Notes: Fig / raspberry / butterscotch.
Of all the hundreds of high scoring and often famous Single Estate Kenyan coffees we must have had over the years, it is our own little known Kenya AA Rioki Single Estate that we have a real soft spot for. It's taken us a while to get this coffee in but all the best things are, of course, worth waiting for and this elegant and exclusive coffee is no exception.When I first visited this farm, I was also lucky enough to see the coffee go through the auctions in Nairobi, see it command high prices, only to see it then snapped up by some well organised German coffee buyers, who really know and appreciate their Kenyans. The auction room is a strange mix of old colonial, wood-panelled furniture, with raked seating like an Art Deco Cinema, and a huge high-tech scoreboard . At each console, next to the now defunct ashtray, is a push button for placing your bids on the giant digital screen, complete with Space Invaders style sound effects. To see the price of Rioki soar, to the accompaniment of wolf whistles from the other traders, was actually for me an encouraging sign, a sure-fire indication that this coffee came with a reputation.
This year our persistence has paid off yet again and we now have our Rioki 'Relationship Coffee' back in stock. Just like the First Flush Darjeeling we always anticipate the arrival of the new crop Kenyan. When I was there I saw the great, traditional, sprawling plantations, set among beautiful rolling verdant countryside, seared through with tracks of rich red volcanic soil - a vivid reminder of the fertile rift that runs the length of this tract of East Africa – the spark that lit the chain reaction of bio-diversity, the very explosion of life in the region. Back on the road, we were taken by our host Josphat from the bustling streets of Nairobi, to meet the farm manager, Caspar and other staff at the farm, in the beautiful region of Kiambu with its deep, rich red volcanic soil, cutting through the green landscape with every dirt track & piece of cultivated land at every turn as we climbed into the hills. These are old plantations in the Nyeri region, planted in serried ranks but giving away their age now and then by being interspersed with some huge mature trees, providing welcome shade at regular intervals. On the way I was struck by one particularly fine specimen & also by the fact that the urbane, city dwelling Josphat, our guide and exporter, was likewise full of admiration for this glorious tree by the roadside and we stopped for the photo opportunity and to take it in. I suppose the magnificent arboreal giants like these can strike a universal chord of admiration in us all, no matter how far we've travelled from the Savannah. As we passed through the gates, there was a sign showing we were now in Rioki Estates (1970) Ltd an enterprise owned by the farmers, whose members now number over 3,000 to cultivate this area of 289 hectares, of which 249 ha is planted with coffee and 50% of which is interspersed with indigenous & exotic shade trees. Pre-dating the setting up of this company the farm had originally been a missionary station, the legacy being the primary & secondary schools on the farm and which might also explain the age of some of the gnarled old root stock in evidence, still being productive today.
Usually the coffee tree, like the vine, manages a life cycle of useful yield of around 35 years. Here, we were told there were trees, that with judicious pruning, allowing two new leader shoots to develop every seven years, had been there for 85 years! Surely an opportunity to add value to their provenance by marketing them along the lines of 'Vieilles Vignes'? As the roots trace deeper into the soil, they may yield less but deliver more complexity of flavour, a matrix of fig, raspberry, butterscotch, traces of orange, the smoothness of milk chocolate, a great balancing act of gentle acidity and soft mouthfeel but always, in the background, that indefinable Kenyan fragrance of some native flora that is beyond our European frame of reference, like an exotic dried flower that we are yet to identify.
Origin:Kenya, Region: Kamitim Kiambu,Variety: SL28 - SL32 Some Ruiri 11, Process:Wet Processed with clean river water, Altitude: 1788 MASL, Harvest: October 2018 - January 2019