Tasting Box: 01/04

By Evan Howe

Contrasting Examples of SL28 from Kenya and Costa Rica

This month we continue our exploration of arabica coffee varieties with two distinct examples of a variety called SL28. While SL28 is famously associated with East Africa, it is increasingly cultivated by a few producers in Latin America as well. For this comparative tasting, we chose to pair a classic wet processed SL28 from Kenya with a more experimental honey processed SL28 from Costa Rica.

The name “SL28” is a reference to this variety’s interesting history: “SL” refers to Scott Agricultural Laboratories, a coffee research center that was established in Kenya by the British Colonial government in 1922 with the goal of identifying coffee varieties that were high yielding while exhibiting good resistance to drought and disease. In the 1930’s, the team at ‘Scott Labs’ selected coffee trees from all across Africa and gave each tree a distinct number following the prefix “SL”. Of all the trees selected at this time, #28 exhibited the most desirable balance of yield, cup quality, and disease resistance. Fast forward to the present day, and SL28 remains not only one of the most famous varieties of Kenya, but one of the best loved, and most sought after, of all coffee varieties around the world.

Our first coffee in this month’s tasting comes from Ngarariga Estate: an 18 acre farm situated on the slopes of Mt. Kenya that is managed by Mr. Stephen Muthiora and the Mbuuri family. While a mix of arabica varieties, including SL-28, SL-34, Batian, and Ruiru 11, is a common characteristic of many Kenyan coffees, Ngarariga Estate specializes in 100% SL-28 lots, thanks to their meticulous sourcing of young SL-28 seedlings from the Kenyan Coffee Research Institute. We chose this coffee as the first of the pairing because it really delivers the classic Kenyan SL28 flavor profile: bright acidity, tangy red fruits, citrus, and cola-like sweetness.

For our second coffee, Cup Taster’s members are getting a special preview of the Santa Teresa SL28, a beautiful honey processed selection from producer Roger Urena, which will be added to Passenger’s Reserve Lot menu in the near future. Just as the SL28 variety is famously associated with Kenya, honey processing is famously associated with coffee production in Costa Rica. While multiple variables certainly play a part in the differences we perceive when tasting these two coffees comparatively, processing is probably the biggest reason for the clarity and juicy acidity exhibited by the Ngarariga and the creamy mouthfeel and rich, toffee-like sweetness that characterizes the Santa Teresa.