Kunga Maitu Kenya
- June 2016
- Written by : Geoff Watts
Vice President / Green Coffee Buyer
Exuberant. Thrilling. Ecstatic. Brilliant.
Think about the tightest horn section you’ve ever heard—the JB’s, The Memphis Horns, Tower of Power—and how to describe the impact they have on your mood and your senses. These supernatural talents provide an exhilarating, dynamic energy and tone that transform a good song into something unforgettable. They excite and electrify. The rhythm section gets you off your feet but the horns ignite your soul.
Kenyan coffee has the best horn section in the industry, hands down. There’s a reason why most coffee cuppers will name Kenya as their favorite origin—we tend to obsess over organic fruit acids and clarity of flavor, and the best coffees from Kenya have a vibrancy that outshines all others. It is relatively easy to detect Kenyan coffees on a blind table, and even those new to specialty coffee learn to recognize their distinct character quickly, because it demands your attention. Nothing about Kenyan coffee is quiet—the volume is often at 11—and yet the great ones are so elegant and refined that they seem almost gentle despite their amplitude of taste. They manage to be intense, transparent, complex, and profoundly sweet all at once. It is very, very difficult to achieve this balance of power and grace in coffee, and the fact that Kenyan coffees accomplish it so consistently is downright amazing.
We can point to the country’s location smack on the equator and the exceptional altitudes in Central Kenya (up to 2100 meters in some regions) as some of the reason these coffees tend toward such immense character. The combination of intense sunlight and cool nights is great for coffee bean development, and encourages the accumulation of sugars and organic acids. Coffee tree type is another factor-- The SL-28 and SL-34 cultivars grown there have a great pedigree and are known to produce coffees with compelling aromatic qualities.
Processing is also an important variable when it comes to preserving or enhancing cup quality, and Kenyan traditions for post-harvest coffee handling are on point. The unique combination of extended dry fermentation followed by brief soaking stage after washing and a prolonged, low-velocity drying period is most certainly a contributing factor to the astounding depth and intensity of flavor in these beans. Another may actually be a result of historical circumstance: Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, is where most of the country’s coffees are traded, graded and prepared for export. Unlike many capital cities in coffee countries, which are often situated in lowland areas and can get extremely warm and humid, Nairobi enjoys a high altitude-- nearly 6000 feet-- and relatively stable temperatures, providing a comfortable environment for the coffee during milling and storage that helps prevent the loss of quality during the weeks or months the coffee spends between harvest and shipment.
The second 2016 edition of Kunga Maitu comes from the Gitwe Coffee Farmers Cooperative Society, a celebrated producer group from Thika province in Central Kenya. The Karinga (Kah-ring- gah) washing station and its equally well-known sister Karatu both belong to the Gitwe FCS and have developed a tremendous reputation for quality over the last decade. Every year they are sought after by auction buyers and routinely produce some of the most exciting coffees from the province. This is the third consecutive year we’ve purchased coffee from Karinga, and this particular lot is another stunning example of why we think Kenya deserves a category of its own in the coffee world—it sizzles like no other, with a brilliance and swagger that make even great coffees from other countries seem a bit lackluster in comparison.
“ Whatever the reason, what matters is the outcome—breathtaking coffee that stands out in any context, unrivaled in its mouthwatering gorgeousness. ”