Bean review: Three Kenyan coffees roasted by Workshop

28 November 2014 - In this week's bean review, Phil Wain brews three coffees from Workshop.

Since their 2011 launch and 2012 rebrand, Workshop have a deserved reputation for clarity, consistency and excellence. Tim Williams, who heads the operation, has an impressive coffee resume and has engendered a company manifesto of striving for excellence. Workshop value clean, clear tastes and this year their Kenyan coffees have reflected this – elegant, sweet coffees that you will drink again and again.

This has been a great year for Kenyan coffee, this despite a difficult start. In January, the Governor of Nyeri made drastic changes which threatened the businesses of many specialty co-operatives in enforcing the use of centralised mills, reducing the potential for traceability and quality. The Governor, who actually had the intention of raising coffee prices for farmers risked the opposite. The situation is far from clear but, when Workshop visited in March, Nyeri coffee was sitting in locked warehouses with lots all mixed together. Sad. This has meant Workshop had to look further afield this year but that did lead to us having these very interesting coffees available.

Kenyan coffee is generally washed and varieties such as SL-28, SL-24 are common. Methods are labour intensive and have often been in place for decades. Since independence, smallholdings and co-operatives sharing washing stations have become the main sources of premium coffee.

The quality of the coffees Workshop have chosen is not down to accident. Williams and others spent time in Kenya cupping countless coffees every day, searching for the sweetest, most elegant coffees and working directly with co-operatives. That effort is rewarded in the quality of these stellar coffees.

Gikirima AA, Embu, Kenya

Near Mount Kenya, the majority of the population here are farmers, working the rich, volcanic soil. This coffee was produced by the Kibugu Co-op, grown at 1,800 metres among subsistence crops such as maize and bananas. The dry grounds emit a captivating aroma – a sweet smell that reminds me of dried cherry, although the roaster perhaps more accurately describes this as cranberry.

On brewing, it smells very sweet, like a steamed fruit pudding. Flavours are dominated by plum, with notes of golden raisin, dried cranberry and peach –even apricot as it cools. It has a succulent, juicy acidity and peach syrup sweetness – bold in its clarity and a great, clean taste. At the finish, candied fruit comes through.

Varietal: SL-28 and SL-34 | Process: Washed | Phil's tasting notes: plum, sultana, dried cranberry,

dried cherry, peach, apricot, peach syrup, candied fruit

£13.00 for 350g via Workshopcoffee.com

Githiga AA, Murang’a, Kenya

Much admired at our public cupping this month, this coffee was grown in Kenya’s Central Province, produced by the Kanyena-ini co-op, again in volcanic soil. Again, it features superb sweetness, clarity of flavour and elegance. Tasters at our public cupping identified raspberry, redcurrant, juiciness and sweetness and I wouldn’t argue with that.

For me, the dry grounds smell of red fruit and once the coffee is brewed there is a deliciously intense raspberry flavour. This is followed by a sugarcane sweetness and a refreshing redcurrant acidity. A black tea floral note sits subtly under the raspberry juiciness. The mouthfeel is lovely and the finish is one of raspberry and cherry jam.

Varietal: SL-28, SL-34 | Process: Washed | Phil's tasting notes: raspberry, more raspberry, even more

raspberry, redcurrant, black tea, raspberry and cherry jam

£16.00 for 350g via Workshopcoffee.com 

Kabingara AA, Kirinyaga, Kenya

Kabingara neighbours Nyeri and Embu at the foot of Mount Kenya. Unusually for Kenya , the Karithathi co-operative uses just one coffee variety, SL-34. This coffee was the clear favourite in voting at our recent public cupping. Guests identified a floral smell, bright gooseberry acidity and a sweet stone fruit flavour.

The dry grounds give off both chocolate and floral fragrances. Tastewise, for me, it is stone fruit all the way. Peaches and plums and the hugely juicy acidity identified with these fruits dominate. But the coffee, like all those reviewed this week, is sugar sweet and a great pleasure in the mouth finishing superbly and leaving the drinker wanting more.

Varietal: SL-34 | Process: Washed | Phil's tasting notes: peach, florals, plum, sugar sweet, huge juicy plum acidity.

£12.00 for 350g via Workshopcoffee.com

More bean reviews:

Bean review: Square Mile

Bean review: Nude

Bean review: Notes

Bean review: Climpson and Sons

Bean review: Kenyans from Notes, Workshop and Horsham

Bean review: Weanie Beans

November 28, 2014 — Best Coffee