Gitura AB, Kenya
Roast Level: Light/Medium
Process: Washed and sun dried on raised beds
Varietal: Sl28, SL34 & Ruiru 11
Roaster's Notes: Kenyan coffee always gets us excited at Garage, and the Gitura doesn’t disappoint with those sweet flavours we know and love. With lovely winey grape & raspberry notes, you could almost liken to a Riesling!
Producer: Iyego Coffee Growers Cooperative Society
Region: Muranga County
Altitude: 1,500 - 1,700 metres
This AB lot was produced by numerous smallholder farmers, all of whom are members of the Iyego Coffee Growers Cooperative Society (CGCS) delivering to Gitura Coffee Factory (as washing stations/wet mills are called in Kenya). The factory is located near the town of Kangema, in Kenya’s Muranga County.
Situated to the east of Aberdare ranges and South West of Mt. Kenya, Muranga County (formerly part of Kenya's Central Province) was home to the first administrative post (Fort Smith) set up by British missionaries in 1895. The area is inhabited and considered home to the Kikuyu people, Kenya’s largest ethnic group, accounting for nearly a 5th of the total population. Gitura, the name of the factory where this coffee was produced, is a Kikuyu word translating as locality. The land surrounding Muranga County is blessed with deep red volcanic soils, rich in organic matter and perfect for coffee farming.
First formed in 1964, Iyengo CGCS today operates 10 factories in the region. These are Iyego, Mununga, Gatubu, Marimira, Kabiruini, Watuha, Gathima, Kiairathe, Thangathi, Nyakahura and Kirangano (along with Gitura, of course) with a total membership of around 8,000 small scale coffee growers. Gitura factory has nearly 1,150 registered members, making it one of the largest in the Iyengo group. Like many Kenyan coffee factories, only a portion of them actively delivers coffee in any given year. Currently, the mill processes somewhere in the vicinity of 1,500 metric tonnes of coffee cherry annually.
Processing at the Gitura wet mill adheres to stringent quality-driven methods. All coffee cherries are handpicked and are delivered to the mill the same day, where they undergo meticulous sorting. Factory employees oversee the process, making sure that any underripe or damaged cherries will not be accepted by the ‘Cherry Clerk’ – one of the most important harvest-period staff, who keeps meticulous records of how much coffee each producer delivers on any given day (and thus how much payment is due once the coffee has sold). Any rejected coffee will have to be taken home again, and the farmer will need to find a place to dry it (often a tarp in the yard) to be delivered only at the end of the season as low quality ‘Mbuni’ – natural process coffee that earns a very low price. Thus, farmer members are incentivised to only pick and deliver the ripest cherry that they can.
After being weighed and logged, the weight of the delivery and the farmer’s identification is recorded in the Cherry Clerk’s register and the cherries are introduced into the hopper to be pulped. Pulping will only begin when a sufficient quantity of cherries has been received.
Once the coffee has been pulped, beans are fully washed using clean river water to remove all traces of mucilage, during which time it will be graded. After this, water used for processing is taken to one Gitura’s 6 soak pits. These pits were created as part of the factory’s environmental conservation project, which allows the water to soak back into the ground slowly and safely. Next, the coffee will be delivered to dry on the factory’s raised drying beds. The coffee will dry here slowly over the course of 2 to 3 weeks, during which time it will be turned regularly and covered during the hottest part of the day. Finally, the dried coffee is taken to the dry mill for secondary processing. Here, coffee is hulled and graded by size and density, before being rebadged ready for export.
Some of the issues that farmers face are low production due to pests and diseases and the relatively high cost of inputs compared to income from coffee. Many cannot afford to plant disease-resistant varieties and face being priced out of the market as their yields diminish. The Muranga area is also prone to landslides. In previous years, this has caused untold destruction, sometimes wiping out whole farms and homes.
One of Kenya’s newest but most dangerous threats is that of climate change. Due to the nation’s geographical location in relevance to the equator, Kenya is lucky to receive two crops per year. Traditionally, the main harvest is carried out in October through to December, with the fly crop in June through to August producing minimal quantities. However, recent issues caused by changing climates have meant lower yields during the main harvest, and new quantity being produced in the fly crop. This provides strain to producers, whose yearly income and crop cycles are affected by this change.