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Muinami Estate

Western Rift Valley, Kenya
Partner since: 2023 Traceable to: Single Estate Varietals: Ruiru 11, Batian

Coffee cherry is floated, pulped then fermented 12-28 hours in a soaking tank drained of water before a second floating and 12 hour soak. Then the parchment goes to the final washing and grading through the channel system, then is put out to dry for 14-21 days (though this will go up now that they have shade nets).

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Community Context

In 2015, Stephen Nendela moved back into his childhood home to live with his mother on a 6 acre plot near Eldoret. He converted their sugar cane production to coffee—selling their small production through direct export channels as a microlot.

On the heels of this success, Stephen bought a second farm—17 acres at 1900 MASL closer to the town of Kitale—which had been a coffee farm in the 1970s, but had gone mostly fallow until Stephen took over care of the land. The area where the farm is located is called Cherengany Hills—part of the Mt. Elgon mountain range, but with a particularly cold micro-climate. Stephen and his wife Lilian named the farm Nawiri, which means prosperity, but everyone calls it ‘Muinami’ which is Stephen’s last name, and which means ‘Bent’ or ‘those who work’ in Kikuyu.

The farm is separated into 7 terraced blocks, each with a different varietal and year of planting. There is 1 acre of agroforestry; it’s the first place they bring visitors, each of whom is asked to plant a tree instead of sign a guestbook. Visiting crested cranes take up seasonal home here, as do hives of bees which are cultivated in the shade of Acacia trees.

Country Context

Kenya is an enigma. It occupies a top spot in specialty – Kenyan top lots are always amongst the most expensive of any harvest. But yet it’s a country where coffee production is dropping year over year. Kenya is a place where traceability is given, but knowing what you want and how to get it are two different things. Rarely do we find partners more capable, and loyalties more difficult to navigate than we do in Kenya. For all the aforementioned reasons, competition in Kenya is fierce, making prized coffees feel like even more of a success.

However, no matter how formally the industry is structured, coffee still remains a system of people. And in a country where farmers own their own cherry production, there is additional power to connecting with coffee’s most important stakeholder. Farmers can, for example, point you to the best collections from every harvest, or delay sending their lots to auction to give you another week to sample. At request they can change the way they separate lots, bringing new products to market in a year that would take other countries nearly a decade to do.

But experimentation is not the name of the game. With washed coffees working so well, you won’t find many a manager willing to mess around with different fermentations, flotation, drying times or with certifications like organic.

The experiment instead is that of business model. How do cooperatives normalize earnings to keep their members engaged in coffee? How do we take away red tape to encourage more farmers to plant more coffee, as opposed to corn or dairy? How can small estates split off and succeed under their own pulping license? Is it better to sell through auction or directly to an international buyer – can you afford to cut out your marketing agent? Once you speak to these problems you are speaking the language of coffee in Kenya – this is a country that already knows how to coffee.