Shine, Kenya, shine

Kenyan coffee is under-appreciated. Or at least under-represented. Ethiopia is the darling of African coffees these days, to wit, the crazy-quilt-like ubiquity of “Wondos” and “Misty Valleys”. Look on the shelves – literal or virtual – of your favorite “coffee 3.0” ((Quick, somebody get my lawyer on the phone. I smell a trademark.)) roaster and chances are the African category is going to be dominated by one Ethiopian after another. I’m scratching my head on this one. Why is it, I wonder, that Kenyan coffee is so underrepresented? ((Sounds like a subject in need of further study…and possibly a good idea for another post…)) It’s certainly not an issue of quality. Kenya produces some of the finest beans on the market and has a highly sophisticated and well developed system for getting its beans out to that market ((Thompson Owen, of Sweet Maria’s, penned a rich and descriptive travelogue of his recent buying trip to Kenya. Combined with their Kenya page they offer a wealth of information about Kenya, its quality and well developed auction system.)).

Given this imbalanced situation, it’s nice to see one of Kenya’s quality products get some time in the spotlight for once: Ritual Roasters in San Francisco has but one African coffee on their menu at the moment. And it’s a Kenya. Not only that but, as a part of their “Sweet Tooth” single-origin espresso program, they are offering it up by the shot as well as by the bag.

In the spotlight

The Kenya Karindundu on offer at Ritual was the “mystery coffee” I mentioned was present at the Friday cupping in which m’lady and I participated. At the time, the “mystery” designation was warranted, not by the lack of knowledge of the coffee’s name or place of origin, but by the lack of knowledge of how it was processed and what its growing conditions were. That shortfall has been somewhat cleared up, it seems, as Ritual’s page for the Karindundu illustrates; that this is a coffee grown at high altitudes – 2000m above sea level – and that its refined acidity and “exotic flavors” are a direct result of this ((I imagine more general information about how Kenyan coffees are processed can be found at Sweet Maria’s but my curiosity is piqued about Karindundu’s specific processing)). I, myself – as did m’lady (no coffee slouch is she) – thought that this was one of finer Kenyas we have ever had the pleasure of tasting.

From the notes (in the press pot):

  • sweet, syrupy, molasses fragrance
  • gingerbread aroma
  • dark berry
  • “zingy” lemon acidity
  • slight floral
  • full body

The gingerbread aroma was the most surprising aspect of the cup but this may need a bit of an explanation: I’m not talking about an intense hit of crystallized ginger (although, wow, wouldn’t that have been interesting) but a more general flavor – that dovetails with the molasses – of a dark, sweet bread. The dark berry flavors were reminiscent of ripe Bing cherries.

The flavors are concentrated. That was another trademark of this coffee: intensity. The sweetness of this cup was not of the cloying, candy-like variety but tipped more toward the dark sweetness of molasses and raw sugar. Let’s call it a “mature” sweetness.

The acidity was wonderful. Kenyan coffees are known for their brightness, especially when compared to coffee from Ethiopia. I have tasted Kenyans that, after a few sips, were fatiguing for my tongue. Think sour worm candies – or many Costa Rican coffees, for that matter – and that cotton-mouth feeling you get after too much acid has taken its toll on your tongue. The acidity of the Karindundu, though, was well developed and incredibly enjoyable. Its presence was marked at every sip but was well integrated into the cup. No fatigue here. Lemony too. Yumm ((Official tasting term)).

Gimmee a “K”!…

It’s nice to see Kenya getting some attention. I am curious why Ethiopia is so dominant on the shelves of many of the 3.0 roasters especially considering Kenya’s reputation for quality but I will take what I can get. It’s wonderful, though, that, at least in the case of Ritual Roaster’s Kenya Karindundu, what I can get is such a unique and enjoyable cup.

Where to get it

The usual suspects:

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3 thoughts on “Shine, Kenya, shine

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