Cafe Imports Barista Origin Trip – Kenya Day 1

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The view of Nairobi from the NCE building.

The view of Nairobi from the NCE building.

The first day of the third installment of Café Imports Barista Origin Trip kicked off here in Nairobi with a visit to the Nairobi Coffee Exchange. The NCE is where almost all of the coffee produced in the country is bought through an auction system. The auction system (which works quite a bit like the Cup of Excellence one) helps fetch Kenyan coffee growers some of the highest prices in the world. Auctioning so many coffees, though, means that buyers must constantly be cupping samples.

The electronic board outside of the Nairobi Coffee Exchange.

The electronic board outside of the Nairobi Coffee Exchange.

So after a quick visit to the auction floor, the baristas also got a chance to head upstairs to the Green Room, where the hundreds of samples (for this week) are kept.

Inside the auction floor of the NCE.

Inside the auction floor of the NCE.

Coffee samples lined up in the Green Room.

Coffee samples lined up in the Green Room.

A bustling market adjoins the  NCE building in the heart of Nairobi.

A bustling market adjoins the NCE building in the heart of Nairobi.

The Cafe Imports Barista Origin Trip began with a visit to Brazil in 2011, then continued with a trip to Costa Rica earlier this year. Next year, the adventure will take the baristas to Ecuador. Qualifying for the trip is easy. All you have to do is win a US Regional Barista Competition, the United States Barista Championship, or the World Barista Championship. See? Couldn’t be easier!

The champs take a peak at this week's lots on auction at the NCE.

The champs take a peak at this week’s lots on auction at the NCE.

The champion baristas on this trip include Sam Lewontin of Everyman Espresso in New York City, Eden Marie Abramowicz from Intelligentsia Coffee in Los Angeles, Devin Champan from Portland, Ore. formerly of Coava, now working temporarily in New York for Verve Coffee Roasters, Charlie Habegger who has relocated recently to Los Angeles and works for Handsome Coffee Roasters, but who previously worked for Intelligentsia in Chicago, Lem Butler of Counter Culture in North Carolina, and of course Pete Licata from Parisi Coffee in Kansas City and champion of the world!

Looking stylish at the Dormans dry mill and roastery.

Looking stylish at the Dormans dry mill and roastery.

Cleaning the storeroom floor.

Cleaning the storeroom floor.

Also along for the ride are barista community fixtures Reg Barber, also known as the Tamper Man, and Gianni Cassatini from Nuova Simonelli. The Cafe Imports reps here are Tim Chapdelaine and Piero Cristini. Then there’s also sprudge’s Zachary Carlson and me.

Eden Marie checks out the massive coffee storeroom at Dormans.

Eden Marie checks out the massive coffee storeroom at Dormans.

After the visit to the coffee exchange, the crew headed over for a tour of Dormans headquarters, roastery and dry mill. It’s the largest operation of its kind not only in Kenya but in all of East Africa. Then we traveled across town to one of Dormans cafe locations where John Muli Makau, the three-time barista champion of Kenya met us, and we had lunch and sampled some coffees.

John and Reg reunite after seeing each other at many WBCs.

John and Reg reunite after seeing each other at many WBCs.

Sorting coffee on the conveyor belt.

Sorting coffee on the conveyor belt.

Tomorrow we will head out of town to Nyeri to visit some coffee farms. It’s sure to be beautiful and another amazing experience thanks to the awesome folks at Cafe Imports.

About the Author

Ken

Kenneth R. Olson is co-founder and publisher of Barista Magazine the worldwide trade magazine for the professional coffee community. He has written extensively about specialty coffee, traveled near and far for stories, activities, and fun, and been invited to present on topics important to coffee culture. He is also an avid fan of the Portland Trail Blazers and the Washington Huskies. Go Blazers! Go Dawgs!