This third section covers my visits to some of the great small farm cooperative "factories", as they are unromantically called in Kenya (called beneficios in Latin America). Factories are where the coffee beans, seeds really, are thoroughly stripped of all fruit and then dried until stable and ready for storage/transportation. This processing is very time consuming and labor intensive, particularly so for fine coffees. Approximately 1000 farmers use a factory, as a very general rule of thumb. A cooperative society often operates several such factories. Farmers belonging to such cooperatives typically have an acre or less of land and about 500 trees with each tree producing far less than 1 pound of roasted coffee. They also typically grow tea and other products for the local markets. Since these farms are so small and each family's subsistence is at stake hired labor is not a factor and qualities can be extraordinary - as long as farmers are given any opportunity at all. This was not the case, thanks to rank corruption, until perhaps recently. Many signs are pointing in the right direction.
I visited Kangocho and Kahindu on the same day. Both factories were very familiar to me since in the days of The Coffee Connection they had produced amazing qualities. It was a thrill to once again offer their coffees. The harvest was still just getting started and so activity was limited (next year I will go a bit later!).

Best $79 deal ever - with breakfast.  Outspan Hotel, Nyeri.

A view of the countryside from Kangocho Factory in the Nyeri district.

At the Kangocho Cooperative Factory small farmers sort their cherries. Only ripe cherry should be pulped for the best quality.

Unripes and over-ripes are separated out.

The first cherries of the day go into the receiving tank from where they will drop through the outlet below to be depulped.

Coffee cherries are released out of the receiving tank.  Recycled water (from the fermentation and washing still to come) carries them towards the pulper disks.

This depulper has four disks stripping the fruit skins off.  Everything then goes into a bath where what floats is removed as a lower grade and what sinks, being denser, continues on as the higher grade. This system is common throughout East Africa.

Floaters are poor quality and separated.  Denser beans sink.

....The denser beans continue to the fermentation tank.

The beans are still coated in mucilage.  Fermentation will allow easy removal with turbulent water.

The beans go into the fermentation tank.

The fermentation tanks are under the blue roof.  The beans will stay in one set of tanks overnight, for twelve hours.  The next day they are washed with clean water, with wooden paddles and bare feet, and then rinsed and moved with clean water to a second row of fermentation tanks, also under the roof and just below the first set of tanks.  They will stay there the rest of the day and that night (24 hours) and then be washed again, this time in concrete channels (next photo). After this second more thorough washing the beans will once again go into a tank, further below and without a roof, where they will soak in very pure water for 24 hours.

Washing off the mucilage after 36 hours of fermentation.  Wooden paddles go counter current, thus washing off the mucilage. With the use of water and barriers they separate different bean densities, the densest being the best quality.

After being washed in the channel, the beans are soaked in very clean water for 24 hours or more, removing all fruit residue.

Soaking tank.  If there is a holdup at the drying racks the beans can remain here at least another day without losing quality, so long as the water is changed.

Stripped fruit will be used as mulch.  The spent water is first recycled in the beginning stages of processing, as shown earlier.  Afterwards it is kept in lagoons for long periods of time permitting the water to be cleansed before re-entering the environment.

Aerated conditioning bins, the last step in the drying process.  Coffee enters these bins at about 14% moisture content, and loses another 3+% before stabilizing.  Here, too, sorters have been removing blemished beans from the piles.  As you can see sorting is done all along the chain!

Blast from the past!  Kangocho won 1st place in the Coffee Connection competition in 1993.  I was the first to sign their guest book.

Scenes on the road: police inspections are fairly common.  Would love to be in on the conversation!

Small farmers grow coffee (dark green) and tea (bright green) on slopes side by side.

This is Central Kenya Coffee Mills (CKCM), brand new and in the heart of coffee growing country.

CKCM prepares the coffee for market.  It cleans parchment coffee of all foreign matter, then hulls away the parchment (skin), sorts the beans by size and by density and then bags them.

CKCM's cupping lab monitors quality.  CKCM also offers agricultural supports for farmers.  The introduction of such mills in coffee country and of competing services should help improve farmers' lives.

We pass by a cooperative small farmer coffee factory below - on the road.  These "factories" dot the countryside.  A single cooperative may have several such factories, each one within walking distance of those farmers who use it.

Tea and coffee fields.

Speaks for itself....

Because of low world prices, past (hopefully) endemic corruption, and poor agricultural practices many farmers barely keep their trees alive. Today Kenya produces less than half what it did in 1988.  Recent reforms are hopefully resuscitating the coffee sector.

Back in the 1980's, I believe, shade trees were removed from coffee farms in an effort to increase production.  This may have worked for well funded estates but for small farmers it has been harmful, overall.  Coffee trees without sufficient shade require far more fertilizer while soils are more prone to erosion.  When farmers cannot afford these inputs production plummets. This is now being addressed.

Shade trees reduce the coffee trees' need for fertilizers and other costly inputs.

Kahindu Cooperative Factory.  Two banks of fermentation tanks under roofs are seen here. People are hand sorting newly washed coffee beans at the drying racks.  These "manicures" take place at every opportunity throughout the chain of transformations.

Agricultural diversity around Kahindu.  Lowest grade coffees are visible at bottom right of this photo. The lowest grade is consumed at origin.   Better exportable qualities are to the left.

Cooperative meeting.  The discussions were lively.

Back to Nairobi!