2023 marks our 3rd year of working directly with farms in Kenya. Thanks to This Side Up, we've been able to forge close relationships with farmers Gloria and Jane and their farms in the Sakami region.
Olly, our Roastery Manager, caught up with Jane & Gloria in July 2023 and got their thoughts on all things Kenyan coffee, including how they've forged their way in a very male dominated world and how they're hopeful of a bright future for women in the industry.
Q: When / How did you first become involved in coffee growing & exporting?
GLORIA (pictured below): I grew up in a farm where my parents were growing coffee, however later on they had to abandon the coffee growing but the coffee growing always remained inside me. Years later we had a chance to buy a piece of land near my home farm, and decided to go back to farming life from other professions in Nairobi. When we started farming, coffee growing and marketing was still strictly controlled by different authorities, so we didn't consider growing coffee at that stage. In about 2010 coffee growing and marketing was liberalised, which gave us a chance to leave other crops and start building our coffee farm by planting a few thousand seedlings whenever we had some free cash from our salaried employment.
JANE (pictured below): My journey into coffee growing started actually from frustration of growing maize every season with minimum return and theft of the crop in the farms before I harvested it. To take a break from all this my husband (Richard) shared his frustrations with Gloria who had started her journey well before us. She had some surplus coffee seedlings and encouraged us to venture into coffee farming. This was way back in 2015 and I was still employed at the time so had little time at the farm. I left employment in 2017 and gave the farm my full attention. In 2019 Gloria invited me to cooperate with like-minded women to start our direct sales with This Side Up and I have so far exported two consignments of green beans in 2022 and 2023 - both to Missing Bean!
Q: How is Kenyan coffee doing in the current global market & how resilient are the crops?
GLORIA: As the volumes of Kenyan coffee are shrinking due to developments around Nairobi, where most of the coffee has been grown, the new frontiers are opening up in Western Kenya where coffee was widely grown in old days but since abandoned in late 80's and 90's. The cup profile is a bit different to Central Kenyan coffee, so we are opening a new chapter for Kenyan coffee in global market place. Judged by the reception of our coffees, I think we have a good chance to find our place among well appreciated Kenyan beans, especially in the specialty coffee sector, as we can not compete in mass volumes any more.
JANE: Kenyan coffee is amongst the best worldwide in terms of quality and is mostly used to blend the other coffees globally due to its rich flavours. Brewed on its on, you have one of the best specialty coffees in the world! Our coffee research institutes have continued to develop more resilient coffee seeds in terms of disease and climate change. The Batian and Ruiru II are amongst the latest varieties grown currently.
Q: How are the farms meeting the growing expectations of organic, ethical & sustainable farming techniques, including workforce welfare?
GLORIA: From the every beginning, we have based our farming on sustainable utilisation of all resources, be it water (ecopulper), electricity (solar power), waste products (worm culture to produce manure from coffee pulp, macadamia husks etc), eliminating chemical residuals (no herbicide use, pesticide only based on scouting, mainly using organic pesticides like neem oil, black pepper, vinegar), labour (several crops spreading labour demand throughout the year, assisting in school fees, funerals, medical costs beyond legal requirements).
Q: You work incredibly hard to encourage women in coffee, and with a lot of success! What have been the main challenges with this and what advice would you give other farms to encourage a more mixed workforce and ownership?
Q: What does the future hold for coffee from Kenya? And do you have any big plans for your current farms?
GLORIA: We plan to start dry milling at the farm, in order to be able to prepare micro-lots from different processes and growing locations.
JANE: Our future looks great especially in this side of the Rift Valley. Many farmers are embracing coffee growing as they reduce their acreage of maize to grow coffee.
In Trans Nzoia farmers still have large chunks of lands that are not utilised, therefore great potential here. We do have big dreams for our farms, I have extended my farm and added an additional 6,000 seedlings of coffee. It is our hope as women farmers to get our own miller for our coffees.
Q: What makes the coffees that Missing Bean have selected so special? (Sakami Jane Washed, Sakami Gloria Washed, Sakami Gloria Anaerobic Natural)
GLORIA: For washed coffee, we are very careful on fermentation of the pulped coffee by deciding the state of fermentation with a PH meter, we only do a single wash as not to dilute the flavour details from the beans. Drying time we aim for 14 days which means limited time of sun drying daily, and drying under shade nets as much as possible, this extended drying time gives longer shelf life for the coffee.
For naturals we use the best pickers to collect fully ripe cherries for processing. Sorting is done through the picked cherries before a second sorting on floating tanks. Fermentation again is supervised with a PH meter, trials have been conducted to find the ideal stage for fermentation. This can be adjusted according to the wish of the client.
This year we are introducing a small dry mill, so that we can do early trial cupping at the farm. The picking of cherries for the naturals is done in the beginning of the season which gives more chance to select the best cherries and also gives maximum time for the beans to mature inside the cherries before milling.
JANE: Our farms have very rich volcanic soil, rich in minerals and covered with shade trees. It’s as natural as can be! The coffee beans have received dedicated care right from the farms to the pulping station, drying beds and milling. Our cherries are selected and hand-picked from the trees. You get the best! They have also received a very good cupping.
Q: How can the general public help to encourage more coffee being produced by people with your attitudes and beliefs?
GLORIA: If the general public can learn to appreciate the difference in flavour and taste between bulk coffee and specialty, fully traceable coffee, and are ready to pay the small difference per cup, it really will make a huge difference to the farmers income. Interviews just like this allow people to know how coffee is produced and gives an insight into the life of producers and the efforts they make to create a great cup.
You can shop our Kenya coffee and support this amazing industry HERE.