Kabumbu “Kidogo”

  • Country
    Kenya
  • Region
    Central Kenya
  • County
    Kirinyaga
  • Estate
    Kabumbu
  • Owner
    Joseph Mugo Karaba
  • Farm Size
    5 acres
  • Coffee Variety
    Batian
  • Processing
    Fully Washed

Sweet and lifted, with green grape, fresh fig and sugarcane. Very clean with sparkling acidity and great structure.

Kabumbu is a small coffee estate in Kiambu County, owned and managed by Joseph Mugo Karaba. Joseph inherited the farm from his father, who first planted coffee in the 1960s. He and his family live on the estate which includes five acres of coffee trees and a small wet mill – or factory, as they are known in Kenya – where Joseph independently processes and prepares his coffees.

Kabumbu sits across 1,500-1,750 meters above sea level in the foothills of the extinct volcano, Mt Kenya. The area is defined by its bright red, nutrient-rich, volcanic soil and cool climate, both of which contribute to the outstanding quality of the coffees produced on this farm. Joseph recently made the decision to plant his farm with 100% Batian, a new hybrid variety that has been bred specifically for high yields and disease resistance, coupled with the potential for excellent cup quality.

Small-scale independent farmers like Joseph, who process coffees themselves, enjoy certain advantages over those who only sell whole coffee cherries to local Farmer Cooperative Societies. Perhaps most importantly, they are in a position to directly control quality from harvesting and picking, through to processing and drying. The resulting coffee reflects the incredible amount of hard work and attention to managing every single variable that influences the quality and helps the producer be in full control, ensuring their coffee reaches its full potential.

Choosing to process the coffee independently is not easy—or cheap. It is more costly to manage the post-harvest handling of coffees on a small scale without the efficiencies of centralized processing, and it involves more risk. However, the probability of producing exceptional quality, consistently, is far higher when a farmer is able to take full ownership over their own coffee production, and this higher quality should enable the producer to secure a much higher price for their coffee.

HOW THIS COFFEE WAS PROCESSED

The coffee was carefully handpicked by Joseph and his team and sorted to ensure only the ripe cherries were processed. It was pulped using a disc pulping machine, which removes the skin and fruit from the inner parchment layer that protects the green coffee bean.

The coffee was then dry fermented for 16–24 hours, to break down the sugars and remove the mucilage (sticky fruit covering) from the outside of the beans. Whilst the coffee was fermenting it was checked and when ready it was rinsed and removed from the tanks.

The parchment covered coffee was then washed in water channels with fresh water and sent to soaking tanks where it sat underwater for a further 24 hours. This process increases the proteins and amino acids, which in turn heightens the complexity of the acidity.

After soaking, the coffee was dried on raised drying tables (also known as African beds) and turned constantly to ensure they are dried evenly until they were at 11–12% humidity.

The coffee was then rested in parchment, and when ready for export, dry milled at Kahara Bowa mill in Thika, around a one hour drive from Nairobi.

GRADING

Kenya uses a grading system for all its exportable coffee lots. The grading system is based on the size and assumed quality of the bean. A coffee’s grade is directly correlated with the price it attracts at auction or through direct trade.

“Kidogo” means little in Swahili. This lot is made up of the two smallest grades of coffee, C and PB. Both grades are easily defined by size (in this case, C means that the beans are under screen size 15 and PB means peaberry) and to a certain extent, quality. While it is assumed that AA lots represent the highest quality, we have often found other lots to be just as good.

To cement our relationship with Joseph we purchased his entire exportable production this year, which ensures that he receives a good price for all grades of his coffee. This “Kidogo” lot was just 120kg!

KABUMBU and SUCASTAINABILITY

Joseph’s decision to independently process and sell his coffee has been supported by Sucastainability — a marketing agent that is on the ground directly helping Joseph with training, education and support, and to secure the very best prices for his milled coffee. Joseph was one of Sucastainability’s first farmer clients and has worked with them since 2017.

Unlike other agents in Kenya, Sucastainability has a particular focus on working with small-holder farms like Ngamba that have the infrastructure to process coffee on their own estates, but whose lot volumes are too small to sell at auction. Though this can be challenging (the smaller lot sizes are more expensive to mill and market), it is worthwhile because it provides more traceability and transparency and ensures that premiums paid for the coffee are given directly back to the producer.

Sucastainability currently works with over 1000 small-holder farmers and 70 cooperatives across all coffee-producing regions of Kenya. The agency is managed by Wycliffe Odhiambo Murwayi who has over twenty years of experience working in the Kenyan coffee industry. His team of agronomists is headed up by Lucy Wanjiku Njoroge  and they have a representative in each of the six coffee growing regions in Kenya. The team takes into consideration the individual needs of the producers they are working with and provides tailored advice and resources to help improve yields and quality. They also arrange financial assistance, by providing micro-financing ahead of harvest, and by buying inputs (like essential fertilisers and pesticides) in bulk and selling them at a discount to the producers.

Sucastainability is responsible for milling the coffee and also provides an important sensory analysis of the coffees. They are also responsible for marketing and on-selling the coffee either directly to traders or via the Auction system, who then sell the coffee to the final buyer. To learn more about the chain of custody in Kenya, click here.

ABOUT KIRINYAGA

Kirinyaga County is part of Kenya’s former Central Province, which was dissolved in 2013. The area includes Murang’a, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Kiambu and Nyandarua Counties, and is traditionally the homeland of people of Kikiyu ethnicity. The central highlands of Kenya are considered to be one of the wealthiest areas of the country, due to the incredibly fertile land, geographical proximity to the capital, Nairobi, and close integration with the country’s colonial administration before Kenya gained independence in 1962. This integration afforded the communities of Central Kenya with opportunities for education, business and political prowess, despite the various injustices of the colonial government. The Kikiyu people have a long and proud history of agriculture and the region is farmed intensively, with coffee, tea and dairy being the most important modern crops.

Like Joseph, many of the producers in the region are second-generation landholders, whose parents would have purchased and planted the land in the 1950s and 1960s, after agricultural reform allowed for small Kenyan farmers to produce cash crops on their family farms (instead of only on large, British owned estates). Farmers in Kirinyaga grow coffee as a cash crop alongside food crops like banana, maize, macadamia, avocados and vegetables. Tea and dairy are also important sources of income for the producers.

 

WHAT’S IN A NAME

Kabumbu (pronounced “kah-boom-buh”) means “small hill” in Swahili.

WHY WE LOVE IT

This coffee is a great example of the distinct, high-quality cup profile of the Batian variety. This peaberry lot is incredibly complex and bright, with fresh sugarcane juice, fig and green grape acidity.