HELEN GICHOHI, Ngoe AB
The new season's fresh crop AB from Helen Gichohi’s Ngoe washing station, sourced through Vava Coffee. This lot is graded AB in bean size which is slightly smaller than an AA. It’s juicy and rich and has notes of plum, pink grapefruit and dark chocolate.
HELEN GICHOHI, Ngoe AB - 200g is backordered and will ship as soon as it is back in stock.
Ngoe farm is located in Kiru Location, Kiriani sub-county in Muranga County, on the border with Othaya in Nyeri County. The farm has a total of 11,000 trees of arabica coffee, the majority being old SL 28 and Ruiru 11 varieties. More recently, the owner Helen Gichohi and her team have planted some Batian as well.
The coffee farm has been in existence for over 30 years but was abandoned a few years after the previous owner passed away. A part of the coffee farm was recovered about 10 years ago and it has slowly been rehabilitated to produce high-quality coffee since. The farm has its own wet mill and associated infrastructure. The farm also has year-round access to water from a borehole and a nearby river but the coffee is currently not irrigated. Plans are afoot to do so, to upgrade the infrastructure but most importantly to increase production and fulfil the great potential of the farm. Ngoe employs 3 full-time staff and relies on daily wage labour depending on farming and management needs.
Helen is a conservation biologist by training. She took over from the previous owner and because she had little experience in coffee farming she decided to have all the coffee cut back to give time for some learning and reflecting. In honour of the previous owner, who successfully introduced coffee to the region and was passionate about growing it, she decided to retain it, though she had full-time work elsewhere.
Helen had previously been involved in the coffee sector in her role as the head of the African Wildlife Foundation in the region. Under a project funded by Starbucks AWF, she supported farmers in 3 large cooperatives in Nyeri. The funding provided technical assistance to farmers to improve coffee farming practices and supported cooperatives with improvements in management.
Although Helen was only marginally involved in the work on the ground, she did get a good impression of the challenges and opportunities in the coffee sector. In the recent past, however, she was not able to invest much in the farm. But over the last two years, this has changed. She is now investing more time and money and looks forward to an exciting time as she engages more to increase production and to better understand the sector.
This lot was sourced and exported by Vava Coffee, a Certified B-Corp with a social enterprise business model that has a network of coffee producers in different regions of East Africa. The company aims to contribute to better future prospects for coffee communities and the industry as a whole and are geared towards sustainable livelihoods for the people and communities they work with. Located in the picturesque Kajiado county inhabited by the calm yet courageous Maasai community, they work in this atypical coffee growing region to influence and transform communities by providing economic empowerment opportunities using coffee - through trade, education and capacity building with a sharp focus on elevating the opportunities for women and girls in these communities.
SL28 is among the most well-known and well-regarded varieties of Africa. SL28 was originally selected in the 1930s by Scott Laboratories, from a Tanganyika drought resistance population. This initial tree was growing in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), where it was identified because of its drought and disease resistance. From this initial tree, SL28 was selected by pedigree selection, a method in which the breeder keeps records of the ancestry of the cultivar. Selected parent plants are crossed, and the progeny actively segregated, selecting seeds from the offspring with the desired characteristics and growing through several generations until stable.
Initially widely grown in Kenya it has subsequently spread to other parts of Africa and now to Latin America. Recent genetic testing has confirmed that SL28 is related to the Bourbon genetic group and it is highly prized for its excellent cup quality when grown at high altitudes. SL28 is tolerant to drought but is susceptible to major diseases. It’s also notable for its resilience to a lack of plantation management and even old, unattended trees of 60 years can be still very productive.
Riuru 11 was developed after a coffee berry disease epidemic in 1968 caused the loss of 50% of Kenya’s production. An intensive breeding program was established in the 1970s at the Coffee Research Station in Riuru, focussing on creating a compact variety suitable for intensive planting, with high yields and good cup quality. In 1985, Riuru 11 was released. This variety is a very complex hybrid that was created by first crossing varieties chosen for resistance to CBD (Rume Sudan, Timor Hybrid, K7) with others chosen for good cup quality (N39, SL28, SL34, Bourbon). The progeny of these plants was then crossed with various Catimor lines, selected for their compact size and resistance to both CBD and leaf rust.
Batian was developed through a breeding program conducted at the Coffee Research Station in Ruiru, Kenya. Released in 2010, Batian is a tall, high yielding variety which has good cup quality, tolerance to leaf rust and resistance to coffee berry disease. This hybrid was produced over several generations by crossing SL28, SL34, Rume Sudan, N39, K7, SL4 and the Timor Hybrid.
The washed process was designed to minimise the danger of off-flavours caused by uncontrolled fermentation during the natural process. The cherries are usually sorted using a floatation tank where any under-ripe or defective fruits will float to the top and can be removed. The remaining cherries are then pulped and left in a tank to ferment until the sticky fruit mucilage is soft enough to be washed off the parchment which is a paper-like layer surrounding the seed.
The design and cleanliness of the tanks is important, and the degree and speed of fermentation will depend on many variables including how much fruit remains, what bacteria and yeasts are present, whether the tank is filled with water, and the environmental conditions.
Once the mucilage has degraded sufficiently it is washed away using water and the remaining parchment coffee, as it’s commonly called, is dried until it reaches a safe moisture content. The bacteria and sugar-rich water used in the process needs to be treated carefully as it can cause algae blooms if it finds its way into streams and rivers.
In situations where large amounts of coffee is processed in bulk like Ethiopia it has proven economical for some operations to use a mechanical demucilager, removing all the fruit from the parchment with minimal water, and foregoing the fermentation stage completely. This however, is believed to lead to a reduction in cup quality as many pre-cursors for flavour are created through fermentation.
PRODUCER: Helen Gichohi
FARM: Ngoe, Kiru, Kiriani, Muranga County, Kenya
ELEVATION: 1,830 - 1,860 masl
CULTIVAR: SL28, Ruiru 11, Batian
HARVEST: October-December 2022
ARRIVED: April 2023
IMPORTING PARTNER: Vava Coffee/Algrano