised by the Nyeri government not delivered, but half the crop failed to be delivered the the market at all. It’s one of the biggest tragedies I’ve witnessed in my short coffee career to date.

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Nyeri is one of the coffee industry’s most prized growing areas. Most of the production is centered between Mt. Kenya and the Aberdare mountain range. The town of Karatina sits at its epicenter. With the perfect mix of high altitude, quality varietals, and climate, it’s a garden of eden for top coffee lots. Very few other coffees, if any, receive the justified acclaim and accompanying price differentials that the best Nyeri lots receive.

This year, Red Fox has continued to work with our one and only supplier of Kenyan coffees and our patience has paid off. We have top lots now afloat from Nyeri; lots that fortunately made it out of the governor’s grasp and on to the CKCM mill in the Central Highlands. By all appearances, and based on the latest news coming from Kenya, I’m confident enough to surmise that things will be back to working order come next season. At the very least we hope that this latest political interference in Nyeri will no longer affect our ability to purchase top Kenyan coffees, nor our ability to ensure that farmers in Nyeri are paid for the exquisite coffees they produce.

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Kenya has some of the most unique and powerful cup profiles in all of the coffee producing world. Flavors tend to run the full sensorial gamut — from dark fruits to refreshing citrus, from raw honey to dark muscovado sugar, and from a syrupy mouthfeel to a mouthfeel full of fresh cream. We’re offering three lots from a range of altitudes in the Abderdare range this season. We put these samples, and dozens more, through heavy scrutiny on our cupping table. They are the best lots Red Fox saw this season and are in very limited supply.

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