HANDEGE PB - KENYA
The factory is located around 5 km from Gatundu town, in Kenya’s Kiambu County. The name “Handege” is derived from Ndege, the Swahili word for aeroplane or bird.
Ritho FCS operates two washing stations: Handege and Wamuguma. Handege factory was constructed in the mid- sixties and started its operations in the late 1967, while Wamuguma was constructed in early seventies and started its operations in December 1972. The FCS itself is a bit younger as rose from the ashes of the now defunct Gatundu coffee growers in the year 1995. The administration had much experience from its previous iteration, of course, and brought those strengths to the table. Today, the two washing stations serve over 1,000 members (just over half deliver to Handege, which also serves as the FCS headquarters). The washing stations are close, as the ‘Ndege’ flies. They are no more than 5 km apart, but due to road layout in the area, travel from one to the other takes around 30-45 minutes. Their locations enable them to serve a wider swathe of the surrounding community.
Part of the success of Ritho can be attributed to the good management of the group. In 2010, confronting low coffee prices and other challenges, the group developed a strategic plan with the primary aim of increasing coffee quality (not necessarily quantity, as is so often the focus in these situations). Focus was also put on agricultural and organisational management and infrastructure. Today the results of these efforts can be seen in the exceptional cup quality of their coffee.
Processing at the Handege wet mill adheres to stringent quality-driven methods as a result of these earlier efforts. All coffee cherries are handpicked and are delivered to the mill the same day, where they undergo meticulous sorting. Factory employees oversee the process and any underripe or damaged cherries will not be accepted by the ‘Cherry Clerk’ – one of the most important harvest-period staff, who keeps meticulous records of how much coffee each producer delivers on any given day (and thus how much payment is due once the coffee has sold). Any rejected coffee will have to be taken home again, and the farmer will need to find a place to dry it (often a tarp in the yard) to be delivered only at the end of season as low quality ‘Mbuni’ – natural process coffee that earns a very low price. Thus, farmer members are incentivised to only pick and deliver the ripest cherry that they can. After being weighed and logged, the weight of the delivery and the farmer’s identification are recorded in the Cherry Clerk’s register and the cherries are introduced into the hopper to be pulped. Pulping will only begin when a sufficient quantity of cherries has been received. The factory uses clean water pumped directly from the Thiririka River for pulping and washing. After pulping the cherries are delivered to one of the factory’s fermentation tanks, where it will ferment for between 24 and 36 hours depending on the ambient temperature at the time. Handege factory has fairly good drying infrastructure, but sometimes at the peak of the season they must soak coffee after fermentation & washing. Because most of the producers delivering to the washing station live within a 5 km radius, all their coffee tends to flower and ripen on the same schedule, which creates challenges if volume is particularly high. Drying tables are expensive and laborious to construct, and often there simply isn’t enough space to erect them. The soaking method creates a ‘holding pen’ for parchment when there is not enough room on the drying beds for the quantity of coffee coming in. Some say it also has a beneficial impact on quality. After washing (or soaking), the coffee will be pre-dried on ‘skin tables’ (with largerholes) and then be delivered to dry on the factory’s raised drying beds, where it will dry slowly over the course of around a week, during which time it will be turned regularly. It is covered during the hottest part of the day and also at night to ensure even and slow driving.