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. New crop coffees are about to land and will be added to the site in the coming weeks.
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.
This year's lot of Camp is a marked improvement over last - and that's saying a lot as last year's was amazing! The dry grounds are "bigger", with an up front floral quality of orange blossom, and with fruits like flame grape, red berries, peach, pineapple and papaya. Adding hot water really breathes life into this already lively aromatic profile. There is a strong sweetness of caramelized sugars and coconut syrup, and notes of baked apple and berries in cream. A smell of dried wildflowers is also released when breaking the wet grounds. The cup is really quite beautiful. Light roasts have a sort of fruit punch flavor, with raspberry, red currant, strawberry and Fuji apple. Deeper roasts accentuate aspects of sugar browning, and notes of creamed honey and brown sugar come to dominate the profile. The floral notes are articulate, and remain static across the roast spectrum. Camp has a rather dense body, which, coupled with the fruited notes, give it a nectar-like mouthfeel. This is one of those coffees where the adjectives continue to multiply as the cup cools in temperature. The acidity is brilliant and the finish comes off similar to black tea. This coffee can definitely be enjoyed as espresso too, but should be taken to Full City or beyond to tone down acidity and enhance body.
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This coffee comes to us from part of the Guji Zone where several other really nice Ethiopia coffees from this year originate. While it is called a Sidama coffee, it is technically part of the very large Oromia kilil (ethnic region) of Ethiopia. Layo Teraga is a washing station, and currently has about 400 members, and was organized in 1997 under the banner of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union. We haven't been to this washing station, but hope to during harvest this year. The average altitude of the producer farms is listed at a whopping 2100 meter. Added to this staggering altitude, is 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. Because of this, Layo Teraga coffee is truly unique, but also with much of the prized florals and fruit you might expect from a Sidama coffee.
The dry fragrance has citrus like sweetness, like what you get from fresh baked lemon squares. It's floral, like star jasmine, and with a clarity to the sugary smell of raw honey. Darker roasts have a tropical edge to them, like fruit punch. This coffee smells so nice coming out of the grinder and even better with some hot water. The crust is very floral - jasmine, coffee flower, kaffir - and with more of that confectionery smell of brown sugar and butter. There's lots of fresh fruit like mango and pineapple, as well as a candied butterscotch note. The cup is juicy and with notes of apricot and floral peach, and lots of sweet, ripe citrus. Orange, pomello, pineapple, mango, lychee, etc...it's all here! The acidity is integrated and refreshing. It's apparent without being over the top, and reminds me of stone fruit juice. Our Full City roast had much more wild tropical flavors, but with a very perceptible passion fruit note that sat far above flavors of roast. Layo Teraga is an undeniably sweet coffee, and with a mouthfeel that is silky and with weight. The finish is honeyed and has a pleasing bitter aspect that is like a citrus-peel spritz. Overall, this lot from Layo Teraga is on par with our other top shelf Sidama coffees and with a sweetness that is seriously like candy.
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Michiti is a cooperative in the far Western are of Ethiopia called Kaffa, where coffee is said to originate as a understory plant in the dense forests. Michiti has been our favorite coffee from this area, and has 260 coop members growing coffee on small farms at a range of 1700 to 1900 meters. In this area, the idea of a coffee farm might need to be defined more specifically; much coffee is simply planted in the forests, untended, then harvested when ripe. Other coffee is simply found growing wild and harvested. A few farms are more intentionally planted, pruned, and improved over time. The cooperative has received assistance in their business organization and accounting, agronomy and processing, as well as in marketing the coffee. They also paid a record dividend to farmers this year after the harvest, based on the premium price we paid for their coffee. And it deserves it!
The dry fragrance has a unique scent, with rich sweetness, honey and marzipan, along with a restrained dried peach hint. With a little more roast, there is a chocolate brownie note, rounded out with baking spices. Adding the hot water, the aromatics change to jasmine pearl tea, raw sugar, butter, vanilla, and a bit of ginger on break. This interesting blend of sweetness and spice with such a clean and clear distinction is something unexpected in Kaffa coffee; which are historically dry-processed, leaving these notes buried behind processing flavors. The cup has the same character, with dried peach and Earl Grey tea. It's a very balanced cup in this respect, with brightness and substantial, creamy body. Notes of rose hips and hibiscus lend a complexity to the cup profile. Dark notes are especially fruited with flavors of pineapple and citrus. The finish reveals a spice mix of fresh ginger, cinnamon stick, a hint of allspice. The roast notes, especially in the City+ to Full City range, have a compelling "sugar-browning" note, with the interacting flavors of caramel, butter and vanilla. The Full City roast makes for a great SO espresso too.
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We have looked at a lot of wet-process coffees from the Southern zones of Sidama and Yirga Cheffe areas this year, more than previous because the crop was so small in the West this harvest. There were so many nice coffees that we could be quite selective, and we passed up on some lots that likely, in other years, we would have jumped at. There were some very nice washed coffees from stations like Aricha and Wote Konga (private stations) as well as cooperatives like Beloya and Hama. But this coffee here was a jewel that shone a bit brighter than all. This lot is from a particular region within the Kochere kebele, a part of the Yirga Cheffe region. It comes from the Alemu washing station. We were simply amazed by the clarity of flavors, brightness, and refined finish. It's a competition class coffee. Seriously.
The aromatics of this Yirga Cheffe have a potency to them, with sweet notes of honey and unrefined sugars out front. Strong florals of chamomile and jasmine interplay nicely with notes of dried apricot and peach. Aspects of sugar browning are expounded on when adding hot water and the crust has a strong smell of toffee, caramel, lychee fruit and rose water. This coffee has a delicate cup profile that shines on the lighter end of the roast spectrum. At City+, the sweetness reminds me of black tea lightly sweetened with honey. The acidity is lively and well defined, like essence of lemon. Citrus pervades the cup profile but without any of the harsh or tart aspects that can come along with it. It's hard to place exactly, like a pomelo citrus quality, but also very much like a juice called "calamansi" made from fruit of the same name (it's like lime without the harsh acidic snap. It's from the Philippines, and available in the USA too but hard to find). The finish has a floral element that is like those Japanese "Botan" rice candies.
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This lot comes to us from the Chelelektu washing station, and is made up of several small lots in and around the town of Ch'elelek'tu. This lot made a big impression on us when we initially cupped it and really tasted extremely close to several washed samples we received this year. It's a natural, for sure, but with a uniquely clean profile of florals and fruit that can more be attributed to varietal than to processing. The sort is one of the most impeccable we've seen, and we've been told that it's been subjected to a 3-step sorting process. After being sundried on raised beds, the dried coffee cherry is sorted twice for defects before being graded, hulled, and then hand sorted once more. It's an arduous procedure but one that seems to have made a lasting impression on cup quality. This is Grade 1 standards all the way.
This natural-processed Yirga Cheffe is so clean in comparison to many other dry-processed Ethiopians we tasted this season. It's a fruity coffee, but expressed more like that of a washed Yirg without any of the over ripe flavors you might expect. Don't get me wrong, you can still taste that it is a natural, however, this is the type of coffee that folks who "only" like washed coffees will appreciate too. The dry fragrance has strong florals that you'd expect from a Yirga Cheffe. It's candy sweet with lots of sweet fruit notes - red berries, dried mango, passion fruit, and pineapple. Dark roasts have a bit of hazelnut and a layer of baker's chocolate underneath it all that does not take away from the aforementioned set of smells. Adding hot water boosts the sweetness in the aromatics off the chart. There's an amazing butterscotch smell that shifts toward maple in darker roasts. This is a supremely sweet smelling coffee and with an over the top jasmine scent. Tropical fruits emanate from the crust and the break releases characteristics of orange and caramel. It's a truly unique and clean aromatic profile for a dry-processed coffee and a fairly accurate lead-in to the resulting cup flavors. It goes without saying that this coffee is sweet, but the sweetness runs through from the 'sip' to the long aftertaste. Fruits like strawberry, raisin, cherry juice, lychee, papaya, and mango fade in and out in the cooling cup, but never quite dissipate. Floral flavors of jasmine and honey suckle also carry through in both light and dark roasts. There is a black tea note as well that tends to be accentuated in the lighter end of the roast spectrum. This coffee finishes surprisingly clean with a mixture of dried fruits and cocoa powder in the long finish. This makes for a stunning cup of coffee and dark roasts will work as a vibrant SO espresso.
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This was a very high-scoring dry-processed coffee we selected from many samples. 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 1900-2100 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 1 specifications, and while we still have occasional quaker beans in the roast (from under-ripe cherries), these are minimal compared to other super-grade dry-processed coffees.
We had a dry process lot from Konga last year as well, and as a Grade 3 prep, it was definitely more on the rustic side. Not the case with this year's Grad 1 lot, with fruits that are much more clear on the pallet and a fairly bright citric aspect that makes for a more "complete" cup of coffee. The dry fragrance is so sweet, with raw red honey and intense stone fruits. There's a mix of dried strawberries and chocolate too, along with a whiff of macadamia nut. A butterscotch note comes on strong off the steaming hot grounds, with a smell of tropical fruit punch, pie filling, and strawberry jam. A floral note sort of hangs in the air and reminds me this comes from Yirga Cheffe - tantalizing! There's a smattering of fruit flavors that emerge from the cup - grape candy, pomello, grapefruit, pear juice, strawberry, blueberry - on and on. It verges on overwhelming, but in the best of ways. Unlike many naturals we tasted this year, the fruits in Konga aren't over ripe/winey, or "dusty" in flavor. They're sweet, and much more discernible. There's also a nice floral jasmine flavor that really ties the whole profile together. The body is big and juicy, and conveys fruit flavors nicely. We cupped this coffee at City+ and Full City, and lighter roasts have a bit of roasted almond in the finish. Not a bad thing at all, but different from the cacao-centric finish tasted in darker roasts. This really is a beautiful coffee, and one that is perfect to spring on those friends or relatives who tell you all coffees taste the same. Uh, no they do not.
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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