Things are changing for the better in Kenya, the average price of coffee cherries has increased from USD 0.45 per kg of cherry in 2016/2017 to USD 0.80 per kg of cherry in the year 2020/2021, a 78% grow! But what has happened in the year 2021/2022?
According to information from the Nairobi Coffee Exchange (NCI), coffee production increased by 64% in the 2021/2022 harvest, compared to the previous year, and income increased by 90% in the same period. This is the result of a lower supply to the global market, because in Brazil, the harsh weather conditions caused up to 20% of the entire harvest to be lost in the last season. And in Ethiopia, the world's fifth largest producer, agricultural activities have been interrupted by the conflict between the government and the militia in the Tigray region.
Grafting is a horticultural technique whereby plant tissues are joined together to continue growing together. The upper part of the combined plant is called the stem, while the lower part is called the rootstock.
The Ruiru 11 variety was released in 1985. The name of the variety has the prefix "Ruiru" which refers to the location of the Kenya Coffee Research Station where the variety was developed. The variety is not only resistant to CBD and CLR, but is also compact, allowing farmers to intensify production per unit of land.
It is frequently pointed out that Kenyan coffees are the best in the world. Also, that its cup profile is unique and that it must always be within certain parameters (blackcurrant, berries, winey, juicy), or else it would not be a good example of a good Kenyan coffee. It seems that the industry has preconceptions about what is a good coffee, and what flavors should be obtained from a certain origin; as if the production of coffee were an exact formula, similar to a highly efficient factory where economies of scale are generated and from which the same result is always obtained.
Pseudoscience is a tendency to make claims without any scientific basis. For example, anti-vaccine activism can cause people to forego proven medical treatments, which can lead to death or serious health problems.
In our beloved industry, unfortunately, we often come across "pseudo-scientists" who make assertions that are not based on scientific methodology, but rather are based on "coffee mythology" (if such a thing exists), or ideas that are more fabrication of the industry, than serious scientific studies regarding a given topic.
Let's take the concept of a cup profile for a minute. How on earth, could someone assure what the cup profile of a given origin is?
Information is power, as they say. Long long long time ago, the purchase decision in any transaction was based on the comparison of the final price of a product (commodity) offered by several suppliers (competitors). These competitors were very reluctant to share their price lists, and clients spent long hours collecting those lists in order to have all the necessary information to make the right choice. But the world has changed, today with a single click we can compare prices of an unlimited number of products and suppliers, so price lists have become old and public, rather than a secret element of strategic negotiation. Today what is most important is the value of the product, not its price.
We work hard to add value in coffee. If your product does not make any difference from the rest of the coffees in the market, it becomes a commodity. The price of a commodity is established as the point of equilibrium of supply and demand of future contracts. Price fluctuation (that is, the movement of the supply and demand curves) is affected by such a large number of variables that they are uncontrollable. For example, if there is a frost in Brazil, Sumatran coffees rise in price; And if there is an excess of production in Brazil, Sumatran coffees will lower their price; In both cases, without the Sumatran coffee farmer having moved a single finger.
Every coffee farm in the world, even the most reputable one, will produce good, medium and bad quality beans. Therefore, separating the better, bigger and denser beans from those lighter and defective, is key to maximize the financial result of the producer.
In Kenya, after a certain lot has been processed, it will be delivered to the Marketing Agent (MA) in parchment by the producer or cooperative. The MA then, will mill and grade the lot by shape and size, and give this lot an unique "Outturn Number" (ON), before delivering a sample to the Nairobi Coffee Exchange. This ON will be crucial to provide transparency and traceability to the system.
Just a few days ago, I walked into a coffee shop and bought a 250gr bag of Kenyan coffee for €20 approx. While I'm happy to pay that kind of money for a very good Kenya in a bag full of tasty promises, when I got home I found only disappointment.
It is an open secret within the specialty industry, that Kenyan coffees have been in a low the last couple of years, and probably it is one of the most controversial topics right now. As you may know, Kenya is one of the most prized origins within the specialty coffee world, it is sought by importers and roasters from all over the world as an origin of outstanding quality, intense sweetness, citrus/winey acidities and velvety bodies.
We would normally cup 500+ samples from Kenya each season, between origin and lab cuppings. Maybe the right number is something closer to 1,000 samples, between February and March each year since 2016. This year the quantity was lower for obvious reasons. And while it's common knowledge among coffee connoisseurs from around the world, that there has been a disruption in the quality of this great origin, we can discuss on the causes or how much it has been affected, but I don’t think anybody that understand well the Kenyan coffee industry, can deny there is a problem.
We pride in being very good connoisseurs of the coffee industry in Kenya and the country in general. Since 2013 we are constantly going at least twice a year (during main harvest and then at cupping/selection time); We have visited a large number of cooperatives in various regions; We know the reality, dreams and problems of coffee farmers; And it is without doubts, our favorite origin!
But as in all areas of life, nothing is perfect, and the Kenyan coffee industry is no exception. It is no mystery to anyone that agriculture is the cornerstone of the Kenyan economy, and the cooperative movement has a solid footprint that can be traced until just after independence in 1963.
Kenya is probably one of the most advanced producing countries, in the study and experimentation with the genetic diversity of Arabicas, and is far ahead of important countries such as Ethiopia for example.
On our last trip to Kenya we met the great "Dr. James", who works at the "Kenya Coffee Research Institute" station in Nyeri. In this place, he explained, how they are performing grafting of Ruiru 11 with SL 28, and the importance of its result for the future of the industry.
Every coffee farm in the world, even the most reputable one, will produce good and bad quality beans. Therefore, separating the bigger, heavier and denser beans from those lighter and defective ones, is key to maximize the benefit of the farmer.
In Kenya, after a certain lot has been processed, it will be delivered to the Marketing Agent (MA) in parchment by the farmer or cooperative. The MA will then mill and grade the lot by shape and size, and give this particular lot an unique "Outturn Number" (ON), before delivering it to the Nairobi Coffee Exchange. This ON system will be crucial to provide transparency and traceability to the system.