Last week I got a fascinating in-depth look at the story behind Kenyan coffee, all from the perspective of one of my favorite local roasters, Four Barrel Coffee. Organized by 18 Reasons and lead by Four Barrel’s own Jeremy Tooker, everyone at the event enjoyed a slide-show tour that took us on a journey — from the farms where the coffee is harvested, and the mills that process the beans, to the unique auction system for selling it to the world — that ended with a special cupping of newly arrived Kenyan beans.
First, we learned that Four Barrel travels to Kenya on a regular basis to visit the farms, taste the coffee and participate in the auctions. This level of personal involvement makes them a direct trade business that ultimately benefits everyone. For example, Four Barrel helped a farmer raise funds for much needed new equipment that would ensure they continued to grow some of the best coffee in the world.
In order to determine a fair price for beans, coffee is sold via a transparent auction system at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange. But to know what you are paying for, potential buyers are given samples ahead of the auction. This meant Four Barrel had to taste over 300 cups a day, just to find the one bean to bring back home to San Francisco.
When asked what made Kenyan coffee so special, Jeremy spoke of terroir, which evoked comparisons to wine and the importance of the land. But from the stories he told throughout the evening, and the photographs he shared, my sense was that the people who they met on their travels and the relationships they cultivated were equally important.
After tasting some of the coffees that are coming soon to Four Barrel, we all stood around the cupping table, casually chatting, like a group of old friends at a reunion, not wanting the evening to end. The next day, as I enjoyed my morning coffee, I had a much deeper appreciation for what I was drinking — where it came from, who farmed it, and what it took to bring that bean to my home, all the way from Kenya, with Love.