Much of Kenya's coffee comes from cooperatives, which means it's tough to go to visit a person or build a long-term relationship. That said, it is possible to get something interesting going and to work on projects together by speaking with the leaders of the co-ops and washing stations.
Othaya Farmer's Cooperative is based at the Gatuyaini wet mill, just north of Othaya town where they house a cupping room (and talented QC person) and their latest addition – a small roastery (where they hope to develop a market for their coffee inside Kenya). Othaya have many different wet mills in the co-operative, and we buy from one of the smallest – Chinga. Situated just south of Othaya town, the mill was built in the 1960s on the banks of the Gikira River.
The last time we visited Othaya, we were invited to the mill to cup some of the washed production from different farms. There was a clear standout lot, which turned out to be a small lot from Chinga. Breaking the usual rule about not buying when you're in the country, we asked then and there if we could buy it!
The mill has some 783 members, and each member only owns a small piece of land of an average 0.3 acres. Members of co-operatives pick their coffee cherries and deliver them to a local mill like Chinga. At Chinga, they collect the cherries together and when they have enough they put them through the washed process as a batch – called an Outturn.
For each Outturn, the cherries are sorted before being depulped and emptied into large vats filled with clean, cold water. There they ferment, until the remaining fruit parts have come away from the beans. They get floated (which separates out the ripe, dense beans from lower quality ones) before being dried on raised beds.
They then go to the Dry Mill, where they have the parchment removed and go through screens. These are a bit like giant sieves, and separate the beans by size. An AA lot is made up of large beans, with an AB being slightly smaller and so on.