The Mahiga is a classic Kenya, berry-toned and refined. Abundant floral notes of lavender and lilac are underscored by velvety chocolate, brown sugar and hints of pear. Balanced and elegantly tart, the coffee is electric with citrus flavors of pink grapefruit and cranberry in the cup. This micro-lot offers a spirited jolt of coffee if ever there was one.
Despite challenges ranging from unclear government coffee policy and urban encroachment on prime coffee lands to chronically unstable weather, the famed Kenya auction system and its participating cooperatives continue to produce some of the world's most distinctive coffees. Meticulously wet-processed using ferment-and-washed methods, the Mahiga boasts a solid pedigree.
The 400 farmer cooperative members are organized around the Mahiga Factory and actively harvest and deliver to the processing center. Kenya is, of course, known for some of the most precise at-scale processing that can be found anywhere in the world. Bright white parchment, nearly perfectly sorted by density and bulk and conditioned at high elevations, is the norm and a matter of great pride.
Ample water supply in the central growing regions has historically allowed factories to wash and soak their coffees repeatedly with fresh, cold river water. Conservation is creeping into the discussion in certain places, understandably in the drier areas where water cannot be taken for granted, but for the most part Kenya continues to thoroughly wash and soak its coffees according to tradition. The established milling and sorting by grade, or bean size, is a longstanding tradition and positions Kenyan coffees well for roasters by tightly controlling the physical preparation and creating a diversity of profiles from a single processing batch.
It is along the lower edge of the dense forests of Mt. Kenya where in wet, high-elevation communities with mineral-rich soil (Mt. Kenya is a stratovolcano) that many believe the best coffees in Kenya, arguably the world, are crafted. Nyeri is perhaps the most well-known of these central counties. Kenya's coffee is dominated by a cooperative system of production whose members vote on representation, market and milling contracts for their coffee, as well as profit allocation. Othaya Farmer's Cooperative Society, the umbrella organization that includes the Mahiga Factory, is one of Kenya's larger societies with 19 different factories and more than 14,000 farmer members across the southern Nyeri region.
The economics of smallholder systems are consistently difficult and in Kenya the number of individual margins sliced off an export price, before payment reaches the actual farms, is considerable and leaves only a small percentage to support coffee growth itself. Most often, this arrives many months after harvest. However, Kenyan coffees are sold competitively by quality, which means well-endowed counties like Nyeri achieve very high average prices yearly. The smallholders with a few hundred coffee trees at the most, plus additional land uses available, are widely considered to be middle class.
Grower: 400 producers organized around the Mahiga Factory
Variety: SL28, SL34, Ruiru 11 and Batian
Region: Mumwe, Nyeri, Kenya
Soil: Volcanic loam
Process: Double Fermented and Double Washed: Pulped, fermented underwater for 12 hours, then washed to minimize mucilage. Fermented underwater for 12-36 hours and soaked in fresh water for 16 hours. Cleaned and sorted in grading channels, then dried on raised beds for 14 days.