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Privam Estate

Embu, Kenya
Partner since: 2019 Traceable to: Single Estate Altitude: 1,700 Varietals: SL28, Ruiru 11, Batian

Cherries are handpicked and floated to separate by color and density, then pulped and sorted through washing channels into fermentation tanks, where they sit overnight before more washing and 10-14 days of drying on raised beds.

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Community Context

Privem Estate is a family affair. The first name you’ll see is Patrick Makundi – he’s the face, the heart and cupper in the family. But if you are looking to learn more about the farm, the first person you’ll meet is his wife Rita Makundi – she’s the one who gets it done. The first person she’ll invite you to meet is her mother – who is the farm manager. And it goes on from there to include brothers, sisters, sons, daughters and cousins – making Privem Estate more of a town center than coffee farm.

Raised in Embu Country, educated on coffee, Rita and Patrick returned to their home to found Privem Estate in 2012. Parcels in Embu are small, and it took two generations for the family to accrue 23 acres of adjoining land on a high plateau with clear views of Mt. Kenya. This was enough that, by 2018, they were able to secure their own pulping license, allowing them to separate from the local cooperative and invest in their own wet mill.

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.