February 20, 2020

Beware of Hippos: 3 Things We Learned From Amy’s Trip to Kenya

Thanks to our partners at Mercanta, our Green Coffee Buyer, Amy Lawlor, was able to visit Kenya a few weeks ago. Among many other sites, Amy was able to visit the Mchana Estate, where we source one of the components of Schweik’s Blend, as well as the Handege Coffee Factory, where we sourced a coffee we’ll be releasing as a Single Origin offering soon.

Left to Right: Amy, Timothy Kingori Murithi, George Ndungo, Fiona Grant, Leah Warren

It’s eye-opening for all of us when we’re able to send a member of our coffee team to origin. Here are our top takeaways from Amy’s visit:

1. Kenya is in the midst of an unseasonably rainy period.

Though short rains are common in Kenya in October and November, rainfall during those months was much heavier in 2019, and heavy rains have continued well into the beginning of this year. Because of this, picking in some places was delayed about a month, and coffee is taking much longer to dry. According to Timothy Kingori Murithi, the factory supervisor at Mchana, the drying process which normally takes four days is now taking two full weeks. 

George Ndungo, of Mchana Estate, holds ripe coffee cherries

Fiona Grant (Glen Lyon Coffee Roasters) joined Amy on the trip. Here she uses a banana leaf as a makeshift umbrella.

This is having a major impact on yield and farmers are needing to adjust to maintain quality. Though it may lead to limited availability of quality Kenyan coffee in the coming months, farmers are hopeful that the rains will lead to a larger-than-normal late crop come fall.

2. It takes about six pounds of cherries to yield just one pound of green coffee.

Green coffee cherries at the Mchana Estate

To pick and process that much coffee, harvest season is really All Hands on Deck. The Mchana Estate has about 88 permanent employees, many of whom live on or near the farm. During harvest season from October to December, they employ around 2,000 pickers from neighboring communities.

The sorting pavilion at Handege Coffee Factory

The Handege Coffee Factory is part of a co-op of 1,700 farmers, the Ritho Farmers Co-operative Society. About half of these farmers bring their crop to Handege for sorting and payment based on quality. Lucy Maina, the CEO of Ritho, emphasized their desire to continue to increase the rate they are able to pay for the highest grade coffee to incentivize quality and sustainability. 

3. Beware of hippos.

A sign on the Mchana Estate says it all.

Hippos spend their days in the water at dams on the farm’s property and come out at night to graze around the base of the coffee plants. Though they aren’t out much during the day, they are extremely dangerous to humans when they come out, and as recently as October someone was killed in a hippo attack on the farm. 

Hippo tracks!

Thanks so much to our partners and friends at Mercanta, Mchana Estate, Handege Coffee Factory, and at all the sites we were so lucky to visit. Try Schweik’s Blend and keep an eye out for Kenya Handege soon!