So when I see a natural process coffee from Kenya, I brace myself. In almost every situation, the natural processed coffee was a mistake. It started out as a kenya-style washed process coffee, something went wrong, and they just turned it into a natural. So the end result is an earthy, over fermented coffee that doesn't have much of a place in the specialty coffee lineup. Furthermore, when the farmer does set out to make a sundried coffee, they don't really know how to do it. It rarely ends well.
So this one was a complete surprise. I don't like it as much as a regular Kenya, but it definitely wasn't a mistake! Mara Estate is in the Western part of the country in the Narok region and grows a lot of coffee, and the owners specifically set aside some of the pickings to be naturally processed each season. The farm has an excellent reputation in the region, known for helping out small farmers, giving out seedlings, sponsoring events, and internally providing free child care and medical care to its employees.
These natural-processed beans remind me of an Ethiopia in many ways. The taste is sweet, with a familiar dose of Kenya character (cherry, grape, banana). A bit bready and less bright than most Kenya, and a little bit more finicky to roast, but worth it when you dial it in. It reminds me a bit like a natural processed Uganda with its almost pretzel-like aftertaste and the banana undertones.
So we've tried roasting it a few ways, but the best approach is to treat it like a natural processed Ethiopia. Keep it light, not too far out of the 1st cracks. The lightest roasts ... just 20 seconds out of first cracks...are the most complex and sweetest. Going much darker is still nice, but the flavor flattens out and it is less interesting. If you get it too light, some savory flavors, almost tomato or herbs come out, and I don't find that to be ideal. But right between those two roasts are the sweet blackberry, winey, peach natural processed Kenya that you've never quite had anything like before.
US Arrival February 2023
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