As a coffee professional, I am fascinated by the origin stories of coffees. Every coffee has a
multi-faceted, labyrinthine saga behind how it to where it is and why it tastes the way that it does. For
the hard sciences crowd, the geography, soil make-up, and processing methods all have an effect on the
flavor derived from the bean; the sociology majors might be more interested in the people responsible
for bringing the crop from seed to cup. Every region has its own intricacies and politics, and, as a result,
some beans are frankly better than others.
East Africa has traditionally produced some of the world’s finest crops, but few coffees
are as highly regarded as Kenyans. Farmers have a reputation as being highly educated and having
meticulous standards for their crop, and the product is auctioned only in small lots, driving up prices and
encouraging competition. Green coffee buyers are happy to pay top-dollar for these exceptional coffees,
an unprecedented amount of which goes right back to the farmer.
While Flat Black has carried Kenyans from several different estates, one product in particular
caught our roaster’s attention; in the south-west region of Thika, farmers are growing some incredible
fruit. This would be the Mukurwe Peaberry, a coffee named for the estate and central washing station
where growers bring perfectly ripe fruit to be processed into the unroasted green bean. Peaberry refers
to a mutation, present in all crops, that is sometimes sorted out from the rest of the fruit after
processing, and is often regarded as having a distinct flavor from the rest of the beans.
This Kenyan is particularly special to Flat Black not only due to its gorgeous flavor profile, but
also because it won us the Second Place prize in the Eastern division for the America’s Best Espresso
competition. Coffee experts from Canada to Florida, including some big name roasters like George
Howell and Equal Exchange, converged in New York with their very best beans. We had placed third the
year previous with an exceptional Yemeni coffee, but this year’s Kenyan certainly received its deserved
I have heard it said that getting a desired flavor out of espresso is 50% in the hands of the
barista; the coffee, machine, and other auxiliary details make the other 50%. When dealing with a bean
as extraordinary as this Kenyan, the person behind the bar must be well-versed in its origin story in
order to extract the best flavors from the bean: its creamy body, citric bite, and dry finish.
Understanding how the bean is processed and the high regard that Kenyans are held to is key to keeping
its delicate flavors in balance, and to not do so would be disrespectful to the people who grew and
transported the coffee with utmost care.
Coffee professionals have a responsibility to know as much about the coffee they are brewing as
is available; we must then disseminate that information to the rest of the coffee-drinking population so
that we can all make good and ethical choices. The connection between a Kenyan farmer and an
American business person may appear to be two opposite ends of a supply chain, but really one needn't
look beyond his or her cup. Drinking extraordinary coffee is more than a pleasant way to start one’s day;
it is the human connection in this business. Coffee is our world boiled down into one piping hot cup.