Also Known as The Monkey Bite Coffee Trip

While I had been to Ethiopia before, this was my first trip to Kenya. The long haul to Kenya from the west coast of the United States made me really appreciate the short hops to Central America. Man, 28 hours of travel time is taxing! But once I landed, I was ready to go, and excited about the possibility of finding some special lots from one of my favorite coffee origin countries.

The goal for the trip was simple in theory: working with Klatch, Temple, and Portola Coffee, plus a couple of other roasters who could not make the trip, we were going to buy enough coffee from Kenya and Uganda to fill a container to ship to California. TM from Sangana Commodities Limited, our exporters in Kenya, was to be our host during our stay and would help us accomplish our mission.

Klatch and Portola were scheduled to arrive the night after Eton from Temple and I got there. On day one, Eton and I headed with TM to see the Nairobi coffee auction. Most of the coffee sold in Kenya is through this weekly auction;during the peak of harvest, it is not uncommon for 600-1000 different lots of coffee to be sold during one day. On the day we were there, 28,000 bags of coffee changed hands.

In general, coffee in Kenya is sold by mills.

Regional farmers will deliver their cherries to the mill and the mill will process the coffee and then sell it as a cooperative coffee or branded as the mill’s coffee. Coffee brokers buy this coffee from the mill then sell it at the auction to other brokers or exporters.

The auction itself was a little more subdued than I was expecting, but still interesting. Lot numbers would appear on the big scoreboard at the front of the room and buyers would bid on lots by pushing a button on their table until bidding for that lot ended and the lot officially sold. Coffee of ALL grades sold during the day, sub-commodity grade on up to premium specialty lots.

Later that day we headed to the Nairobi Animal Orphanage. The orphanage housed abandon or injured animals rescued from the reserve, which started literally across the street from the orphanage. We had some time between coffee cuppings, so TM took us through the orphanage, and we got up close to some of the wildlife Kenya is known for.

Kenya Coffee Auction
Coffees that will be auctioned

Nairobi Coffee Exchange
Processing 1000s of lots of coffee

Nairobi Coffee Exchange - 2
Studious participants at Nairobi Auction

Later that day we headed to the Nairobi Animal Orphanage.

The orphanage housed abandon or injured animals rescued from the reserve, which started literally across the street from the orphanage. We had some time between coffee cuppings, so TM took us through the orphanage, and we got up close to some of the wildlife Kenya is known for.

Nairobi Animal Orphanage - 2
Look at the belly!

Nairobi Animal Orphanage - 1
Ummm…are those fences strong enough?

Then it happened.

So, to clarify up front: this was no simply monkey “bite”. I was subjected to a vicious, violent attack – and don’t let anyone tell you differently!

A park employee invited us to feed a few wild monkeys that had wondered over from the Nairobi Reserve.

Seemed like a good idea at the time. Then, one of the bastards attacked me. I was bleeding profusely from my finger and shoulder and a little stunned at what had happened.

As we attempted to get help from other employees, the one question they kept asking was, “Well, why did you feed the monkey?”

BTW, in case you ever visit the Nairobi Animal Orphanage, bring band-aids. OSHA doesn’t regularly audit their first-aid procedures, so when I asked for help, they had no supplies. All the boxes of band-aids were empty and there were no bottles of alcohol to disinfect the wound, the deep wound. I soon found myself at the Nairobi Hospital, getting rabies and tetanus shots. Monkey 1 – Chuck 0

Monkey Attack
MONKEY ATTACK!!

Chuck and Monkey - before the attack 2
I love my new hat!

Eton and Monkey
Your hair is sooo bug free.

After Mike from Klatch Coffee and Jeff from Portola Coffee arrived...

we headed north to Thika to visit the Sangana/SMS offices and to learn more about programs the companies are implementing to help farmers. SMS programs have helped increase women’s participation in coffee growing, increased yield per tree, increased the supply of certified coffee and have led to a higher price per pound that the farmers receive. We were all pleased to learn about how effective their strategy has been.

The next day we headed to perhaps the best growing region in Kenya, Nyeri, which is north of Nairobi and considered part of the Mt. Kenya growing region. En route, we cupped about 50 coffees at the Highland Wet Mill. Then, after about a four-hour drive we got to Nyeri and met with farmers from the Ruthaka Coffee Society, one of seven farming groups that SMS works with in the area.

During our time here, we met Abraham and spent a little time on his farm. I was stunned to see the size of the trunks of his more than 50 year old coffee trees — massive SL28 and SL34 trees.

Rathaka Factory Rules
Rathaka Factory Rules

Kenyan Farmers
Kenyan Farmers

Coffee drying fields
Coffee drying fields

The next day...

we were back in Nairobi, cupping more coffee and narrowing down our lot choices to the “10 best of” lots. The weekend had arrived and the group decided to head out on a short safari in the Nairobi National Park. Definitely no animal feeding this time.

Nairobi National Park - Monkey
Nairobi National Park – Monkey

Nairobi National Park - Giraffe
Nairobi National Park – Giraffe

Nairobi National Park - Rhino
Nairobi National Park – Rhino

On the following Monday...

it was time to head west, through the Rift Valley towards Uganda. En route, we would visit a few more mills and then spend the night a couple of hours from the Uganda border. Once across the boarder, TM handed us off to the Uganda division of SMS who would drive us to Sipi Falls.

This Uganda road trip was one of the more grueling origin road trips I have been on, rough roads and long, very long hours when sitting with two other dudes in the small back seat of a jeep. We made it to our sparse huts at darkness and were rewarded the following morning with spectacular views of Sipi Falls. That morning we took the brief drive to the impressive and well-organized Sipi Falls Mill and cupped several very nice lots some of which were organic, some experimental lots and small blended lots from a handful of their best farmers. We were all encouraged about what we found here and we are looking forward to bringing this coffee in soon.

As luck would have it, the African Fine Coffee Conference was going on in Kampala during our time in Uganda. Because none of us were scheduled to leave Africa until the evening, we were able to spend that last day in Uganda at the conference — cupping more coffee. We were all thrilled that we found some more great coffee – this time from Ethiopia. At this writing, we are making arrangements to put this coffee from Ethiopia on a container for shipment to Oakland!

We are also agreeing to our final choices for our Kenyan coffee and we are happy to announce our new seasonal espresso – a tribute to the angry monkey I encountered in Kenya – Monkey Bite Espresso.

-Chuck

Uganda Break Time
Uganda Break Time

Sipi Falls
Sipi Falls

Uganda Coffee Mill
Uganda Coffee Mill

As luck would have it...

the African Fine Coffee Conference was going on in Kampala during our time in Uganda. Because none of us were scheduled to leave Africa until the evening, we were able to spend that last day in Uganda at the conference — cupping more coffee. We were all thrilled that we found some more great coffee – this time from Ethiopia. At this writing, we are making arrangements to put this coffee from Ethiopia on a container for shipment to Oakland!

We are also agreeing to our final choices for our Kenyan coffee and we are happy to announce our new seasonal espresso – a tribute to the angry monkey I encountered in Kenya – Monkey Bite Espresso.

-Chuck

MonkeyBite-Products
Commemorating the sourcing trip to Kenya with tee shirts and espresso.

Wanted Poster - Monkey
Wanted Poster – Monkey