We have been buying coffee from the Kii factory in Kirinyaga for a couple of years for a simple reason. We absolutely adore the coffee’s flavour profile! According to us, the region where Kii is located produces some of the highest scoring coffees in the entire country. This is reflected in the high prices that coffees from various stations in the region fetch at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange.
Kii factory was established in 1996. Over the years, it has grown to collect cherries from about 1,200 farmers. Together with Karimikui and Kiangoi mills, they form the Rungeto Farmers Cooperative Society, which is made up of 3,000 active members. Rungeto Society was established in 1953 and has built a strong reputation for itself ever since. This society has an annual production of 500,000 kgs of green coffee and an estimated area under coffee of 535 hectares. Rungeto represents 9% of all smallholder production in Kirinyaga. The high-yield factories produce coffees of outstanding quality, grown in ideal growing circumstances on the foot of Mount Kenya.
In total, Rungeto has about 3500 farmers growing their coffee on small plots of land there and delivering their cherries to the three mills. Nowadays, an estimated 55% of all coffee production in Kenya comes from smallholder farms. Farmers take ripe cherries to be processed in centralized wet mills, where they are pulped, fermented, washed and sun-dried on elevated tables. Coffee is then delivered to a dry mill. The parchment coffee produced by Kii factory, for example, is further processed by the Sasini dry mill.
One of the reasons why we think Kii coffee is so great is because they have a high standard for cherry quality. Their quality control manager will control very strictly which cherries they process together. All under- or overripe cherries are removed to be processed separately.
Coffee production in Kenya dates back to the late 1880s. Around that time, French Missionaries reportedly brought seeds to the Taita Hills area. Introduced into the Kiambu district in 1896, coffee found a great combination of altitude, soils and temperature that resulted in the high quality for which Kenyan coffee is known across the globe. Still today, the biggest coffee growing area spreads from Kiambu, on the outskirts of Nairobi, up to the slopes of Mount Kenya. The Counties in this region also known as Central Kenya – Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Murang’a and Nyeri – have an annual production of around 39,000 metric tons of green coffee. This accounts for almost 70% of the national production. Other coffee growing areas are: Machakos (Eastern Kenya) and Bungoma (Western Kenya), but volumes are significantly smaller.
Although patterns may differ from area to area, in general, Kenya has two main rainy seasons which dictate two crops. Long rains occur from March to May, while a shorter rainy season occurs around October. The dry spells that anticipate those rains trigger two flowering periods: February/March for the country’s main crop, and September for the early or ’fly’ crop. Central areas are able to produce and deliver coffee in both seasons, whereas Machakos, for example, only produces coffee during the early crop season.
Coffee plants naturally find extremely fertile soils in Kenya’s growing regions. Soils are young and volcanic and very rich in organic matter. The altitude in coffee growing areas ranges from a minimum of 1280m in Embu (Eastern part of Mount Kenya region) to a high of 2300m in Nyeri (Western slopes).
Organization & Processing
Nowadays, approximately 55 % of all coffee production comes from smallholder farms. The number varies greatly from area to area (Kiambu 14%, Kirinyaga 72%, Machakos 80%). Smallholder farmers are organized in Cooperative Societies, which own the wet mills where farmers deliver ripe cherries. At wet mills (also known as factories) cherries are pulped and fermented for approximately 24 hours. After fermentation, coffee is soaked in tanks full of water and washed in channels. Still at the washing station, coffee is graded in P1 (heaviest parchment), P2 and lights (floaters). Any remaining cherries are removed and processed separately. Coffee is sun-dried on raised tables, a process which can take up to 3 weeks. At night and during the hottest periods, parchment is covered so that drying is gentle and homogenous.
Dry parchment is then delivered to a centralized dry mill. Here, the coffee is processed, screened and marketed at the weekly auctions in Nairobi. Approximately 90% of the entire coffee production is ‘washed’. The remaining 10% is made up of usually unripe cherries. These are spread out on trays to dry in the sun. This process can take up to 5 weeks. The resulting coffee is known as ‘Mbuni’.