John Mbature is a passionate coffee producer in Kenya, whose farm is located in the foothills of Mt. Kenya. He is the founder and CEO of Kushikama (Swahili word meaning “connected”), which is a group comprising small estate farmers in the region. It was out of a need to help farmers improve the quality of their coffee, that led him to form the group. Most of these coffees have found their place in the specialty market. John is a certified Q-grader and has cupped coffees for organizations such as Atlantic Specialty. John has a well of knowledge in coffee processing. By experimenting with different methods of coffee processing he has been able to maintain his coffee at the top in the specialty market. He is in the process of putting up a farm-based coffee lab and a coffee training center, which will offer much-needed information on coffee production and processing.
Nominated by Gladys Mwaniki
What is the quality you like best about coffee?
The complexity of coffee. Learning in coffee never stops—there’s always something new to learn in coffee. The knowledge we have about coffee is “never enough.” This is because either coffee keeps changing, or lots of information is yet to be documented about coffee.
Best song to brew coffee to at the moment.
Three Little Birds by Bob Marley.
What was the last cup of coffee you enjoyed?
What is your idea of coffee happiness?
First, it’s when everyone in the value chain is happy. From the farmer to the roaster to the baristas. It’s always great to get calls from happy farmers and receive positive feedback from roasters, baristas, and happy customers. Second, it’s when I can sit down, relax, and enjoy a good cup of coffee… and think about coffee.
What issue in coffee do you care about most?
Sustainability at the production level. Producers should always work towards producing coffee in ways that conserve the environment ethically, and find ways to best adapt to climate change. Production cannot be sustainable if not backed up by good prices. Prices are paid in line with quality and so focus on quality is also key for sustainability at production level.
What cause or element in coffee drives you?
When ever I work with farmers to find solutions to issues affecting the quality of their coffee, and finally achieving a good cup quality… that desire to see the coffee finally tasting great is my driving force.
What issue in coffee do you think is critically overlooked?
The connection between producers and baristas. Work on coffee begins with the producer and ends with the baristas. The two rarely get to share platforms where they can share ideas that can make coffee better. Producers are always striving to produce what the market wants. The barista has lots of information on customer preference and this is vital information to the producer.
Did you experience a “god shot” or life-changing moment of coffee revelation early in your life?
Having grown up on a coffee farm, my passion for farming developed at an early age. I loved farming and was more into horticulture than coffee. My life changing moment of coffee happened when I was visiting the regional Agricultural Office in Embu, Kenya. I happened to sit next to an old man as I waited to be served. The old man, a farmer, was also visiting the offices. He casually started off talking to me about the good old days he had as a coffee farmer. He told me how he took his children through school, bought a bike… and even went on holidays with his wife…. because there was money in coffee. All thanks to a great man who was the chairman of cooperative society where he was delivering his cherry. He had even named a coffee tree after the chairman.
That chairman happened to be my late dad and when I told him, I was the son to the chairman…. he held my hand in disbelief… I could see him struggle to hold back tears…that point was the very beginning of my deep desire to see a better coffee industry.
If you could have any job in the coffee industry, what would it be and why?
Coffee Processing Trainer.
Prices to the farmer are paid inline with the cup quality. Most primary/major defects in coffee occur at the processing stage, be it dry or wet processing. Quite a number of farmers don’t understand the impact processing has on the final cup quality. They invest heavily at the farm level only to lose it all at the processing stage. It’s a pain to see good coffee at farm level not fetching good/sustainable prices just because the producer didn’t have the right information to guide them through the processing.
Who are your coffee heroes?
Everyone in the value chain who’s always striving to make coffee better. From the passionate farmers who are always pushing to achieve better quality, to the exporters, importers, and roasters who push for sustainable prices and transparency, to the baristas who are always trying to find the best brewing method with an aim of bringing out the best from every coffee… to everyone who appreciates a good cup of coffee!
If you could drink coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
George Howell. From what I have read and heard about George, I would say he is super passionate about specialty coffee and has lots of knowledge on what good coffee is made of. A chance to drink coffee with the pioneer of specialty coffee would be magical!
Do you have any coffee mentors?
My late parents… they were my inspiration and first source of information as I started off in coffee. Also folks like Tim Hill of Atlantic Specialty and Phil of Phil and Sebastian Roasters, they’ve been such a rich source of information about specialty coffee. Chelsea Thoumsin and Mbula Musau, they really encouraged me as I started learning about coffee tasting, as well as Mie Hansen of Kenyacof, who introduced and helped me learn more about coffee marketing..