In recent years we have followed and confirmed a change in Kenyan coffees. We have observed, been in dialog with Kenyan authorities, growers and roasted Kenyan coffees for many years.
Ecosystems provide the natural systems we depend on is giving essentials like water, clean air, fertile soils and a stable climate. Wildlife and natural habitats are crucial for coffee. A sudden change in growing conditions due to diseases will diminish the ability to produce coffee.
We have covered the development in Kenya in previous articles and stories . One article was particularly dedicated to Batian and was eventually also followed up by the Perfect Daily Grind (PDG) in 2016  titled "Batian: Can This New Varietal Transform Kenyan Coffee?".
Batian is (s)peaking
It was predicted by us in 2010 that Batian will take a larger share in single origin coffees in Kenya and making up “blends”. Today, as an example, Kenyan coffee producers are bringing their cherries to a washing station. Each “lot” or the harvest the producer is bringing is not separated by the specific "lot". All cherries are collectively processed from other lots of producers as well. As far as we know, few or no washing stations are keeping track of which farmers are contributing with SLs, Ruiru 11, K7, Batian or alike. Therefore, when you see “third wave coffee bags” expressing “SL28 and Ruiru 11”, it is very difficult to set a specific percentage of each contributing variety and its final affect on sensory evaluation. Kenyan coffees are heading towards "Ethiopian heirloom" - and that does necessarily mean it is a bad thing. This was our observation since at least 2009 and it has raised some concerns lately with our long term observations.
Key reasons for change
The price of washing coffee has also increased in Kenya. This, according to us, can be the effect of real estate brokers buying up land. Farmers are discouraged to grow and produce coffee due to small yield, washing stations are running at lower capacity which renders higher prices for washing estimated quantities of previous years. This is a snowballing effect that could have a significant impact on the future of Kenyan coffees. On another note, it already has a significant impact on the future of Kenyan coffees.
In short, these are some of the observations that have been taken into account and set us on a path to rethink the coffee production with our friends and producers in Kenya.
Photo from one of the visited Batian nurseries in 2010.
A roadmap for the future
We went back to our origin, inception and birth, Meru. Our ambition was to initiate a growing and focusing program focusing on natural processing. The effect will be to lower production costs and minimize water usage for coffee production in a country that traditionally does not employ natural drying techniques. We will be building upon previous processing techniques employed in countries such as Panama and Uganda.
As previously indicated, Batian is a variety that combine high yields, tolerance to coffee leaf rust and resistance to coffee berry disease. We take this in consideration when setting the processing protocol. The side effects of this approach is to better understand how the protocol affects harvesting periods such as the main and fly crop. Additionally, continue developing to develop experimental lots. As far was we know, this Batian-only processing is not done before and proved complex in relation to unknown variables such as temperature and humidity, fly-crop quality and drying response to mention a few. When tasting the Batian cherries, they are very sweet and acidic. The sweetness reminds us of red fruits and the acidity leads us to citric fruits. The aftertaste is reminiscent of black Kenyan tea, something we were surprised in finding, since the process embraces the properties of the terroir. We had therefore successfully managed to transport aroma and flavor from the soil and surroundings in a puristic approach. Nonetheless, this 'PureProcess' is thoroughly evaluated to be further optimized.
Batian only harvested cherries.
A decade after our first contact with Batian
Macho and Ivica set out to generate a simple to implement yet pure protocol to preserve the flavor in the coffee cherries which transport into the green benas. The processing employs a cherry hypoxia-state to accelerate the initial fermentation over a short period of time. This action is due to the process utilizing the Kenyan fly-crop where fluctuating climate conditions are inherent. Post-initial fermentation, the cherries are placed on raised beds to decelerate any potential bacterial activity. The cherries were thereafter dried to a target moisture of 11.5% over 16 days.
Macho and Ivica.
By mid-February 2020, processing was complete and dry process cherries were had to be hulled. No de-hulling equipment was available at the farm or close by which meant the cherries were delivered as is to undergo manual de-hulling, all by hand. 100g of green coffee absorbs 8 hours of manual labor. After a very labor and time consuming hulling the green coffee beans were roasted and examined.
Left to right, to illustrate, the process and time span of the Batian cherries.
In the assessed cup we found flavors of concentrated strawberry jam, deep purple stone fruit like plum, almonds, figs and Kenyan black tea with an acidity that reminds us of sweet cherries. The intensity in the cup is high and stability is also reliable.
The manually de-hulled Batian cherries close-up.
The peeled cherries are also assessed in eatable format where the cascara is of medium sweetness and the flavor that remind us primarily of dried yellow plum.
The result of the first peeled cherries originating from lot nr 4 of a total 8 lots processed.
We continue to gather statistics and data from our findings and implement additional levels of quality control in the processing stage. We believe this method is scalable and the ambition is to process a higher quantity in the upcoming future.
Additionally, the dried coffee cherry (cascara), will also be available.