This coffee was produced by numerous small holder farmers, all of whom are members of the Thiriku Coffee Growers Cooperative Society, located near Nyeri in Central Kenya between the slopes of Mt. Kenya and the Aberdare range. Previously part of the larger Tetu Cooperative (which runs 28 wet mills across the vast Tetu region), Thiriku decided to go their own way in 2000 and have since gone from strength to strength.
The cooperative is managed by a democratically elected board of 9 members, each of whom serve as a representative of a community where the cooperative has members. Additionally, the Cooperative provides employment for permanent members of staff, headed by the Secretary Manager, who oversees the day-to-day running of the Coop under the board’s supervision
The cooperative owns a single wet mill which serves six communities and 2,300 smallholder farmers from the surrounding area. Sitting at nearly 1,900 metres, the wet mill is one of the region’s highest and in many ways benefits greatly from the cool temperatures that characterise this high altitude. Not only do cherries in the surrounding area ripen slowly, the low temperatures contribute to longer fermentation and slower drying times, which when well-managed (as in this case) can lead to a better cup.
In addition to the wide-spread SL28 and SL34, this lot contains a small amount of Ruiru 11. Ruiru 11 is named for the station at Ruiru, Kenya where it was developed in the ’70s and released in 1986. Although composing only 5% of the current lot, Ruiru is slowly becoming more widespread in the region due to its resistance to Coffee Berry Disease and Coffee Leaf Rust. It has also backcrossed with SL28 and SL34 to ensure high cup quality.
Coffee farming in this region goes back to the 1950s, but many members of the Cooperative rely on additional economic and agricultural activities for their livelihoods. In addition to producing coffee, most farmers in the area also produce macademia, avocados, maize and dairy for sale at local markets and for their own tables.
Farmers selectively handpick the ripest, reddest cherries, which are then delivered to the cooperative’s wet mill on the same day. Cherries are hand sorted prior to pulping, with damaged and under ripe cherries being separated out from the red, ripe lots. After pulping the coffee is fermented for between 16 and 24 hours. After fermentation, the coffee is washed in clean, fresh river water to remove all traces of mucilage before being delivered to dry on raised beds for between 9 to 15 days. While drying, the parchment is repeatedly moved and sorted to remove any damaged or discoloured beans.
Some of the issues that farmers face are low production due to loss 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 cooperative has undertaken actions to increase yields and improve their member’s livelihoods and are currently looking for programs aimed at improving the participation of young people and women in coffee.
Screen sizing in Kenya The AA, AB and other grades used to classify lots in Kenya are an indication of screen size only. They are not any indication of cup quality. The AA grade in Kenya is equivalent to screen size 17 or 18 (17/64 or 18/64 of an inch) used at other origins. AA grades often command higher prices at auction though this grade is no indication of cup quality and an AB lot from a better farm may cup better.