Grower: Cooperative members of Othaya’s Ichamama Factory
Region: Nyeri County, Central Province, Kenya
Cultivar: SL28, Batian, Ruiru 11, SL34
Altitude: 1700 - 1890 masl
Harvest: December 2020, outturn 12
With blackcurrant, bing cherry with a welcome & delicate eucalyptus complexity, this predominantly SL28 cultivar is grown by smallholders who are part of Othaya co-op’s Ichamama washing station in Nyeri, Kenya.
First, the fruit floats intact before pulping, then fermented for 72 hours. Next, the parchment coffee is washed, then soaked in clean water for 16-24 hours. Finally, the parchment is dried on raised beds under shade initially, while it loses the first bulk of its water weight before being dried to completion in full sun.
The importer relationship here with Royal (based in California) and Ichamama goes back many years and it's evident that both parties are nurtured by the dynamic. There is an agreement that more meticulous cherry selection and exacting processing will be compensated with higher prices, and it seems as though this arrangement is resulting in some pretty stunning results.
The additional time and labour poured into ripe coffee selection, the attention to detail during washing and fermentation, and the care with which the coffee is dried and sorted are all rewarded with a premium that returns to the local cooperative that does the work.
Ichamama is the largest washing station, that operates under the umbrella coop called Othaya in Nyeri county, named for the nearby river. Around 700 active members in the region contribute their ripe cherry to Ichamama, and then it’s up to Bernard Karuga, the factory manager, and his owner-employees to process. Processing involves a pre-fermentation float to sort out less dense fruit and a post-fermentation soak that cleans the coffee and improves the consistency during the drying process.
The post-fermentation soak once was considered standard practice across Kenya, but now it seems as though many washing stations have retired the practice (Ichamama and Kii being a couple of exceptions to this). I tried to find studies that support (or comment at all) on how quality is affected by a post-fermentation soak, but I came up short. Speaking from anecdotal experience from farmers in multiple countries though, this process is sworn by to achieve as consistent of a moisture/ water activity as possible. It allows for a more repeatable drying curve with the preliminary days under shade and the remainder in full sun. I'm personally aware of a couple of producers I used to work with (in Colombia) and various other places who do this too.
The coffee is then dried and marketed by KCCE (Kenya Cooperative Coffee Exporters); one of just a few organizations in the Kenyan coffee industry that, from the top down, is fully cooperative-member-owned and operated.
Ichamama’s position in Nyeri is fortuitous for coffee cultivation. The Aberdares Mountains erupt from central Kenya, just west of the mountain that bears the country’s name. The forested mountain range also happens to be fertile soil for coffee, among other crops, and the coffees from western Nyeri county benefit from its particular ecosystem. It's fragile though, and things like Coffee Berry Disease, a fungal pervasive foe, is increasingly an issue as we battle climate change and changing soils.
This lot of Ichamama is sorted as AA - employing just the larger 18 & 19 screen sizes here - It's dense and has a lower, more stable moisture, so we develop a roast profile accordingly. Growers in Nyeri county - and those contributing to Ichamama specifically - are still growing predominantly SL28, a selection of Bourbon that we've detailed in our journal online previously if you'd like to deep dive. It's fruit-forward and elegant, and a joy to have on the menu right now.
250g of delightful coffee