Barista Magazine

FEB-MAR 2014

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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Page 36 of 87

It's understandable, too, when one considers that the retail price on many of the cameras, for example, would be far more money than a lot of the people who reside in Nairobi would see in a year. That said, in truth the majority of the victims of violence in Kenya, including the mall attack, are not tourists but other Kenyans, as evidenced by a minibus bombing that killed four people on their way from the suburbs to work, which occurred while the barista group was on safari later that week. On the first day of the trip, after the sobering morning safety briefing, the baristas scrambled into the Land Cruisers and faced the daunting traffic as they headed across the downtown core of the city to the Nairobi Coffee Exchange. Coffee buying and selling in Kenya works differently than almost everywhere else on the planet, and it's one of the reasons that Kenyan coffees typically fetch some of the highest prices in the world. Nearly all coffees produced in-country pass through the Exchange, where they are entered in the auction process. In an arena-seating auditorium, coffee lots are listed on an electronic board; buyers monitor the price, then bid on whichever ones they're interested in. As the group watched, Devin said, "Most of the places [coffee origins] I've been are like the Wild West. This is like Wall Street." Another distinguishing feature of the Kenyan coffee market is the Green Room, upstairs from the exchange. Here, rows and rows of sample coffees are available to buyers so they can cup them before they bid on them downstairs. Kenyan cuppers are known for their keen palates, and they have reputations for identifying Opposite page: At top, the baristas cross a swollen river while on safari. Below: Raised beds stretch into the distance at the Ruarai Wet Mill where coffees are separated prior to drying by weight, density and quality. This page: Piero, Devin and Gianni join the traditional dance of the Masai men as they are welcomed to the Masai village during the team's safari in the Masai Mara. terrific coffees and exceptional lots. As T.M., the group's guide from the coffee company Ecom Trading, explained, "The cupping lab in Kenya is the heart of your business." In addition to a reputation as fierce cuppers, Kenyan coffee producers also spend tons of time sorting coffees into distinct lots. They separate coffees at the wet mill and dry mill stages, and they frequently do it multiple times, pulling out lots based on density, ripeness, and quality. This meticulous sorting keeps top lots from mingling with lesser ones, and ensures that each one from top to bottom fetches the best price possible. Kenyan law mandates the unusual setup where a single company cannot buy, process, and export coffee. Ecom is actually a conglomerate of three different companies: Sangana, an exporting company; Highlands Coffee Company, a dry mill; and Sustainable Management Services (SMS), a marketing company that works with farmers and helps them improve and sell their crop. So it's possible that coffee SMS helps produce will go to auction, and a different company than Sangana will win it and export it. To understand how the system works, a journey to the SMS operations in Thika was on the group's agenda for the next day, after a visit to Dorman's dry mill and roastery across town. 37

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