Gatomboya Factory is part of the Barichu Farmers' Cooperative Society in Nyeri in Central Kenya. The Gatomboya factory is one of those factories that showed us how complex and beautiful Kenyan coffees can be. When harvested and processed thoroughly, it can produce those kinds of coffees that leave you with goose bumps.
The coffees are traditionally processed with dry fermentation before washed and graded in channels and dried on raised beds. This particular lot from early 2023 is a produced on the varieties SL28/34 and grown at on astounding altitude of 1880 m.a.s.l.
For a period of time, Gatomboya had endured operational hurdles due to political turbulence in the region. However, we are proud to see they are back on track, including the return of a management program.
This program is led by Tropical Farm, a company that supports small holders to increase their coffee production as well as help the factories on quality control and introduce traceability to their processing methods and practices.
The coffees are traditionally processed with dry fermentation before washed and graded in channels and dried on raised beds. The farmers are mainly growing SL28 and SL34, but might also have other varieties mixed in.
Taste description: The initial burst of flavor reveals notes of berries, newly opened hibiscus flowers and fresh lemons. The overall cup is extremely crips and vibrant that gives us exactly everything we look for in ”traditional” washed coffee from Kenya.
Amount: Our specialty coffee bags come in 250 grams of whole beans roasted with filter brewing in mind. We roast, pack, and ship on demand, ensuring maximum freshness for our customers.
Story: Gatomboya Factory (washing station) is part of the Barichu Farmers' Cooperative Society. Gatomboya collects cherries from about 600 smallholders with an average of 0,4 hectares of dedicated to growing coffee. Their total production is about 350 tonnes of cherries per year. Fermentation is done with fresh river water from Gatomboya stream.
Gatomboya is a Kikuyu word meaning “swamp”, referring to the swampy nature of the land which makes it good for growing arrowroot.
The Barichu Cooperative Society is located in Nyeri in Central Kenya. Nyeri is known for its intense, complex, and flavour-dense coffees. It is made up of mainly smallholder farms, each with some 100 trees. They are organised into Cooperative Societies that acts as umbrella organisations for the factories where the smallholders deliver their coffee cherries for processing.
The annual average rainfall in the area is 1400 mm. The temperatures are mainly between 14 and 25 celcius. The soils around Mount Kenya is rich volcanic soils, mainly Nitisol, a type of soil commonly found in highlands and on steep volcanic slopes. Nitosol is developed from volcanic rocks and has better chemical and physical properties than other tropical soils.
The main flowerings are in February – March, the main harvest from October to December and the coffees are normally available for purchase between January and April.
Varieties:The smallholders mainly have SL 28 and SL 34. Small amounts of other mixed varietals can occur.
Cherries are hand sorted for unripes and overripes by the farmers before they go in to production. An Agaarde disc pulping machine removes the skin and pulp. The coffees are graded by density in to 3 grades by the pulper. Grade 1 and 2 go separately to fermentation. Grade 3 is considered low grade. The coffee is fermented for 16-24 hours under closed shade. After fermentation the coffees are washed and again graded by density in washing channels and are then soaked under clean water from the Gatomboya stream for 16-18 hours.
Drying: Sun dried up to 21 days on African drying beds. Coffees are covered in plastic during midday and at night.
Kenya Overview: Kenya mainly produces fully washed coffees, and is considered by many as the world’s number one quality producer. There are more than 700,000 coffee farmers (smallholders) representing about 55% of the production. The rest is produced mostly by large farms known as Estates.
Almost all our coffees in Kenya are grown by smallholder farmers, each with 1-2 hectares of land. Many farmers will grow different crops and maybe have as few as 100 coffee trees. The farmers are organised in Cooperative Societies that act as umbrella organisations for the Factories (wet mills), where the smallholders deliver their coffee cherries for processing.
Many of the farmers are surrounded by several wet mills and they are free to choose where they deliver their cherries. Due to the traditional auction system in Kenya, quality is rewarded with higher prices. The better factories will then attract more farmers by producing coffees that earn the highest prices, which they return to the farmers in the form of a second payment. After the cost of marketing and preparation is deducted, this can sometimes be up to 90% of the sales price.
In the mill everything is kept separate for the auction, and it’s a great opportunity to cup through the different grades from the same out turns and consignments. We can usually cup extensively at the mill or the lab of the marketing agent to pick out our coffees before they enter the auction catalogue. Whenever we have found a coffee and want to commit, we will have the marketing agent negotiate the price directly with the producers, in our case the Cooperative Society as we normally buy from the smallholders cooperatives.
The Kenyan system is transparent towards the farmers, and everything is more or less separated into small lots and different grades. If you buy coffees directly through the second window (meaning not through the auction), the producers expect to get prices above the average auction prices at present time. In addition, the system is transparent as everybody knows how much is going back to the society after the cost of milling and marketing is deducted.
In fact, many of the more serious societies and factories are competing, getting cherries in from the same areas, and are putting effort and pride into paying the highest returns to their farmers. Some of the coops we work with have been able to pay up to 90% back to the farmers.
Cherry Delivery: This is done at the wet mills or at collection centres. When the farmers arrive at the place for delivery they would normally have to empty their bags on a covered section of the floor to sort out unripe, overripe and CBD infected cherries.
Pulping: When they start the pulper the cherries are pulled by gravity down into the machine. They normally use disc pulpers such as old three disc Agaarde or similar brands. The parchment flows from the discs with water allowing the beans to be separated by density. The densest beans will sink and are pumped straight through a channel to the fermentation tank as P1 (parchment 1) which is what we usually buy.
Fermentation: After pulping, the coffees are dry fermented (water is drained off) in painted concrete tanks. Normally they are fermented for 18-24 hours. Many factories do intermediate washing every 6 – 8 hours, meaning they add water, stir up the parchment and drain it again.
Washing and soaking: When fermentation is completed and the mucilage is dissolved the parchment gets washed in washing channels and graded again by density. The lighter beans will float off and the remaining dense parchment will normally be soaked in clean water for up to 24 hours.
Drying: After soaking, the coffees are dried on hessian mesh mats for up to one day, then moved to the traditional drying tables. The coffee is normally dried on a surface of jute cloth or shade net layered over the table’s wire mesh.
The drying time varies between 12 and 20 days depending on weather and rainfall.
Sourcing, milling and export
The dry mills in Kenya are highly professional and efficient. The coffees are graded according to the following system:
E (Elephant beans) = screen 19 and up
AA = 17/18
AB = 16/17
PB = Peaberries.
*Text from the importer V Hub Vollers