Episode 573: Kenya Kiriga Estate AA Washed

The first coffee bush at Kiriga Estate was planted in approximately 1954 by colonial settlers. At about the same time, less than ten kilometres away along the same Kigio road, a young boy (Aloysius Gakunga, son of the chief for the larger Murang'a county) helped his father – Senior Chief Ndungíu Kagori – plant the first coffee seedling in the area. The area was known as Gaitegi village, Muranga Location 1 (Loco One). A love affair with coffee had been born!

Several years went by and the young boy grew up. He was riding his bicycle along Kigio road and, as he rode past the vast – by now well-established – coffee estates, he promised himself that he would one day own one of them.

He realized this dream in 1976.

The boy, or Mr A. N. Gakunga, sadly passed away in July 2014. By the time of his death, Mr Gakunga had passed his love of coffee and the mantle of Kiriga coffee estate on to Dr Brian Ndungíu Gakunga. Brian was his second child, and the eldest son out of his six children. According to Kikuyu cultural naming systems, Brian is named after Mr Gakungaís' father, who was both his grandfather and his pioneer coffee farmer.

Dr Brian Gakunga is a coffee farmer who is well known in Kenyan coffee circles. He is a founding member and a former long-serving Honorary Secretary of the Kenya Coffee Producers Association, which is a national farmers' organisation that works to promote the economic and social interests of the coffee farmers through active participation in the national and international arena. Brian is also a former Board Member and Chairman of Transitional Exchange Committee (operationally, he was the then-Chairman of Nairobi Coffee Exchange), where over 90% of all of Kenya's coffee is currently sold. He's also currently the Founding Chairman of Africa Coffee Farmers' Network. Africa Coffee Farmers' Network represents the interests of coffee farmers, as spelt out in the organisation's core objective of improving the earnings of poor coffee farmers in order to break the vicious cycle of poverty. One way of doing this is by getting direct sales for the farmers. Kiriga Estate sits between 1,550 and 1,650 metres above sea level. It is approximately five kilometres from Thika town, which is an industrial town in the central province of Kenya. It's four kilometres from Blue Posts hotel, which has the famous Chania and Thika falls. Thika lies 50 kilometres northeast of Nairobi.

Administratively, Kiriga coffee estate is in the Gatanga constituency of Muranga county, and it's separated from Kiambu county by the Chania river.

Kiriga coffee is Arabica of predominantly SL28 variety (notable for its world-renowned cup quality). The farm has an estimated two hectares of Ruiru 11 variety (which has improved resistance to coffee berry disease and leaf rust); some K7 variety (similar characteristics as SL28, but with better resistance to leaf rust compared to SL28); and a field of the newest Batian variety. About 60% of the coffee that the estate produces is AA/AB.

All coffee activities at Kiriga are carried out at a factory level, from the coffee nursery to all the farm operations (pruning, weed control, nutrition, irrigation, basin digging, disease control, infilling, mulching, and planting). Wet mill operations are also carried out on the factory level. Kiriga delivers both parchment coffee and Mbuni (naturals) to the commercial dry mill for milling and grading, in preparation for sale at coffee auctions and via indirect sale.

In addition to growing coffee the estate also has, I was told, shoats (sheep and goats), a dairy, and the potential to keep fish. It's all about diversity, and what's more diverse than a 'shoat'?! The estate is also occasionally visited by two hippos, in addition to some bird-life, while also being the home of a family of monkeys.

Kiriga irrigated all its coffee trees – despite the crippling electricity costs involved – during the dry season, in order to ensure their high standards were maintained despite the weather.

By the end of 2015, the estate had changed the cycle of its coffee trees by removing the old heads and growing new heads, which in return gave a higher yield of bold beans with the characteristic 'Kiriga coffee characteristics'. Over 40% of the 'old heads' had to go! This is way above the recommended 25%, and we expect to have decreased yield but increased quality as a result.

At Kiriga they talk about having a 'Kiriga Family'. It's a big family that includes up to 180 people at the busiest times of year! Thirty percent of the total workforce is made up of resident families who live on the estate. Fifty percent of those know no other home. The remaining percentage consists of smallholder farmers who commute daily and depend on the estate for survival. There are smallholder farmers who have been part of the family since 1976 and have no desire to work anywhere else, commuting a whopping 10 KM (or more!) daily – past other estates – just to work at Kiriga.

Something really amazing I wanted to tell you about is the Kiriga Welfare Fund. In the past, the estate saw its workers get turned away from banks when they tried to acquire loans for dealing with family issues or emergencies. To help his 'Kiriga Family', Brian encouraged the workers to set up a welfare group with him as its patron, and Brian has provided money for loaning out to staff according to their most pressing needs.

Many of the estate farms around Kiriga have been sold off to make housing estates. Whilst this is a challenge for the future, in the immediate period Brian is actually finding it helpful, because there are more skilled pickers available (who were working on the other farms).

During my visit to Kenya in 2015, I was fortunate enough to spend some time chatting with Brian. I even managed to record some of it, too! Make sure to have a listen.

Hasblog: An Interview with Brian and Peter from Kiriga (Part 1) Hasblog: An Interview with Brian and Peter from Kiriga (Part 2)

In the cup this is fruit squash! It starts with blackcurrant, but seamlessly morphs into orange. There is a shoulder of fresh strawberry in the background. It's super clean and super refreshing.

  • Country: Kenya
  • Constituency: Gatanga
  • County: Muranga
  • Nearest town: Thika
  • Estate: Kiriga
  • Farmer: Dr Brian Gakunga
  • Altitude: 1,550–1,650 m.a.s.l.
  • Varietals: SL 28 AA and Ruiru 11 AA
  • Processing method: Washed

  • Cupping notes: Blackcurrant, orange, strawberry

  • Clean cup: (1–8): 8

  • Sweetness: (1–8): 6.5
  • Acidity: (1–8): 7
  • Mouthfeel: (1–8): 6
  • Flavour: (1–8): 7.5
  • Aftertaste: (1–8): 6
  • Balance: (1–8): 6
  • Overall: (1–8): 7
  • Correction:(+36): +36

  • Total (max. 100): 90

Roast Information: Medium – keep it pretty quick, through first crack and into the gap; then drop it, really showcasing the acidity.

Brewing Tip: We're noticing that this coffee can tend to extract very easily versus others we are currently roasting. We recommend either a coarser grind than normal, shorter overall brewing time or lowering the amount of coffee you normally use to make a brew - our standard recommendation is 60g/l but try 55g/l and see what you think.

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