Dusangirijambo Coop is perched on Mururi hill in Sogestal Kayanza, northern Burundi. The cooperative came into fruition about 6 years ago, serving farmer members in the Mururi area through buying and processing the local coffee. We came across there coffee 2 years ago, via a cooperative union in the region. The union helps the individual regional coops with everything from building coffee washing stations, providing agronomical support, preparing coffee for export at a central dry milling facility, and eventually linking the finished product to an international market. Dusangirijambo is outfitted with a de-pulping station where they receive daily deliveries from the surrounding small farmers. The coffees are de-pulped, fermented and soaked under water, then laid to dry on raised wire beds that help facilitate airflow and even-drying as a result. The station itself sits at 1650 meters above sea level, and the high part of the hill we drove in on peaked at 1880 meters.
Smells of fruit and bittersweetness are released in the ground coffee, cherry cola and dried strawberry notes accent raw sugar and caramel smells, and a blackberry leaf tea note too. The fruited smells in the dry fragrance take more of a backseat when adding hot water, a mingling of unrefined sugars black teas take over, spice overtones released in the steam, along with an understated dry fig impression. Light roasting yields a cup that's tea-like, like Lipton black tea with sugar, a mix of simple syrup-like sweetness with tannic bittersweetness. As it cools, fruited flavor notes provide nice contrast, dried cherry and black currant to name a couple , and acidity is brisk, also characteristic of black tea. But trust me, we are talking about coffee, and it's the near perfect balance of sweet and bitter flavors -core coffee characteristics - that define this coffee's essence. For me, City+ is a near perfect cup, layered sweetness, subtle baking spice accents, and acidity that leaves a lemon-like impression on your palate. Not overly bright/citric, but more like the understated tartness of a sweet glass of lemonade. At Full City you get a complex and rich dark chocolate/cherry flavor that reminds me of those chocolate covered dried whole cherries, and is particularly prevalent when brewing as espresso.
This coffee comes from Kazoza N'Ikawa, roughly translating to "the future is coffee". The cooperative assists members with marketing their coffees, handling cash flow, agronomical support, general business organization, and record keeping. This association has 57 stations in total operating in the Kayanza district of Rwanda. Hand sorting is intensive, and farm workers start sifting out under and over ripe cherry on delivery. Sorting of the parchment coffee continues at the drying tables, and then the green coffee is sifted through once again after dry-milling. This is the second year purchasing coffee from this group, an impressive return from last year's coffee. They produce both washed and naturally processed coffees, this being a wet-processed lot that we bulked together from several day lot selections cup tested both in Burundi and back at our lab in Oakland. Bourbon is the dominant cultivar in the region (as is the case in most of Burundi), a variety known for syrupy sweetness when grown in high altitudes.
What a lovely smelling coffee, Kazoza N'Ikawa is perfumed in City and City+ roasts, a sugar browning sweetness along with a mix of rosewater and spiced orange accents. The wetted grounds are so caramel-y sweet, like caramel cookies with raisins, and topped with a hint of cinnamon tea. City roasts brew nicely, delicious spice notes up front, along with a compound of raw sugar flavors offering more than enough backing sweetness. A compromise is often made when light roasting, trading out developed sweetness for acidity and complexity. But this isn't the case with Kazoza N'Ikawa, and the cooling cup has a sweetness like sugarcane juice, that along with a dried apple note, resonate into the aftertaste. Acidity really pops at this roast level too, fruited for sure, a tartness that's like a rindy lemon flavor and mouthfeel. Brewing my Full City roast, I was surprised by a dark grape flavor that crops up after the temperature cools down a bit. Heavy dark chocolate roast tones crop up too, and the two pair well together, leaving a lasting impression in the long finish. Kazoza N'Ikawa is so sweet and complex from as light as City and on up to Full City roast levels, and those patient enough to let cool will be duly rewarded.
Murambi is an impressive operation, a privately owned collection site in the Kiganda area near the Mubarazi river. The coffee processed at Murambi are from the surrounding hillside villages ("collines"), which there's talk of separating in the future, but this year was all blended together by day of delivery. Most of the farms are around 2000 meters above sea level and entirely planted in Bourbon. They process coffee in a similar way to Kenya, in that the cherry is removed with disc pulpers, fermented for almost a full day, and then washed/soaks for another day before being laid out to dry on raised beds. Last year the station received a large premium at the year's end for the coffees they exported, and the mill owner invested in 450 goats that were distributed to as many farmers who work with the station. The idea is for the goats to both help with building out an organic farming system, as well as an added source of revenue for the farmers. Also worth a mention that Murambi won the Burundi Cup of Excellence competition in 2012.
Roasting to City+ yields a sweet cup, with subtle spice cookie and dry fruit accents. The dry fragrance and aromatic profile is defined by a saccharine sweet base of turbinado sugar, highlights of honey graham, and loose leaf teas. A floral note is lifted in the wet aroma too, just an accent, but a real highlight to this already intensely sweet smelling cup. When brewed, Murambi is a medium bodied cup, with mouth-cleansing acidity that reminds me of fresh fruit. Our lightest roast showed nice sweetness level with an undertone of raw sugars, and pressed cane juice. Spice and fruit hints bubble up in the cooling cup, black currant, and red apple, accented by five spice powder. Our Full City roast had a not-so-subtle grape note too that played well into an undercurrent of spiced dark chocolate, and ending in a clean, spiced finish. Murambi is really sweet and complex at both roast levels, thought I think I would keep from hitting 2nd snaps in order to keep from obscuring the volatile aromatics with roast tone.
Dalecho Cooperative is near Agaro town, not far from Duromina, and actually very close to the original site for the Duromina coop. The station itself is at 1990 meters above sea level, and the 1000 members live and grow coffee above and below this altitude. We visited in 2016 and saw that the cooperative could use some infrastructural help - cracking fermentation tanks, new cloth for the drying beds, etc - but with a super clean water source, and nice initial samples, we found this coop coffee to be promising. They've been in operation for almost 40 years now, seeing many changes in leadership during this time, and it sounds like there may have been issues with managing finances in the past leading to a lack of reinvestment, and importantly, a lack of a second premium payment to the coffee farmers. Under the new Union things seem to have been streamlined, and 90% of the price paid for the coffee is going directly to the cooperative (the other 10% is split between milling costs and Union fees). The coffee is really versatile, and I had great results as both pour over and espresso. You might notice our defect count is higher than normal, though still far from unacceptable. This is mainly due to a few more underripe beans than what we normally see, which are easiest to pick out as "quaker" beans post roast. Nothing excessive, and honestly won't be an issue in batch brewing, though maybe worth the extra effort to remove for the single cup pour over.
Dalecho is a versatile Ethiopian coffee, able to present subtle top note complexity in lighter roasts, that when taken beyond City+ yields a much more focused cup profile, centered around sweetness, and balanced core coffee flavors. Aromatically speaking, City roasts produce a rich caramelized sugar sweetness that supports a subtle jasmine tea accent. That latter aspect carries over to the cup, and is most noticeable in my roasts on the lighter side of City+. My darkest roast was near Full City (29F post 1st crack), and without the floral note, more closely approximated a somewhat fruited Colombia or Guatemalan coffee. In this way, Dalecho presents a good opportunity for a reasonably priced washed blend option as well as single origin. Light roasts have a subtle lemon grass note that comes up when the coffee cools, and the sweetness shifts toward unrefined, like pressed cane juice. The espresso shot I pulled of my Full City roast was loaded with fine dark chocolate roast tones, and understated plum note in the finish. To me, this is exactly what I look for in single origin espresso, but it's certainly a more than viable blend component that will add dark chocolatey sweetness, as well as fruited hints to your blend.
The Sadi Loya cooperative is located near Agaro town, in the Jimma Zone of Western Ethiopia. It's a relatively smaller coop, and serves the local farm members by acting as a central collection site for their coffees. With the help of the cooperative union that they are part of (Kata Muduga), they are able to offer services to members such as agronomical training and financial loans, as well as afford the farmers a link to the international coffee market. Sadi Loya were one of four coops to receive a $52k grant in USAID money in order to help them build out a more sophisticated wet milling operation. This is the first year we bought coffee from Sadi Loya (and may be the first year their coffee was exported to the US at all), and were pleased by the cup cleanliness, and subtleties found in our lighter roasts. We tested this coffee as dark as Full City (roughly 25 degrees F after the beginning of 1st crack), but found that much of the restrained top notes sensed in our City and City+ roasts were lost to bittersweetness and roast tone.
The dry fragrance has a delicate sweetness to it that lies somewhere between simple syrup and refined honey, clear and succinct. Both fragrance and aromatics have perfumed floral smells too, like lavender and honey suckle, and refined sugar undercurrents. The flavor profile is a bit subdued, and the top notes sensed in the cup take the form of fruit gum, dried green apple, and intimations of lemon-flavored tea. Floral notes hover overhead, and are a bit more like hop-florals when brewed, still showing hints of the more perfumed varieties sensed in fragrance too. The cool cup is sweet, and clean, and tea-like herbals hint in the aftertaste.
Unfortunately, we don't know a whole lot about the specific origin of this Sidama coffee. "Akrabi" are coffee traders in the Ethiopian language of Amharic, which seems appropriate for a coffee that is traded through the Ethiopia Commodities Exchange (ECX). It's one of a few purchases we made through the ECX this year, and because of this, most provenance is stripped before the coffee hits the market. Basically all farmers that are not part of a cooperative submit their coffee to the exchange where it is first graded, and then sold in tiers based off that graded category. One major problem with this is that in an effort to unify a price structure, washing station and even town information is often stripped away. For the buyers, this makes it difficult to uniquely market these coffees, and so we've come up with our own names to denote a specific quality, in this case "Akrabi". It's worth noting that this system of buying through the ECX is dissolved this harvest, and so all of our coffees will be directly purchased from both cooperatives and private mills. We're excited for this change and look forward to knowing the specifics about every Ethiopian coffees we buy, and the price transparency that comes with it.
This dry process Ethiopia is much more muted in terms of fruited flavors than most of our other Ethiopia naturals, Don't get me wrong, it's still a fruit forward cup, and put up against any of our washed offerings will taste like a fruit basket in comparison. But juxtaposed by most of our other Ethiopian DP's, the fruited side of Akrabi seems more integrated into bittering cocoa tones, and molasses like rustic sugar sweetness. Aromatically, Akrabi has a smell of dark cocoa powder and dried strawberry, a slight earthy sweetness peeking through from underneath, as is a faint floral note. This rustic molasses sweetness, along with berry and cocoa flavors, gives Akrabi a Harrar-like coffee quality, the famed Ethiopian origin known for wild and rustic dry processed coffees. City+ and Full City roasts boast inky body, and both roast levels take on flavor aspects of strawberry-chocolate milk. As the cup cools, more fruited accents are revealed, ripe berry and a durian accent, as well as a leathery rustic sweetness that adds a complex layer to bittersweet cacao-like roast tones in the finish. Akrabi shows well on it's own, and we've found that it works really well as an accent coffee for blending, adding body and loads of fruited cocoa flavors at Full City. We've been using it for our dry process component in Espresso Monkey, and our taste buds tell us that a little bit goes a long way!
Limu Kossa farm is both a geographic area of the Oromia district, as well as the name of a privately run farm in the region. It's a sizable estate that is broken into 15 hectare sections with marked varieties of coffee planted within. The farm is run by a gentleman named Gidhey, who's has a long coffee history in this area. His first farm was lost to re-zoning of the area to forest, not a bad thing, but forced Gidhey to continue his farming somewhere here where he is producing several containers worth of both wet and dry processed coffees. They use a mechanical washing machine that is a lot like a demucilager in that it removes the cherry skin and most of the sticky mucilage with very little water. After, they allow the coffee to soak for 16 hours in clean water, so the process is sort of a hybrid between pulp natural and fully washed. The farm sits just above 1900 meters above sea level, and while they are a certified organic farm, we did not bring the coffee in as such and so we can't sell as certified. A bit of a snafu on our part, but we are hoping to offer with the certification this upcoming harvest.
Peach and lime smells are released in the dry fragrance, a dried stone fruit sweetness and with zesty lime peel accents. Gidhey shows layered raw sugar sweetness in the ground coffee and wet aroma, warmed caramel-y smells released in the steam that have elements of caramelizing dark brown sugars, panela, sucanat, and more. City roasts are the most floral, a fresh aroma of gardenia flower coming through in the brewed coffee, along with a clean and sweet impression of simple syrup sweetener. A lemon note lightly graces the cup of light roasts too, providing a solidness in structure to an otherwise rather delicate cup (these light roasts remind me of a delicate Yirga Cheffe). The cooling cup reveals more fruited accents, pomelo tartness, peach tea, along with a sweet flame grape note. The finish is pointed if not short, and muted flavors of vanilla and powdered sugar come through in the finish, and reminds me of biscochitios (often referred to as Mexican wedding cookies). The perfumed qualities of Gidhey show best with light roasting, and I recommend a rather tight roast range of City to City+.
This coffee "Tore" comes from the Kochore area, Tore being the village where this privately owned mill is located. Kochore has produced some of my favorite Yirga Cheffe coffees in the past, with a highly aromatic cup and intense, lively brightness. The station is perched at just about 1800 meters above sea level, and the farmers who sell to Tore have coffee planted in the hillside up to 2100 meters. This is a dry processed lot, one of two we bought from Tore (the other wet processed), meaning the whole coffee cherry is laid to dry on raised drying beds where it takes about a full month to dry down to 11% moisture content. This is when the coffee can be safely removed from the beds, and then transported to dry milling facilities where the outer layers are removed down to the green coffee, which is then bagged for export. This lot was prepared to Grade 1 standards, which means that a great deal of handpicking and mechanical sorting is implemented in order to remove physical defects. Which with naturally processed coffee can be more difficult to recognize on the drying beds since the coffee beans are still enclosed in fruit. Under and overripe coffee is removed from the drying tables, and then after removing the dried outer layers, the beans pass over a well lit table where most other physical defects are removed. The result is an exceptionally clean and articulate cup for dry process.
Fruited smells come on strong straight away when cupping this Kochore coffee, loads of dried and fresh berry smells, and a punch-like tropical scent are piled atop pungent raw sugar sweetness in the dry fragrance. The wetted crust has a caramel-y side to it, smells like cooked raw sugar coming up in the steam, then making a hard shift back to big berry and red fruit smells when pushing my spoon through it. The flavors in a hot cup have a berry appeal, dried blueberry and strawberry notes, and a tart raspberry juice flavor too. A bittersweetness builds as well as you move through the cup, like unsweetened baking cocoa bar, and is offset by layers of rustic, unrefined sugar sweetness. Orange flavors accent the already complex flavor matrix, a floral aroma hanging overhead, and grabby orange zest hints promote an acidic impression. Full City roasts are very bittersweet from start to finish, with plenty of fresh and dried fruited highlights as well. Rustic undertones are subtle, gaining some prominence in the finish, but without taking away from the sweet, fruited appeal.
Baaroo is the local Oromifa name for this cooperative in the far western part of Illubabor. Baaroo were part of an initiative we helped adminster in Ethiopia to work direct at the coop level. The program was implemented via a non-government organization that not only coordinated agronomists and managers for each of the coops they worked with, but also had a business adviser assigned that helped the cooperative manage their debt, re-invest in quality improvements at the mill, and verified distribution of income to all members. Baaroo has since "graduated", and is under full operation and direction of coop members and their self appointed board (Fiseha Dibissa advisor in 3rd photo). Baaroo is quite small and remote compared to the other excellent cooperatives we buy from in Illubabor region. We have been impressed with the cup quality, and how clean and fresh the coffee tastes although it tends to be harvested later than other nearby stations. It is from a lower relative altitude than others (1700m) but perhaps because of the heavily forested environment in this part of Illubabor, the effect slows the maturation of coffee, and increases the density of the bean. It seems to be so, in both flavor profile and roast.
We're really pleased with this year's lot of Baaroo. A balanced coffee, Baaroo's profile has just the right levels of complex sugar browning sweetness and subtle top notes to reflect coffees from the origin. The dry fragrance has a smell of dark toffee, so sweet and candy-like, with an understated peach note of the canned, syrupy sweet variety. Adding hot water sees a boost in stone fruit aromatics, like apricot and brown sugar,, as well as a peak in sugary sweetness, a maple icing scent filling the steam. Baaroo is extremely versatile, and great at both light and dark roast levels. Notes of stone fruit reductions with unrefined sugars prevail across the roast spectrum, and darker roasts develop deep chocolate roast tones. Oddly enough, the floral side is most present in the hot cup, faint jasmine and lemon oil accent a honey-sweet cup. The cooler temperature allows for profile expansion and depth, and the profile is filled out with notes of raw honey, baking spices, slab apricot, and a well-integrated lemony acidity. There is a mingling of rindy citrus and cacao nibs in the finish too that interplay with one another nicely. Body is juicy, even at City roast level, and translates into great mouthfeel as both brewed coffee and espresso. Espresso shots of a Full City roast extract a rich chocolate syrup flavor, along with orange juice and licorice accents, and undeniable citrus brightness but without overpowering the shot.
Yukiro Cooperative was once part of an initiative in Ethiopia focused on working directly at the coop level. Administered by a non-government organization, they helped the cooperative with coordinating agronomists, managers, and with business advisors to 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. The ultimate goal of the program is to get the cooperatives they work with to the point of self sustainability, which Yukiro has now achieved. Because of this work and the resulting transparency of the organization, 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. The farms are in Goma Woreda, with altitudes between 1900 to 2100 meters. Yukiro currently has 520 members (170 female members), and have improved their beds and warehouse capacity in the last year, as well as installed a new Penagos 2500 coffee pulper.
Light roasting is best suited for this year's lot of Yukiro. We tried 3 different roast levels for this review, including a Full City roast, which produced roast tones that all but completely overshadowed the inherent top note complexity found at City and City+ roast levels. The dry fragrance at City has a delicate floral note, with subtle fruited allusions, and a clover honey smell underneath. The brewed coffee really shines at City and City+, where the most clarity in profile flavors and aroma are found. Acidity is on the citric side, a tart lemon mouthfeel props up the delicate top notes found in the cup, as does an underlying raw sugar sweetness. When hot, this underlying sweetness reads like raw cane sugar, simple and refined. As the cup cools, a retronasal aspect perfumes the cup, and more aromatic sugars come to mind: panela, cane juice, and raw honey. Citrus fruit notes come into focus, sweetened limeade, and a lemon grass tea note in flavor and aroma. A faint apricot juice note also comes into play in the warm cup adding a tart, fruited sweetness, that along with a hoppy floral note gives an impression of apricot Hefeweizen beer in the finish. It's important to point out that Yukiro is subtle, restrained, and I found that the flavors mentioned above to be most easily discernible at City roast level and when the cup temperature cools off from brew temp. At 200 F, it's generally hard to taste much beyond sweetness and bittering coffee tones in any coffee. But Yukiro's profile in particular benefits from cooling off 30 degrees or more after brewing, unlocking an inherent delicate complexity.
This is an AA grade coffee from the Ndunduri Factory, a collection site where coffee cherry from the local farmers is purchased and processed for export. The Factories operate to serve the surrounding farmers who are cooperative members by contributing agronomical assistance and other services to the community, and ultimately helping to usher their coffee cash crop to the global market. Ndunduri is part of the Kibungu Farmer's Cooperative Society ("FCS"), which is comprised of five Factories in total in highland areas of the Embu region. Farmers grow a mix of SL cultivars, as well as Ruiru 11. Altitude in the area ranges from 1800 to just about 2000 meters above sea level.
The dry fragrance is marked by honey sweetness and red berry, a sweet orange whiff in my lightest City roast. Darker roasting brings about fruits of a darker hue too, and berry and grape smells really come to fore after adding hot water. The wetted crust shows exceptionally sweet fruit smells, like a berry jam and brown sugar and orange glaze, and my Full City roasts showed a mix of grape and dark roast tone. Ndunduri is an intense brewed cup at a wide range of roasts. My City roast was the brightest with an orange tartness adding a striking vibrance to flavors of lemon meringue, and cranberry-orange juice. The finish is spiced, like clove powder, and with a bit of an unexpected honey dew note in the long finish. Full City roasting definitely brings out a bittersweetness that has an appealing cacao side. But after cooling just a little, dark berry and grape flavors gain prominence to the point of dominating the cup. I'm impressed by the level of sweetness at Full City too, a dense raw sugar flavor acts as a sort of buttress for the rest of the complex cup notes.
Thunguri is a "Factory" located in the Kirinyaga district, just across the border from Nyeri. Factories are basically what we call a wet mill, and is where cooperative farmers bring coffee cherry fruit for processing in Kenya. The coop is part of the Rumukia FCS (farmers cooperative society), a parent society whose other Factories we've bought coffee from and offered multiple times in our 15 year history at Sweet Maria's (Kiawamururu and Tambaya come to mind offhand). AA, AB, PB, all from the same day's harvest, but we're never really sure which will shine brightest, and this AB outturn happened to stand out amongst the rest. An out-turn is the name for the graded, separated lots that come from one raw, unmilled lot of parchment coffee that arrives at the mill. AA and AB refer to screen size - 17 to 19 1/64 in., and 15 to 17 1/64 in. respectively.
The dry fragrance shows a subtle citrus feature alongside a maple sugar sweetness, the sweet smell of candied orange peel wrapped up in unrefined sugar. Aromatically too, I picked up on a smell of citrus with cinnamon and all-spice accents along with layers of sugar browning smells, and breaking through the crust gives off an impression of canned orange juice concentrate. The cup of City roasts most echoes my notes on "smells", and you won't be disappointed if light roasting is your preference. Soft citrus notes are revealed like lemonade and orange notes, and acidity has a slight grabbiness to it, akin to pink grapefruit. Berry notes accent the cup as well, and the underlying sweetness is very much fruited, as well as marked by raw sugars, baking spice accents making their mark in the finish. It's kind of surprising how just a shade darker reveals a whole other coffee. Fruit and sugar tones come off like blueberry pancake syrup, and raspberry compote sandwiched between a thin layer of dark chocolate. The cool cup reveals mixed berry jam flavors, and from as light as City to our darkest Full City roast, a lasting sweetness prevails. Complexity will shine in pour over brewing, and even full submersion brews such as French Press.
Kenya Nyeri Ndiaini AB is from the Ndiaini Factory, "factory" in Kenya being synonymous with what we call a wet mill. The factories are cherry collection and processing sites where the local farmers who are cooperative members are able to sell their harvested coffee as whole cherry, and it is then processed using depulping machinery, fermentation and washing tanks, and then laid out to dry in the expansive array of drying tables adacent to the wet milling area. Ndiaini is one of several factories that are all part of the Rumukia Farmers Co-operative Society (Kiawamururu, Tambaya, and Thunguri are a few others we've bought in the past) who collectively share agronomical and business management resources. This is the AB outturn of a particular process batch from Ndiaini, meaning all the coffee that fall between 15 - 17 1/64ths of an inch screen sizes are separated out and sold under this grading. We liked the fruit-forward nature of the cup, and so settled on this particular outturn. They implement hand picking at the dry mill, which is apparent when looking at the quality of the green coffee, where very few physical inconsistencies can be found.
Ndiaini has really big fruited smells and flavors, especially considering that it's a fully washed coffee. Dark stone fruit and winey berry smells come through in the fragrance of the dry ground coffee, which come off as jam-like when adding hot water - warm fruit reductions, berries and grapes being cooked down with raw sugar. Brewing up City roasts blueberry flavor, a tart beet juice note, and berry skins that have a mouth tightening effect. As the cup continues to cool in temperature a grabby citrus flavor develops, which defines acidity too, like the tang of the inside of an orange peel. A green herbal note makes an appearance in the finish too, and with typical bittering undertones, has a similarity to tarragon leaf. Full City roasting builds a chocolatey/berry mix, and pulling an espresso with a couple days rest yielded an intensely bittersweet espresso shot, with a tart grape flavor shadowing closely, and faint licorice aromatic accent on the exhale.
It's that time of year again, when new crop African coffees have us bursting at the seams. Being that African coffees are the highest scoring coffees on our list, having too many is a bit of a luxury problem, as well as an opportunity for us to share them with you in this East African 4-pack. A sampling of East African coffees that deserve a special level of focus, and this sample set highlights the fantastic range of flavor and complexity.
Ethiopia and Kenya receive so much attention in the coffee world, and they are deservedly rewarded with some of our highest scores in the course of the year (as the two in this sample set can attribute to). Yet the quality coming out of nearby Burundi and Rwanda should receive full representation as well. We're investing more and more in these two growing regions as they continually improve, producing wet-processed coffees that are delicious and versatile at a wide range of roasts. These coffees can be syrupy sweet, complex, clean, and even floral.
These are all high caliber coffees in their own right, but the set emphasizes flavor diversity. And it's also worth mentioning that most of these African coffee of score above 88 points.
*Please note that we can't make substitutions or take special requests for our samplers. Thank you!
"Ibisi" is the name of the mountain where this high elevation washing station is located. They act as a catchment for the small-scale farmers in the highland community where they can deliver and sell their coffee cherry during the harvest. Ibisi Station is connected with the global market through a Rwandan exporter, which is how we came upon the original set of offer samples. We made a visit to the station last June, and met with Bernard, the owner. He comes from a family of coffee collectors who produced mainly semi-washed coffees for export. Bernard set up his first fully washed mill named "Gitega Hills" a couple of years ago in Nyamegabe not too far from Ibisi. His Ibisi station is outfitted with a Penagos 2500 pulper, which has a pretty complex system of grading the cherry. Bourbon is still what farmers grow in this area, which no doubt plays a role in this coffee's supremely sweet cup profile. Altitude at the station is right around 2000 meters above sea level, and the farms are on the +/- side of this number, but not by much. Lot #667 is our second lot from this washing station, the first Lot #617 selling out quickly.
This second lot of Rwanda Ibisi Bya Huye is right in line the the first. The dry fragrance is uniquely spiced in the way that only Rwandan coffees offer, cinnamon and all spice note accent sweet smells of raw sugar cane and panela come, foreshadowing the sweet cup to come. Pouring hot water raises the bar on sweetness, the steaming coffee crust verging on floral. Raw sugar and clove spice are raised in the steam, the sweetness heavily hinting at raw honey, and a raisin-like dried fruit note come up off the break. A cooling cup at City has refreshing brightness like watered down lemon juice, vibrant without a tart edge, giving structure to a raw sugar sweetness that's a big part of this coffee's core. Flavors of black tea, dried currant, orange hard candy, and candied citrus peel offer counter points to the layers of raw sugar. Ibisi is supremely sweet at the light end of the roast spectrum, as well as on up to Full City where a chocolate taffy flavor comes into play, as well as a dark, spiced fruit note. The finish is succinct, and clean too, herbal and black tea notes, and a clove-spiced aroma accent the long aftertaste. This is Rwandan coffee at it's finest, and marks yet another fresh container of during what is one of our favorite times of the year for new arrivals.
The washing station Kageyo lies in the highlands surrounding the southeastern shores of Lake Kivu. It's not too far from another washing we purchase coffee from, Gitesi, and is a coffee that hits a similar quality target. In fact, Kageyo was the 1st place winner of Rwanda's Cup of Excellence coffee competition in 2011. But other than winning this competition, the cooperative struggled during this time, taking out a bank loan to build a new wet mill that low harvests made it difficult to repay. A private exporter stepped in to help out, purchasing the wet mill, but leaving the farmer cooperative structure intact. This has benefited the coop in that they are absolved of their loan debt, have a direct connection with the specialty market through a well-established export partner, and retain a supply chain that is completely transparent. This is the first year we've bought this coffee, and let's just say we're happy we picked up more than one lot. The coop is made up of small farmers situated around the wet mill between 1800 - 2000 meters above sea level. Like much of Rwanda, the coffee planted in the region is Bourbon variety. We "built" this lot by looking at all their day lot batches and combining the best ones. It's worth mentioning that this should not be confused with "Kigeyo", a name that you may recognize from other cafe menus. Currently the output of Kageyo is about 200 bags, all of which is split between us and one other buyer.
This lot from Kageyo shines in both light and dark roast applications, the cup boasting equal parts raw sugar sweetness and complex baking spice notes. At City, the dry fragrance has a strong smell of cinnamon sauce, with dark, caramelized sugar scent that hints at sticky buns. Closer to Full City sees a shift toward darker cocoa roast tones, with a subtle raisin accent . The wet aroma has a wonderful honey base note, with smells of spiced tea released in the steam when breaking through the crust. The cup has layers of spice notes - clove, cinnamon, star anise - along with dense cane juice sweetness. Together, light roasts have a flavor of clove soda, with glimpses of candied lemon peel as the coffee cools, as well as English Breakfast tea. There's a fruited brightness, especially at City and City+ roast levels, and structures the cup profile nicely. Middle roasts construct a chocolate undertone, that becomes more apparent in a cooled cup, with a finishing flavor of chocolate raisin and snickerdoodle cookies. Kageyo shows well at a wide roast range, and City+ roasts are delicious as a pour over brew. Espresso shots at Full City gush syrupy chocolate notes, and with a lovely dark grape accent, make for a remarkable single origin espresso.
Kanzu is coffee processing station located in the highlands of the Nyamasheke district in Rwanda. This is one example where the beauty of the area seems to correlate to the beauty of the coffee itself. Kanzu is tucked away in a valley near the Nyungwe Forest Preserve. The coffee comes from small-holder farms at altitudes of 1900-2100 meters, which works well for the Bourbon variety coffee they harvest here. Coffee cherry is brought down to this station from hundreds of small farmers situated above the valley floor, or they bring the fruit to collection points Kanzu has set up in a nearby radius. Depulping of the coffee cherry is achieved using a 3-disc Kenya type machine. The coffee is then fermented for 24-48 hours depending on weather (cold snaps slow down the fermentation process). Kanzu has long channels to remove the mucilage from the coffee and grade density, but they also break up the fruit layer by dancing around in the concrete tanks before washing the coffee: It's a great sight, akin to the mythic stomping of the grapes. After soaking for 12 hours, the coffee is laid out to dry on raised beds for air- and sun-drying.
This is our second and final Kanzu arrival of the harvest season. It was the 9th process batch from the mill, and now well rested, offers a complex array of fruit and tea notes in the cup. The dry fragrance of City roasts has the sweetness of minimally-processed sugars, and accents of clove spice and golden raisin. Pouring hot water brings up an attractive mix of caramel malt, black currant herbal tea, and an array of baking spices. Brewing up a batch, I taste muscovado sugars in my City - City+ roast when the cup is hot, along with tea notes and a sort of nondescript berry fruit flavor. Once the coffee cools a bit an orange-like acidity is apparent, and fruited accents come off like Bartlett pear, dried peach, and a spiced orange marmalade note, along with a perfumed note of clove syrup. At darker FC levels, there is more bittersweet tang to the cup, with flavor hints of dark stone fruit, and a tannic black tea aspect in the finish. Kanzu is a complex coffee with loads to offer folks looking for light and bright, to the flavorful mix of dark fruit and cocoa that comes with more robust roast development.
Tumba has been a coffee on my radar for years. When I first tasted it, the sweetness and bright acidic snap in the cup made a great impression. But at the time I noticed varied quality from one cup to the next, and a lack of consistency can mean problems in the processing. For a coffee buyer, it signifies that what you taste now might not be what you get upon importation. The backstory at the time was Tumba Station was a private processing wet mill that had 2 owners with very different ideas of quality and how to run a mill. Fast forward 5 years, and we found ourselves purchasing Tumba for the first time under a different light. A local teacher in the Tumba area for which the mill is named, had taken over all aspects, and the coffee was consistent in every cup...and amazingly good! Venustre Mugraneza, the teacher, is esteemed in the local community and has been systematically improving the mill. The best coffee cherries (those that make up this lot) are dried in a special area of raised beds and receive focused handpicking by the farmers. Tumba is situated at 1825 meters in the Rulindo district, where we also source our excellent Cocatu Cooperative lots.
This lot from Tumba shows candied sweetness in the cup, a beautiful profile of fruit and tea flavors, and brilliant acidity that offers amazing structure to the complex cup character. The dry fragrance is laced with sweet berry smells, spiced accents of clove and cardamom, and layered raw sugar sweetness. The wet grounds smell so sweet, like lighter caramel that is near floral, butterscotch also comes to mind, and while fruited accents are still present, they aren't the focal point at this stage. The brewed coffee is incredibly clean and clear, profile flavors are crisp and succinct. Berry notes come into view as you move through the cup, raspberry iced tea, and sweetened dried cranberries. A subtle tangerine note comes through in City roasts, and at City+ there's a mingling of fresh and dried fruit flavors that accent the cup, like juicing oranges and black currant. Tumba has a sweet finish, with a mix of chocolate and citrus sensed in the long aftertaste, along with a tannic black tea flavor. Tumba's sweetness holds up to darker roast levels too, producing delicious dark chocolate roast tones, with cinnamon and chicory spice notes in the long finish. A remarkable Rwanda cup at a wide range of roasts, and we found City and City+ roasts brewed as pour-over made for a complete cup in terms of sweetness, complexity, and acidity.
Tarime is the capital town of a unique coffee growing area in Tanzania's North Mara district. What makes it unique is the distance of Mara from the other well-known coffee areas around Mount Kilimanjaro and Arusha, as well as the Southern areas of Mbinga and Mbeya. Tarime is between the Maasai Mara National Reserve and Lake Victoria. I knew that the area of Lake Victoria had coffee, but of the robusta species, and from the other side of Victoria near Bukoba. Tarime has a handicap because it is over 1200 km by road to the port at Dar Es Salaam, making for high transport costs over hot, dusty roads. But more remarkable than location is how clean and fresh this coffee tastes: With all the logistics challenges to ship coffee from Dar in general, and Tarime in particular, this is a brilliant arrival. It's a peaberry outturn, the small, round coffee bean that is separated from normal flat beans in dry milling the coffee before export. I'll add that when I roasted this coffee, I noticed that the sound of 1st crack is on the subtle side. In fact, if I didn't have a bean probe on my roaster I would've missed 1st crack altogether, but happened to notice that I was a few degrees beyond my normal "1st crack" temperature and hadn't heard anything. Looking at the beans themselves, I did see that fracturing had occurred and was able to hear some popping at very low volume. I paid closer attention on my second pass, and hear a couple snaps when I would expect them, but then not a lot else as the roast continued to progress. Long story short, watch this one when roasting to make sure the roast doesn't get away from you!
The peaberry outturn from Tarime is a real powerhouse, dry fruit and loose leaf dry tea notes accent a clean, syrupy sweetness as the dry fragrance suggests. City/City+ roasts hint at fruit teas in the ground coffee, elderberry comes to mind, even a citrusy waft in our lightest roast, and with a caramel-like sweetness. Adding hot water brings up more of a cooked fruit smell with caramelizing sugar sweetness, like berry compote, and plum jam. The cup is brisk at City to City+ roast levels, showing clean, black tea-like acidity. As the cup temperature cools more tea notes unfold, along with a cardamom spice note that shows surprising prominence. Citrus accent notes flourish - blood orange, pink grapefruit, and more - along with a tart green grape flavor, that fade to bittersweet coffee core. The weight of this peaberry coffee is impressive and like fruit juice on the palette, lending to a long lasting aftertaste. Versatile in the roaster, I prefer the middle roast levels where fruit flavors and body are both juicy, and mouth cleansing acidity ties together the fruited cup complexity. This is the perfect "dessert" type coffee, a complexity and sweetness that are easy to identify in light to middle roasts, and sure to turn the heads of even those who think all coffee tastes the same!
Zambia is not a coffee growing country we see many samples from. There is plenty of coffee being exported from the region, but their coffee-growing history is much younger than those that surround them. The first coffee was planted in Zambia in the 1950s, however, it wasn't until the last few decades that it became a major contributor to Zambia's agri-business sector. "Kasama Estates" is actually a blend of the coffees from two different estates in Kasama town, Northern Province. Estates and "plantations" make up the bulk of coffees that are exported from Zambia, and there are about 2500 hectares of land between these two, with nearly 800 planted in coffee. Altitude ranges from 1300 to 1500 meters above sea level. This lot is a AAA, which refers to the largest screen size, 16+ microns in this case. Screen size does not necessarily differentiate quality (as we see with AA, and AB lots in Kenya), but the bean size is quite uniform, and so even roasting tends to be more easily achieved.
The dry fragrance has green herbal hints, and hazelnut-like nutty sweetness. A unique set of scents, and with sweetness that builds after adding hot water. Pumpkin pie filling (brown sugar and cooked pumpkin to put a fine point on it), burned caramel, and a note of fresh cedar, this is not a 'conventional' smelling coffee to say the least. The cup follows suit, with an array of fresh herbal tones dotting a thick base sweetness of molasses and brown sugars. I find the green herbal aspect appealing in this context, adding contrast to this coffee's core bittersweetness. It's a big bodied coffee, and at City+ roast level (which is a great starting point roast-wise) you're hit with bittersweet cocoa and herbal accent notes, flavors that are are carried long into the finish. While I prefer City+/FC level, this coffee can definitely handle roast as well, and is a good option for those who enjoy taking their roasts into 2nd cracks/Full City+ territory.