Gachirgao - Kenya

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Rich and balanced with dark chocolate, purple grape, blackcurrant, plum and vanilla. A lingering sweet finish.

Washing Station: Gachirago
Region: Gaitheri, Murang’a County
Country: Kenya
Processing: Fully Washed
Elevation: 1,400m
Variety: SL-28, SL-34, Batian & Ruiru-11
Sourced By: Melbourne Coffee Merchants

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Gachirago Coffee Factory is a washing station (or factory as they are called in Kenya) located in Gaitheri in the Murang’a County which is located in the Central Province. This region was has around 100,000 small producers who enjoy the perfect conditions to produce exceptional coffee, with high altitudes ranging from 1,350-1,950m above sea level, combined with rich, fertile red volcanic soil, moderate rainfall and temperatures that range from 13-24˚C all year round.

Gachirago was formed in 1964 under Kagima Farmers Co-operative Society. The washing station sits at altitude of 1,400m above sea level. The main varieties of coffee grown by the contributing small holders are SL-28, SL-34, Batian and Ruiru 11. The harvest season in the region runs from through May-June and November-December. This coffee comes from the main harvest at the end of the year.

Gachirago receives assistance from the Coffee Management Services (CMS) group, who are on the ground directly helping producers improve their productivity and quality through training and education programs. Their objective is to ensure sustained industry growth by establishing a transparent and trust-based relationship with their small-holder producers. By helping them improve their quality, CMS in turn improves the premiums the producers can be paid and ultimately has a positive impact on their quality of life.

As part of their program, CMS provide pre-financing to producers for school fees and farm inputs. The factory manager is provided with training every year, and there are also some members of the cooperative who are ‘promoter farmers’ and provide Good Agricultural Practices (GAPS) to the smallholders. This extension service has a positive impact on coffee quality from Gachirago, as farmers emerge from trainings with a better understanding of the impact that fertilisation, pruning, and quality driven harvest techniques have on the prices their coffee receives at auction and with direct buyers.

Accordingly, processing at Gachirago Washing Station adheres to stringent quality-driven methods under the supervision of Johnson Gichoya, the factory manager. All the coffee is hand-picked and delivered on the same day to the washing station, where it undergoes meticulous sorting. This is done by hand and overseen by the ‘cherry clerk’ who ensures any unripe and damaged cherries are removed. The ripe coffee cherries are then weighed and the volume is logged against the producer’s name.

The coffee is then placed in a large tank of water, and any floaters are removed (immature cherries are lighter and therefore float, making them easy to remove). The remaining coffee cherries are then pulped to remove the skin and the coffee is then fermented overnight to break down the sugars and remove the mucilage (sticky fruit covering) from the outside of the bean.

The parchment covered coffee is then washed with fresh water, sent through water channels for grading by weight (the sinking coffee is considered the sweetest, and any lighter density or lower grade coffee beans are removed). They are then sent to soaking tanks where they sit under water for a further 24 hours. This process increases the proteins and amino acids, which in turn heightens the complexity of the acidity. The coffee is then spread out on the raised drying tables and turned constantly to ensure they are dried evenly in the sun. Time on the drying tables depends on weather, ambient temperature, and processing volumes, and can take from 7 to 15 days in total.

Wastewater from the processing is managed through the use of soaking pits. The water used for processing the cherry will spend time in the pits to ensure that the nutrient-rich water created during de-pulping will not be returned to the nearby water source without proper treatment. This additional step cuts down the risk of contamination.

After processing, hulling machinery removes the parchment layer from the processed coffee. Optionally, they will be polished: any silver skin that remains on the beans is removed by machine. Traditionally, polished beans are considered superior to unpolished ones, but ultimately there is little difference between them. Grading and sorting is then done by size and weight, and the beans are carefully reviewed for imperfections or colour flaws. The beans are sized by being passed through a series of screens, and sorted pneumatically using an air jet to separate heavy and light beans. Finally, defective beans are removed either by hand, or by machinery. Any beans that are unsatisfactory due to deficiencies (size or colour, over-fermented beans, insect-damaged, or unhulled) are removed.

Coffee in Kenya is graded according to the size of the bean and the quality. The definition clearly defines the size, and to some extent, they also assume the quality is linked to the size of the bean. While this is often true – AA lots (screen size 18+) are often superior coffees – in this case we found the AB lot to be exceptional with complex fruit notes and intense and lindering sweetness.

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