Northwest Arkansas is possibly one of the best-kept secrets (although, I’m hoping I’ve contributed to letting the cat out of the bag!) around. There’s a full-blown coffee renaissance happening there, not to mention some really, really good mountain biking trail network. And you can get a burger that substitutes grilled cheese sandwiches for the buns! At the heart of it all are my friends at Onyx Coffee Lab and this morning I’m checking out an absurdly good Kenyan from the Othaya Cooperative.
ONYX COFFEE LAB KENYA OTHAYA COOPERATIVE
Onyx Coffee Lab is an award-winning, highly respected roaster and shop(s) in Bentonville and Fayetteville, Arkansas. From their very well-done marketing aesthetic to their incredibly well-roasted coffee, there is nothing these guys touch that doesn’t turn to gold. I’m obviously a fan boy and I don’t try to hide it, but at the same time, the bar Onyx Coffee Lab have set for themselves is really high, in my book, so they have a lot to live up to when I open a new bag of coffee!
Today’s coffee is from the Othaya Farmers’ Cooperative Society. This is one of the biggest and oldest in Kenya. Kenyan coffee farms tend to be smallholder plots where production isn’t enough to do much with, so for decades Kenyan farmers have joined cooperative societies to pool their resources. Othaya started in the mid-1950’s with around 250 members. Today, the society is 15,000 strong and owns 19 “factories.” A Kenyan coffee “factory” is simply what they call the place where coffee is collected, sorted and processed. It’s not like the “factory” you’re probably picturing in your mind with tons of heavy machinery and sparks flying all over the place! This particular selection was imported by our pals at Coffee Shrub, the commercial side of Sweet Maria’s, where virtually every home coffee roaster starts out!
Onyx’s Othaya selection consists of the “classic” Kenyan varietals, SL-28 and SL-34. Growing altitude is around 1850 meters above sea level and this is a “Kenya washed” coffee. Kenyan processing is super-meticulous and contributes a lot to the tasting profile of Kenyan coffees. Once the coffees are depulped and the skins are removed, they’ll generally move the lot to a dry tank where it “dry” ferments for 18-24 hours. Generally, they’ll wash the coffee a few times and drain the water off during that process, and then they’ll wash it again in a more traditional fashion, using washing channels to separate the coffee by density. After getting rid of the floaters, the coffee will be fermented once or twice again, and then washed again, and then get moved to raised beds for drying. It’s an insane process, but there’s a reason Kenya sets the standard for coffee processing world over!
I used my usual 1:16 pourover preparation method for this coffee… 28g of coffee and 450g of water in a notNeutral Gino dripper with Kalita 185 filters. I used a Handground grinder on the 3.5 setting. Aroma on the cup is sweet with a little bit of a spicy note. Sort of like baking spices, but sort of not, too. Hard to describe, but fitting for the holiday season if that makes any sense at all!
Onyx rates their roasts from “traditional” to “modern” on their bags, with traditional leaning toward nutty, chocolatey notes and modern being bright and highlighting acidity, usually. This one is turned to 11 on the modern-o-meter, so we know what to expect, and it delivers! This cup really is all about the acidity, but it’s also oddly approachable and drinkable, too, which are not always things I find with bright, complex cups of coffee. For one, the acidity profile is quite a bit different from what I’m used to in a Kenyan coffee. Usually Kenya is all about orangey and, really, grapefruit notes, which can be sharp and somewhat tiring on the palate for me after a handful of sips, as much as I like the flavor.
In this case, I found the acidity to be more along the lines of Granny Smith apples (malic acid) and a really “sparkling,” almost effervescent quality that denotes the presence of phosphoric acid, too. I did get some grapefruit hints in the second half of the sip. Phosphoric acid can lend those notes but also a quality of “effervescence” and a nice, clean finish. Phosphoric acid is also an important component in cola drinks, and through a lot of the temperature range of this coffee I was getting a cola vibe that was part “feel” on my palate as well as the acidity/sweetness play.
This cup has a pretty heavy body but all the brightness and acidity make it seem less so. There is a plenty of sweetness in the cup to balance all those beautiful, wonderful acids, which is where the approachability of this coffee comes in. It really reminded me of the play of acidity and sweetness that happens in a lot of candies like Jolly Ranchers.
This coffee really fits the “modern” profile on Onyx’s bag, but it’s more drinkable and satisfying than some lighter, “modern” roasts can be. This is a real standout for a Kenyan coffee for me. That apple/malic flavor is like a Honduran coffee amped up on steroids! This is just a really outstanding cup of coffee and proof of why I hold Onyx Coffee Lab in such high regard.