Named after the highest peak of Mount Kenya, I first encountered the Batian variety in 2011. Seedlings were planted in Meru to give harvest within 3 years. The main breeding goal was to develop a variety that combines resistance to diseases with focus on improved yields and quality, namely CBD and Leaf Rust. I now had the pleasure to taste the ripe sweet cherries of this new variety. When ripe, it carries high sweetness and high acidity. My hope was to bring dry milled Batian back to the roastery. I was intrigued by how varieties were treated at the sorting and wet stations. In Nyeri and many of the wet stations I visited, farmers had already picked and unified the varieties before the sorting phase. This results in the wet station blending all varieties upon splitting the beans from the cherry disallowing puristic approaches.
In Nyeri, a combination of SL28, SL34, Ruiru 11 and Batian is nowadays very common. At least for now. Visiting a coffee research institute in Othaya, which supplies seedlings to 16,000 farmers and has 19 wet stations linked to itself, only Batian was provided to its farmers. Since Batian is very new, there is no recorded data on how this variety will fare throughout time and space. If farmers give up on the SL:s it might be devastating if Batian does not evolve as expected during the coming years. At some locations SL:s were also grafted with Ruiru 11 because their yield and quality was inferior mainly due to poor rooting systems. This might also testify to the fact that SL:s are becoming a rare breed.
It was my wish to learn how Batian only will hold up when roasted and cupped independently. I was not able to achieve this. The main reason was that many farmers are smallholders, having very few trees, focused on picking and generating income for their families. Wet stations are discouraged to process low quantity, single varieties and what we have learned to know as micro-lots.
Altogether, Kenyan coffee could be on the brink of becoming degenerated. It has been highly acclaimed for its composition of soil, climate and heartfelt farmers. The newspaper Daily Nation argues that this is due to the Coffee Directorate and the cooperative movement. The production flow seems to strive for destroying the livelihood of farmers while boosting large coffee chains.
We (farmers, roasters, baristas) are all part of a chain of events who contribute to make coffee an adventure and experience. It is also our duty to share knowledge in order to preserve genetic heritage of varieties, stay passionate and transparent for the sake of galvanizing our world into a better place for everyone and our descendants.
Article by Ivica "Itchy" Cvetanovski