PERC Coffee Roasters, based out of Savannah, GA, sent me some coffee samples recently and the Kenya Kiamariga AA from their Top Shelf Collection was my first selection. This coffee proved to be the wildest, least restrained coffee I’ve had in my life to date, so read on! You can buy this coffee for $16/bag directly from PERC or from my buddies at roasters.co (use “KCCOFFEEGEEK” when you check out to save 10%).
This coffee comes from the Nyeri coffee growing region of Kenya. Since the 1930’s, Kenyan coffee has been sold by lot through auction in Nairobi. As such, the provenance of the coffees coming out of Kenya is generally fuzzy compared to, say, Colombia, where a roaster may know the exact farm and farmer where their coffee originated. That being said, the Kenya auction system rewards quality, so better lots go for more money. Part of the Kenyan grading system is bean size, with AA being the largest, which are generally thought to be the highest quality, although a lot more goes into grading a coffee than seed size.
As a result, I don’t have information on the varietal (all Kenyan coffee is Arabica) or the farm/grower, but the Nyeri washing station collects and processes coffees from 1800-2000masl and this is a washed and sun-dried coffee.
Kenyan coffee is known for having brilliant acidity and high notes with lots of complexity but I was completely unprepared for what hit me the first time I had this coffee! I used my usual 15:1 Gino pourover method. I took a lot of notes on this coffee and many of them are not favorable, but read on, because I found that the AeroPress was a better way, for me, to brew this coffee and tame it some. If you don’t want to read the entire review, I found an inverted AeroPress with 17g of coffee to 240g of water for a 2:00 immersion and 30 second press (2:30 total) worked out great and made this a lovely, although still intense and complex, coffee.
That first cup was insane. The aroma was intense, earthy and dank and didn’t seem quite 100% legal. I got heavy taste notes that were similar. At the same time the aroma had an almost milk chocolate sweetness to it.
As crazy as the aromas were, the flavors were even more outrageous. The coffee that hit my tongue was a wrecking ball of fruit followed by a wave of intense bitterness that lasted in the aftertaste for as long as any coffee I’ve ever had. The bitterness had some grapefruit pith flavors but it was mostly herb-like, not unlike Golden Seal, an herb I’ve used in liquid form for many years when I feel a cold coming on. Golden Seal is very bitter and my perception of this coffee was right up there with it, especially in my throat and the back of my tongue.
The bitterness was so unlike coffee and so intense my first thought was that I was having a weird palate reaction to a decongestant I’d taken the night before for my allergies, but that wasn’t it. I caught hints of grapefruit acidity and cherries in the mix, too. As weird as this sounds sometimes extremely intense flavors or flavor chemicals make my right eardrum flutter, and this coffee had it going. I couldn’t believe it! Full-on physiological reaction to the flavors, not the caffeine! LOL
As the cup cooled the bitterness I was getting on each sip started to tone down, but bitter compounds often build on the palate, like a hoppy beer, so once it’s there, it’s there. The cooling cup also gave me hints of mint and a cooling, mint-like effect on my lips and tongue. This coffee seemed to change about 5 degrees it cooled! I even got hit with a few sips that tasted like a mouthful of cinnamon! This pourover was all over the place and amazing in its weirdness, if nothing else!
PERC recommended I cut back on my concentration in the pourover and I also decided to try using an AeroPress with a quicker extraction (2:30 instead of 4:00 in the Gino), a trick that was suggested to me as a good starting point for Kenyan or “Kenya-like” coffees by Novel Coffee Roasters when I was reviewing their Cielito y Maria. I had a similar, although not as drastic, experience with that coffee, which grows very high in Colombia and is more Kenyan in its profile than Colombian.
AeroPress really tamed this coffee from PERC and made it a lot more enjoyable. I’m glad I had the experience I had with the pourover because it was a significant “calibrating” experience, to really be able to see how crazy coffee can taste, and I’m actually going to try it again this weekend to see if a bit of age off-roast changes things and if I still have the same reaction to the pourover again.
In the AeroPress, the Kenya Kiamariga AA got a big reduction in all those bitter flavors and the acidity and fruitiness got lifted up, a lot more like what I would expect from a Kenyan coffee. I still picked up some hints of mint and a minty mouthfeel, like a cooling on my lips and cheeks. There was nice sweetness to the cup and a much lighter mouthfeel from the press, as well as a tangerine citrus note.
In a final experiment I decided to try this coffee as a single origin espresso and, as expected, it was too bright to work for me. I didn’t think it would work out, as Kenyan coffees that are roasted lighter like this aren’t going to usually shine that way, but I wanted to see if it was even crazier than the pourover. LOL, it was not.