Green Coffee Offerings : Africa : Ethiopia
Upcoming Crop Comments
We are so strong with Ethiopian coffees this year and are very proud of the lots we're currently offering. A repeated investment in infrastructure generates large strides in cup quality. Get them while you can. Expect our first new crop offerings beginning of Summer.
About Ethiopian Coffee
Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee: it is in the forests of the Kaffa region that coffea arabica grew wild. Coffee is "Bun" or "Buna" in Ethiopia, so Coffee Bean is quite possibly a poor anglicized interpretation of "Kaffa Bun". Coffea Arabica was also found in the Harar region quite early, either brought from the Kaffa forests or found closer by. It is entirely possible that slaves taken from the forests chewed coffee berry and spread it into the Harar region, through which the Muslim slave trade route passed.
Ethiopian coffees are available from some regions as dry-processed, from some regions as washed, and from Sidamo as both! The difference between the cup profiles of the natural dry-processed vs. the washed is profound. Washed Sidamo, Yirgacheffe and Limmu have lighter body and less earthy / wild tastes in the cup as their dry-processed kinfolk. Ethiopian coffee reminds me more and more of fresh produce, because when you find a really great coffee like the dry-processed Koratie, it is like eating Michigan peaches at the height of the season. The flavors are amazing, and when it is gone, it is gone. If all the factors line up just right, it might be the same next year, maybe not.
Ethiopian coffees can vary greatly from lot to lot. It takes A LOT of cupping to find the specific lot of coffee that is superior. MAO Horse exports a lot of coffee, but each year one specific "chop" (lot number) out-cups the others. Since lots differ in character, and I do so much to find the best lot, we are now listing the Lot Number in the description of the coffee. When I find that coffee, I buy the majority of the year's coffee immediately, leaving a small opening in case any other good lots come along later in the season. But my experience has been that early shipments of the DP Ethiopians are often the best of the season, in contradiction to many other origins where the earliest are often underdeveloped, lower-grown coffees and the mid-crop pickings are better.
Organic supplies have been good, and a few lots have been outstanding. Here's an interesting article outlining the producers' hopes for the budding Organic Ethiopian coops.We have many pictures and notes about Ethiopia coffee in our travelogs, namely a cupping trip to Addis and an interesting trek to Dire Dawa and Harar in the east. Tom also attended the Harar Roundtable Conference, and headed south to Sidama and Yirgacheffe in February 2009. Check out the commentary and photos here. I have also been there a few times since - check out the travelogue section of our Coffee Library page.
A brief word about the grading of Ethiopian Coffees: The top grade Ethiopian washed coffees (Yirgacheffe and Sidamo, usually) might bear a Grade 2 or 3, dry-processed from the Eastern parts will be 4 or 5 by nature of the preparation method. Oftentimes, a Grade 4 will be marked grade 5 to save on taxes and duties. The whole system is a bit tricky, because you can now have a Grade 1 or 2 natural from Yirga Cheffe, but not from Harar, where the top grade will be Gr. 4 . But we judge coffee by cup quality via blind cupping: not the marks of the bag. Expect uneven roast color from even the best of the dry-processed coffees. Even roast color is not necessarily a mark of high cup quality. NOTE: Some Ethiopian dry-processed coffees are hand prepped and dried in the sun - so watch out for rocks! There can be small stones and dirt clods in the coffee that you need to cull out before roasting and definitely before grinding as these can jam a grinder. A ground up dirt clod can foul an otherwise lovely pot of coffee. (In wet processed coffees the stones fall out in the water channel but in dry processed coffees, small stones can escape detection and make it all the way through to the final bag.) Expect uneven roast colors from dry-processed Ethiopian coffees. In this image of Harar, there is one bean to cull out - pretty obvious.
Our Unroasted Ethiopian Coffee Offerings:Please refer to our Reference Page for definitions of terms and cupping numbers used below. Check out the Sweet Maria's Coffee Home Roasting Forum for more conversation about home roasting Ethiopian and other coffees.
Camp Coffee. I know this will be the source of a few jokes, especially since camp coffee (at least to me) means not-so-tasty coffee that is enjoyable because, well, it's hot, and your camping! Anyway, I have been to the Camp cooperative mill, and I still can't explain the name. It just is. Camp is in the Illubabor district of western Ethiopia. It is not far from the main paved road on the way to Bedele town. I measured the altitude at the Camp mill at 1897 meters, but most of the coffee comes from the higher areas in the vicinity, up to 2100 meters. This lot of Camp is part of an initiative we set up in Ethiopia two years ago, in order to work direct at the coop level. The program is administered by a non-government organization that not only coordinates agronomists and managers for each of the coops they work with, but also has a business adviser assigned that helps the cooperative manage their debt, re-invest in quality improvements at the mill, and verifies distribution of income to all members.
Camp has a more balanced fragrance and aroma than other Ethiopias from the area. The dry grounds are not outrageously floral or fruited at first, but hint at almond essence, dried cherry, and some dusky wildflower notes . Adding hot water to the dry grounds brings this coffee to life. A strong sweetness I will characterize as "peach preserves" dominates, with cane sugar juice and dark honey. The cup has a moderate brightness when you stack it up against other wet-process Ethiopia coffees. Fragrant peach notes come through as well as the same latent floral aspect hinted at in the aroma, but with an overlay of chocolate roast taste. Camp has a rather dense body, which, coupled with the apricot and peach notes give it a nectar-like mouthfeel. Darker roasts really bring out the bittering chocolate aspect of this coffee, and In fact is the reason I prefer roasting Camp to Full City/Full City+. The chocolate bittersweet tang is really pleasant at this level, while lemon hints come through to vivify the cup flavors. I let one batch go a tad into 2nd crack and really appreciated the SO espresso shot from this, a bit bright, but with a long, reverberating aftertaste.
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This coffee from Duromina Cooperative is part of an initiative we have in Ethiopia to work direct at the coop level. The program is administered by a non-government organization that not only coordinates agronomists and managers for each of the coops they work with, but also has a business adviser assigned that helps the cooperative manage their debt, re-invest in quality improvements at the mill, and verifies distribution of income to all members. This is a key position; I have never known a coop to get this kind of expert advice from outside ... not in Africa at least. A cooperative can make all kinds of quality improvements, turn out fantastic coffee, and sink deeper in debt all the while. Cooperatives often fail to return a fair and full amount of payment to their farmer-members. Often this is from poor management, and sometimes from graft as well. With this lot we can verify that the great price we paid will result in a fair distribution of funds, a better managed coop, investment in the mill, and even better coffee next year! There will be about 10 coffees we offer this year from this system, Duromina being one of the first to arrive. Duromina is in the Goma Woreda, with farm altitudes between 1900 to 2100 meters. I was there last November we brought a home roaster, and powered by car battery and an inverter, held an entire cupping for the coffee farmers! Duromina won the all-Africa cupping competition at the EAFCA conference this year in Addis!
Duromina is a sweet, delicate and well-structured cup, totally different from the typical dry-process Jimma coffees. The fragrance from the dry grounds has stone fruit (peach, apricot) and honey. As I add the hot water, there is intensely sweet smell of apricot preserves, jammy, with floral scents as well. The wet aroma is floral, peach tree in bloom, almond extract, a hint of cherry (City+ roast). The cup has very refined flavor characteristics, not a "big" coffee, but a restrained and articulate one. My lightest roast (City) have amazing fruit juice sweetness, clean berry notes, peach essence, lightly caramelized sugars, sweet grain. With a little more roast (City+), floral and fruit flavors intensify, and the ripeness of the berry notes comes to the forefront. At Full City the chocolate starts to dominate. The body is relatively light, complimenting the cleanly disappearing sweetness and fruit jam flavors. This is a coffee that intensifies greatly as it cools, so to truly appreciate it, focus on the taste as the cup loses temperature. This coffee is wonderful as SO espresso. Aleco tried a shot of this and proclaimed it the best SO espresso he's ever had!
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Busa Bechane is the name of a cooperative in the Western Ethiopia growing region of Jimma. It is located in the Kersa kebele (a county) and situated at 1780 meters. The coop was started in 2010 and has a strong report card on meeting its commitments to farmer-members. The coop is assisted by a US-based non-government organization to improve it's coffee farming practices and processing techniques, as well as care for it's business practices. It is graded on whether it meets it's goals and so far Busa Bechane has achieved 87% of its coffee production and farm management goals, 75% of its health & safety goals for members and 77% of its environmental responsibility goals. This may seem vague and abstract but when I have visited cooperatives working in this system, the difference is night and day between these ones and others who are poorly managed in both coffee and business practices. We also know that the system means no graft, and accountability to members, returning the best prices for coffee cherry as well as a second after-harvest dividend payment that results directly from the higher price we pay for their coffee. Busa Bechane arrived on our last Ethiopia container which is quite late. We were nervous that shipping delays might have taken something out of the cup quality of the coffee. But these lots cup fresh and sweet!
The dry fragrance has toasted almond and cocoa, with dark honey sweetness. The wet aroma follows in line with the fragrance from the dry grounds with red honey and a dusting of cocoa, but there is also stone fruit notes of peach and apricot, with the scent of wildflowers. On the break there is a chocolate nougat note. The cup is awesome at a wide range of roast levels from a very light City to Full City+ or more. The lighter ranges feature apricot, peach and mango fruits, syrupy sweetness, a trace of mandarin citrus, and a praline almond roast tone. As it cools the brightness has the grape-like character of tartaric acidity. With slightly more "degree of roast" I find the same fruits with a more jammy intensity, and milk chocolate starts to ebb the sweetened nut roast taste. Given the late arrival date of this coffee, the fresh and clean fruited sweetness is doubly impressive. If there is one place you can truly hope for a miracle with a delayed shipment, it is Ethiopia where coffee is stored in parchment at a perfect temperature and 2200 meters altitude. That seems to have played a role here.
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This is the last arrival we have of the current harvest from Ethiopia, and represents one of the nicest dry-processed coffees of the season. Located in the Gedeo zone area of Yirga Cheffe, it is also home to some the most beautiful coffees we buy. This lot of Konga is in an area of Yirga Cheffe with a range of 1900-2300 meters, and is dry-processed on raised beds. Smallholder farmers from around the region delivery their heirloom Ethiopian coffee varietals to the station where it is weighed and then sun dried before being delivered to Addis Ababa for sale. This lot is a "clean" version of the process with its wide array of fruit characteristics easily perceptible. This coffee was prepared to Grade 3 specifications, although we think it rivals another lot of dry-processed coffee we received that tested as Grade 1. Go figure. It is certainly a clean coffee with few quakers (under-ripes). But they are still there. With naturals, nothing is perfect.
While this dry processed coffee is definitely of the rustic nature, it doesn't equate to a "muddled" profile, and the complexity really comes through. The dry fragrance is very sweet with dried fruits taking the lead. Bing cherry, dried apricot, strawberry, and mango are found in lighter roasts, whereas the fruits in dark roasts are situated around a base of chocolate. The wet grounds remind me of strawberry milk, and really start to give off a sense of baking goods, like berry filled donuts. Baking spices also come up, especially in more developed roasts, like cardomom, clove, and star anise. There's no big surprises in the cup profile as it sticks fairly close to that of the aromatics. The sweetness is slightly more confectionary, which, along with dried tropical and berry fruits, has a fruit-roll-up appeal. Fruits turn to chai spice in the finish along with a dusting of bittersweet cocoa. This coffee has a thick, milky body, and works great in espresso; even as straight unblended shots if you like a rustic sweetness. I found that brewed results seem to place the accent on the spices, particularly star anise, and other times on the fruited flavors, depending on roast levels, water temperature and steeping time. So play around with the variables in brewing to see the different possibilities this coffee offers.
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Guji Shakiso is a coffee that comes out of a “private” cooperative in that it is owned and operated by a single farmer. The coffee cooperative is comprised of the surrounding farmers in the area, and is replete with two washing stations where farmers are able to have their coffee cherry processed. The people are known as Gujii Oromo, and coffee farming has been a core part of the culture in the highland areas. It's a distinct coffee from Yirga Cheffe, and Sidamo. There is a commitment to the farm workers and assistance is provided in the form of agricultural education and tools, onsite agronomists, as well as a local health care system. Geographically, culturally, and in terms of cup flavors, these southern coffees have a different flavor profile while maintaining the same general characteristics; citrus and floral accents, a lively cup character. Add to this the fact that cultivars used in Ethiopia are largely regional, distinct local strains of coffees that have spread from the wild forest plants of western Ethiopia, to Harar in the East and to the southern districts like Guji. Because this is privately owned farm land and they process their own coffee, they have license to export, and ultimately we're able to form this direct trade link with them.
This lot of Suke Quto is cupping so well. It's a complex coffee with amazing floral attributes, excellent sweetness, and beautifully balanced. The dry fragrance has candied sweetness, cinnamon stick, floral honey, and dried mango. Deeper roasts have a burned sugar quality that is like toffee. The wet aroma shows even more sweetness with baked peach and apricot, dried wildflowers, and nutmeg. There's even a bit of cherry pie on the break along with a note of Assam tea. As a cup, this coffee really shines. It's a transparent cup with Jasmine tea, and peach hard candy. This is a juicy coffee and the fruit flavors really come to fore as the cup cools. Light roasts have stone fruits, green grape, Asian pear, and melon. Caramelized sugars are front and center, especially in Full City roasts and beyond, with notes of dark brown sugar and coffee cake crust. There's a malic brightness throughout the roast spectrum that frames the bouquet of fruit and flowers quite nicely. The mouthfeel is viscous and reminded me a bit of apple juice in its texture. Excellent as a single origin (SO) espresso or as a component to your next espresso blend.
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To view reviews for out of stock coffees, visit our Ethiopia Coffee Archives.
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This page is authored by Thompson Owen and Sweet Maria's Coffee, Inc. and is not to be copied or reproduced without permission