Kunga Maitu Kenya
- August 2018
- 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 merely 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 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 elevations in Central Kenya (up to 2100 meters above sea level in some regions) as an important part of the reason theses coffees tend toward such immense character. The combination of intense sunlight and cool nights is great for the development of the coffee cherry, and encourages the accumulation of sugars and organic acids in the seed we roast.
Coffee genetics are another factor. The SL-28 and SL-34 cultivars that are so widely grown there are a natural fit for the terroir, patiently developed there over many years by breeders. They 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. Many capital cities in coffee-growing countries are situated in lowland areas whose high temperatures and humidity accelerate the degradation of the raw coffee seed. Nairobi, by contrast, enjoys a high elevation — nearly 6000 feet above sea level — and relatively stable temperatures, providing a comfortable environment for coffee during milling and storage that helps prevent the loss of quality during the weeks or months the coffee spends between harvest and shipment.
Whatever the reason, what matters most is the outcome — breathtaking coffee that stands out in any context, unrivaled in its mouthwatering gorgeousness.
The first edition of our 2018 Kungu Maitu comes from the Thiriku Farmers Cooperative Society, a celebrated producer group from Central Kenya that serves over 2100 individual farmers. Its wet mill, located near to the town of Thigingi, is one of the highest-elevation mills in the country, an advantage for quality due to the relatively cooler daytime temperatures that help to preserve the coffees during drying and storage.
We’ve been working with Thiriku since 2007, and during that time they’ve acquired a very well-deserved reputation for producing coffees of exceptional taste. Every year they are sought after by auction buyers and routinely produce some of the most exciting coffees from the province. The cooperative experienced a bit of a downturn in recent years, but we’re happy to report that group is back and better than ever. Thiriku has emerged to reclaim its heavyweight title and remind the world why it generated so much attention in the first place. 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, dancing in the ring with all the charisma and swagger of Ali in his prime.
Kungu Maitu is a song written in the Kikuyu (Key-koo-yoo) language that expresses profound gratitude for the sacrifices parents make to raise their youth. When their parents return from a long day of work or a trip to the market, children sometimes sing Kungu Maitu to welcome them home. We chose the name to honor the work that goes into the patient nurturing of coffee and the joy that it provides when it is cultivated with care. As every parent and coffee grower knows, raising children and coffee is never easy and often downright difficult. But there is nothing quite like the feeling of satisfaction that comes when one’s efforts help to ensure that the innate potential of a child — or a coffee — is fully realized.