The Ndaroini Cooperative, under the Gikanda secondary Cooperative, has long been a Counter Culture favorite. Gikanda's three cooperatives – Kangocho, Gichathaini, and, of course, Ndaroini – are some of the most famous in all of Kenya, often recognized as paying among the best prices to their members in the country. This is all for good reason. All of the cooperatives under Gikanda are well-organized and know what it takes to produce great coffee. Over the years, all three cooperative washing stations have built systems ensuring excellent cherry selection and processing, making it no surprise that year after year the best lots we taste often come from Gikanda.
Nyeri is a medium-sized town located in central Kenya about a 2-hour drive north from Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Nyeri is also the name given to the greater region around the town and is the most famous area for coffee in all of Kenya. Just outside of Nyeri, though, is the town of Karatina – a little town usually bustling near an open air market by the railroad tracks. Around this small town, you can see a rolling landscape of small producers growing coffee from some of the most famous cooperatives in all of Kenya, including Ndaroini. It is amazing as you drive through this tiny area to see how close so many of the best coffees are. Certainly giving a reason to believe terroir in Kenya significantly impacts flavor.
Just northeast of Nyeri, the altitude rises a few hundred meters and you will find the cooperative Thiriku – which we also buy coffee from – and there you will not only find a lot of coffee grown at high altitudes but also a lot of tea growing, as well.
It is not really a mystery why the coffees from this area of Kenya are so sought-after in the quality coffee world. Bright-red, iron-rich soil and high altitudes combine with great processing techniques – quality practices from a place with great geographical conditions. Then there is the coffee tree that is famous in Kenya called SL28 and, to a lesser extent, the SL34 type. While coffee has been grown in Kenya since the 1800s, the now-legendary SL28 variety was selected by a laboratory in the 1930s as a type that was drought-resistant and showed very good flavors. The SL28 variety has an almost-mythic reputation in the coffee industry for its big flavors and intense acidity that coffee professionals associate with Kenyan coffees.
Overall when looking at Kenya, for Counter Culture it is a catch-22. On one hand, Kenya has the best average quality of any single country we taste samples from. (No joke, that is an easy statement to make.) On the other hand, it is one of the countries where organic production is the least likely now and for the foreseeable future – because of plant disease, pests, and overall dependence on chemical fertilizers.
And, then there is the auction system. Until recent years it was the only way that coffee could be sold in Kenya. The auction system that has been in place for decades really encourages continuous quality improvement more than any other buying and selling model we have seen. However, it can also lead to a disconnect between coffee roasters like ourselves and the producers. While each and every year we go back and forth on these catch 22 scenarios, we still strive to keep evolving and changing, trying to bring the best coffees we can: quality and sustainability wise. Keep an eye out for some special coffees this year and next, as we keep pushing how we work in the best overall quality country there is for coffee.
By refining the classic Kenyan flavor profile – provided in part by the legendary SL28 coffee variety – Ndaroini embodies the very definition of a great Kenyan coffee. Look for lime, blackcurrant, and blackberry above a round, juicy body, with hints of sweet savoriness.
Variety: SL28, SL34, Ruiru II
Elevation: 1,600 meters
Harvest Time: Late-November 2012 – January 2013
Fermentation: 18-36 hour dry fermentation followed by a 12-24 hour soak
Drying: Raised beds 10-14 days. The crop was really small, so conditioning bins were not used like other years.