Boyce Harries, Chania Estate Kenya
Kenya is redefining themselves these years. We usually hear expressions as "AA" "AB" when purchasing coffee from Kenya. The recent demands for quality has awoken the industry highlighting old varieties.
in mid 30' a lot of varieties was developed in Kenya at Scott laboratories as they needed to find a drought resistent variety as the rainy seasons were missing. A lot of varieties came from nabouring countries as Tanzania & Uganda. Sometimes carried from one farmer to another. At that time Scott Laboratories became the trademark for carrying what we know Kenya for today "SL 28 & SL 34" and with this AAA, AA, AB, BB / defining the size and shape of the bean.
I asked Boyce about his mission with coffee....
This time of year I am trying to complete the sale of our coffee harvested in December and also our field cultural activities are running full speed ahead to be completed before we get any rain later in March / April - (If the weather behaves normally....???)
We are a family run business operating off two coffee farms - Chania Estate (70ha planted coffee) and Oreti Estate (36ha planted coffee).
My great grandfather and my grandfather established the farms, and therefore we know what each variety is that we have planted on the farm. Also because of the period we have owned the farms, the varieties planted have changed over the years with the development of new varieties through research.
We have French Mission, SL34,SL14,SL28,K7, Ruiru 11, Batian, and recently we have planted Pacamara, and Gesha but these two are not in production yet.
These varieties are planted in sections we call blocks, which can be from 1.5ha up to 8 ha in size.
The traditional approach to harvesting was a simple pass across the whole farm and the varieties would be combined and processed together and then sent to auction.
With the onset of the opportunity for more direct trade and the focus on specialty coffee we realised that in order to present our coffee at its best potential we had two routes to go down - first the attention to quality - which meant we would select the younger plots for harvest selection into the specialty coffee we would offer our customers, and the other was differentiation of our product, which started with varietal separation, and also moved on into increasing the range of processing methods we would use.
This would give our customers the unique opportunity to experience a coffee from a single farm, that is the same variety, and processed up to 3 different ways (washed / natural / honey) with all the inherent variation in the sensory attributes coming from the terroir / variety / process.
In regard to holding on to the older varieties, this has been based on a quality decision, and also the rarity factor. Our French Mission Bourbon variety plantings at Chania have blocks that are coming up for being a century old. We could be critical and observe that in some areas these blocks might not be economical with planting density and losses, and this is now an ongoing process to resolve. Beyond that we have SL varieties which were discontinued due to disease susceptibility, notably at Oreti our SL14, which my grandfather chose to retain as he believed that the quality this variety could potentially offer was markedly better than the varietals becoming available. It is worth commenting here that we have noticed that the SL14 appears to have more PB beans in its dry milling.