Onyx Coffee Lab is probably the best-known of a crop of really good coffee roasters in the NW Arkansas area. With three locations sprinkled around the area and branding that is insanely good, the gang at Onyx are killing it! It has been a while since I had an Onyx Coffee Lab selection to share with you and out of the blue they reached out to me recently to send some things, so here is the first of a few reviews focusing on Onyx’s current African coffee lineup! Enjoy!
ONYX COFFEE LAB KENYA NYERI BARICHU
Onyx Coffee Lab is one of NW Arkansas’s premier specialty roasters and, yes, there are more there than you probably think and they’re all doing some super work! Onyx does a great job selecting coffees and roasting them, using a “traditional/modern” slider on their bags to indicate to customers how something will taste. This one is redlined right up to the end of the “modern” side of the slider, so we can expect complexity and brightness. This particular selection consists of SL-28, SL-34 and Ruiru 11 varieties coming from the Karatina washing station in the Nyeri region (coffee growing ground zero in Kenya). The coffee is a blend of lots from the Barichu Farmers Cooperative Society. As with much of Africa, Kenyan coffee farms tend to be small operations, so farmers work together in co-ops to pool their coffee. In the Kenyan system it is sorted, processed, screened for size and sold in lots by size. Onyx makes no mention of size, but I’d have to call it an “AB” (AA is the largest bean), although there is some variation in the bag, so maybe they mix sizes sometimes, too? I’m not sure about that one.
Nonetheless, this is a “Kenya washed process” coffee that Onyx tells us will have notes of, “Winey, bruleed grapefruit, rose honey, mouthwatering.” We’ll see what I come up, but it sounds awesome! As a side note, Kenyan washing is different from mesoamerican washing practices in that it is fermented, or “washed,” twice. Coffees like this one are fermented once, then flushed and rinsed. After a second rest in the fermentation tank (these fermentations allow microbes to remove a lot of the organic mucilage/pulp from the coffee beans after the skins are mechanically removed in a depulping machine), the coffee is driven through narrow water-filled channels. This again rinses the coffee and also separates it out by density so “floaters” can be removed from the better, high-density beans. Finally, the coffee is then soaked for about 24 hours one last time before drying. They go onto full-sunlight beds for about 6 hours and then are moved to shaded beds for 7-14 days to dry more slowly. It’s a labor and resource-intensive process and one of the things that separates Kenyan coffee quality from other regions.
So, let’s taste this coffee! It’s a beautiful cup, for sure. I used my usual 1:16 pourover setup in a notNeutral Gino with Kalita 185 filters. Using 28g of coffee and 450g of water I got a 2:55 extraction, not including the bloom. Whereas yesterday’s Kenyan from Peaks Coffee Co. was like lemon candy in a cup, this one is a little lighter in body and a little more complex. On the front end of the sip there is a lemony, grapefruity acidity with just a touch of pithy bitterness along with it (which I like and I think adds some complexity to the cup). There is immediate sweetness that comes along with this that’s both fruity and sugary and a wonderful complement to the citrus. In the second half of the sip the sweetness strikes me as being a bit more tomato-like. I don’t get any actual tomato flavors (and I know that sounds weird if you’re not experienced with Kenyan coffees, but trust me!) but the “character” of the sweetness and acidity together do offer up a tomatoey vibe. The finish is sweet with an aftertaste that drops off relatively quickly and that features some floral notes and a bit of bitterness in the long aftertaste (which, again, I enjoy and it’s not like BITTER bitter, just some nice adult bitterness that reminds me I’m drinking coffee, not soda pop!). This is a super-clean coffee and the body is medium. Revisiting this coffee a month after roasting as I write this review, it’s still delicious, with the acidity toned down a little and the sweetness and citrus components having a little more balance.
What a beautiful cup! Two Kenyans in two days and both were fantastic and, yet, totally different flavors. Man, am I lucky, or what!? Stay tuned for a couple of Ethiopian selections from Onyx Coffee Lab, too, but if you’re looking for a stunner of a Kenyan coffee, don’t dilly dally on this one!