Thiriku | Caracolillo
Sweet, butter and chocolate.
Strong acidity. Smooth body.
Kenya’s FOB (Free on Board) prices are among the highest in the world. Despite this remarkable feat, growers appear to be leaving coffee due to low and unsustainable wages. Our trusted importer Menno Simons, with whom we have been working for more than 10 years, decided to do something about it.
Menno, founder of Trabocca Coffee, travelled to Nyeri to find answers as to why many coffee growers were leaving the world of coffee or why the quality of the bean was being lost. On that trip he discovered that low wages and corruption of cooperative management officials are often the main causes affecting the coffee industry in Kenya. In response to this, he teamed up with the Thiriku Cooperative to create a joint project with the aim of improving payments to farmers as well as improving cup quality.
By buying coffee directly from farmers, Trabocca ensures that there are no middlemen taking advantage of the bureaucratic processes around trade payments. In addition, they work with an agronomist who helps improve the infrastructure and the land to achieve higher quality in the cup. The payment for the cherries picked and processed is also higher than prices for coffee processed in a more “traditional” way.
The coffee cooperative, with a membership of 1,000 farmers, produced 170,073 kilograms of coffee annually. They project production of between 400,000 and 600,000 kilos in the next three years, starting in 2022.
It is worth mentioning that farmers are currently producing a minimum of one kilogram per coffee tree, but by complying with agronomic guidelines provided to farmers by Trabocca, production is projected to increase to approximately 10 kilograms per tree.
The cherry is selectively handpicked and then sorted. Once classified, the ripe, red cherry is pulped with a disc pulper and fermented overnight. The parchment is washed with clean water to remove any remaining mucilage.
The wet parchment is sorted and any remaining damaged beans are removed. The parchment is then moved to raised beds to finish drying, where it is regularly turned to ensure even drying and covered in the hottest hours of the day and night to prevent cracking and/or condensation. Workers periodically inspect the drying parchment and remove damaged grains. Drying takes approximately 14 to 29 days, depending on the weather at the time.
Although the coffee plant was introduced to Kenya from Arabia by Catholic missionaries around 1896, it was not until the early 20th century that coffee growing began to boom in the country, then a British colony.
Kenya is today one of the most respected and admired coffee origins. This is due to many factors: a red and fertile volcanic soil, a temperate climate, equatorial light and the country’s native Arabica varieties (SL28 is the best known and used). It is also due to incessant research on coffee growing and the efficient organization of small producer cooperatives seeking excellence. Each small batch of green coffee is sold individually at Nairobi auctions so that each one fetches a price commensurate with its quality.
Bidding at auctions is an extraordinary mechanism for quality to stand out. The producer is rewarded with an optimal price and the roaster gets access to the best quality coffee.
Within a triangle formed by Mount Kenya, Nairobi and Machakos, lies Kenya’s ‘Black Gold’ region. Some of the best coffee in the world grows here, accounting for about 85% or more of the country’s annual coffee crop. The other part is in western Kenya, in the Rift Valley and in the Taita area.
Coffee cultivation in Kenya began in the early 20th century, and these early beginnings are immortalized in the memory of Isak Dinese in his famous book “Out of Africa”.
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