27 Jan Kenya Origin Trip – Day 2 Cupping!
The weather has been a bit all over the place this trip – it’s usually unheard of to have rain at this time of year in Kenya but we’ve had on and off showers since we arrived on Saturday. Of course the Kenyans think that it’s absolutely freezing and are all wrapped up in sweaters and eating hot soup. Coming from a Highland winter I’m finding it ridiculously warm. We today had to buy some wellington boots in anticipation of our farm visits later this week and the potential of a lot of mud due to the wet weather.
After a leisurely start (compared to yesterday’s dawn departure) and a delicious breakfast of papaya and omelette at our hotel we headed off in an Uber to the Taylor Winch offices a short drive away. The offices are in a pretty, single storeyed colonial building with French windows opening out onto a garden of lawn and colourful shrubs including a few coffee trees – many bearing fruit, and a large shade tree with yellow blossom.
Taylor Winch was established in the 1960s and was one of the first exporters/traders to operate in Kenya. Daily cuppings of auction offerings, export logistics and quality control are all run from this office in Nairobi.
The company is headed up by Jack Marrian, and the head cupper is Dainah Gatakaa who is in charge of quality, a Q and part of the Taylor Winch team for fourteen years. Monday’s are obviously super busy for the cuppers as they get ready for the weekly Tuesday auction at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange. At busy times of the year they will cup up to 300 lots in a day. Impressive stuff. It was a real privilege to join Dainah, Jack and Zippy (the TW trader) at the cupping table and we cupped some delicious lots from Gitutu and Mwriria (a coffee we have in the Glen Lyon roastery at the moment).
Cupping protocols are somewhat different from the SCA style I’m used to. After the sample is ground only half the cupping bowl was filled with water, the crust was then broken and more hot water was added before skimming. They also usually only start cupping the coffees when they are practically at room temperature – not surprising really when you appreciate just how many lots they have to get through in a single day.
The rains in Kenya were so late last year (not coming till mid-April rather than early March) meaning that this year’s harvest has been significantly delayed. Because of this the really good lots are only just beginning to come in. Then as a result of the October rains continuing into December (another unusual event) there’s talk that the fly crop this year is set to be a bumper one.
It must be so unbelievably tough on producers being at the mercy of the weather and factors out of their control. And climate change and different weather patterns are something that’s not exactly going to get any better.
At lunchtime we all headed to a nearby mall where the security to get in was not much different than at Heathrow – metal detectors, bag searches – car boot inspections. The Kenyans had soup and spiced ginger drinks to ‘warm up’ – and we had some tasty sandwiches before hopping in yet another Uber to head out east to the Taylor Winch mill and warehouse. The infamous Nairobi traffic was in full swing – (although I’m grateful that they don’t drive like the Ethiopians which is honestly the most scared I’ve ever been in a car) but you do get a sense of just how massive this city is with its log jammed carriageways and horrific amounts of diesel fumes spewing out from the trucks and minibuses.
At the warehouse it was great to meet the manager, Pauline – in fact it’s been a real joy on this trip to meet all these talented women working in coffee in what is usually such a male dominated world. Pauline showed us round the warehouse where the green coffee is cleaned first in a gravity machine, then graded and finally put through a colour sorting machine before being packed in those familiar Kenyan coffee bags and stacked ready to be shipped around the world to roasters like ourselves.