In a normal February — which this is anything but — we would have staff in Nairobi with cupping spoons in hand, spending hours and hours cupping through fresh offer samples in order to put in the season’s buy plan for Kenya.
“This time of year I would already be in Kenya with Claudia, and we would be focused and dedicated to cupping samples, all day every day, with our counterparties in Kenya. This is the first time I was home for the Super Bowl in five years,” says Cafe Imports U.S. cupping lab director Megan Person. Megan, along with green-coffee buyer for Africa Claudia Bellinzoni, are the dynamic duo of Kenya sourcing, and their tag-team efforts in the cupping lab every year are what make it possible for us to offer some of the best Kenyan coffees in the world.
Of course, Covid-19-related travel limitations have changed that, and this year they’re having to work remotely from both Kenya itself and from each other. (Claudia is based out of Berlin, while Megan lives and works near our Minnesota office.)
Despite the uselessness of their passports this year, there’s still plenty of work to do to get ready for the incoming fresh crop. “The main difference this year is really the sample load,” Megan explains. “We usually get spoons into about 3,000 different samples to make our selections. But we also normally have to slog through some lower-grade or not-great samples when we’re there. This year, it’s all about communication: We’re working very closely with our partners in Kenya and very very closely with Claudia, keeping up communication on almost a daily basis about what’s coming and what we’re expecting.”
Megan says that this year, instead of tasting everything, she and her teammates in the sensory analysis department are able to make more curated requests. “We’ve been able to form a list of the factories or washing stations we’d like to see coffees from—names that we’ve bought from in the past 4 or 5 years that have been excellent—to see if they’re excellent this year, as well as relying on their cupping teams to send us the best of the best. So instead of thousands of samples, we’re ‘only’ going to see hundreds of samples.”
So far, Megan says, it’s been a mixed start, as it usually is with the first round of samples to come in—but she’s seeing (er, tasting) some promising things. “There have been some standouts: Some sugar-bombs, some great, high-acidity Kenyans,” she says, smiling behind her mask. “Yay!” [The ‘yay’ is hers.]
Over the next couple of weeks, Cafe Imports’ sensory analysis team will finish up the cupping and will start getting ready to accept the best of what Kenya has to offer this year. While we’re waiting for the results of all that tasting and talking, we thought we’d show you what the coffees’ journey through the cupping lab has been like so far in 2021—just a sneak peek into the process that has become the “new normal” around here, at least temporarily.