Screen sizing in Kenya
The AA, AB and other grades used to classify lots in Kenya are an indication of screen size only. They are not any indication of cup quality. The AA grade in Kenya is equivalent to screen size 17 or 18 (17/64 or 18/64 of an inch) used at other origins. AA grades often command higher prices at auction though this grade is no indication of cup quality and an AB lot from a better farm may cup better.
PB denotes ‘peaberry.’ Most coffee cherries contain two seeds that develop with flattened facing sides (the familiar ‘coffee bean’), but sometimes only one of the two seeds is fertilized, and the single seed develops with nothing to flatten it. This oval (or pea-shaped) bean is known as peaberry. Typically around 5% of all coffee beans harvested have experienced this peculiarity.
Mchana Estate is 906 hectare with 458 hectare under coffee - almost the same original amount of hectare used to grow coffee as in 1950, making it one of Kenya’s largest. However, throughout the latter part of the 20th and early part of the 21st centuries, areas of the farm went into disrepair and some plots became semi-abandoned. Irrigation was installed on Mchana Estate in the sixties, and this kept production viable, but productivity per tree dropped, and the farm struggled to produce the optimal quality for which it had previously been known.
The potential for high quality, however, was there and was part of the heritage of the farm. 2/3 of the trees still bearing at Mchana were planted before Socfinaf's acquisition, and they are mostly SL28. Small subsections of the farm have been planted under Ruiru 11 and K7 , but the majority of cultivars are the ‘traditional’ SL28 & SL34, known for their great cup profile. Indeed, all the potential for exceptional quality has been there from nearly the beginning – it just needed a helping hand.
Coffee Management Systems (CMS), one of Kenya’s premier marketing and agricultural extension services, took over the farm from Socifaf management in late 2017, and they are making the most of that potential. Today, Mchana’s management has been placed safely in the hands of Mr Wambungo, who has worked for CMS since 2009. He is an innovative and expert farm manager and is committed to maintaining Mchana’s reputation as one of the best producing estates of in Kenya while also adding ‘best quality’ to that reputation. He has renovated areas that had been underutilised, put attention into processing and post-harvest infrastructure and focused on staff training.
Mr. Wambungo began immediately with renovation activities: old trees were pruned or replaced so as to ensure a better harvest in a couple of years’ time. He has also put effort into systematising the agricultural management of the farm, dividing the whole farm into different operational ‘blocks’ and mapping out activities per block to ensure each is receiving the best and most appropriate treatment in a timely fashion. He has implemented crop development charts, which track each block from flowering to maturity. By tracking cherry development in this way, the farm is better able to plan and prepare: from preventative measures through to implementing harvest and post harvest activities at the optimal time. This sort of planning also ensures a very efficient, lean management, which frees up other resource for more experimental practices (such as a honey processing project currently in its beginning stages).
Mr Wambungo’s efforts are already seeing results. Productivity has increased significantly, and lots from Mchana now fetch good prices at auction. The farm is expected to continue to improve as his expertise is put into effect.
As of late 2018, the farm employs 200 permanent workers, all of whom are all housed on the estate. Some 2,000 additional workers are brought in during the harvest season, and all of them receive stringent training in harvesting and sorting coffee cherry. A dispensary, a creche and a primary school are also available on the Estate. Mchana Estate has been UTZ Certified since 2005 and is also certified Rainforest Alliance.
SL28 / SL34 / Ruiru 11 & K7
1600 - 1766 meters above sea level
Blackcurrant / Apricot / Fudge