Gahahe Station is a coffee cherry collection site located in Kayanza, Burundi's northern province that borders neighboring Rwanda. Farmers grow mostly older bourbon types, the original coffee cultivar introduced to the area in the 1930s by Catholic monks traveling from the island of Reunion. Gahehe sits at just over 1800 meters above sea level, and is a collection site for roughly 600 local farmers who are also station members. As members, they are organized into small groups who receive training in best agricultural practices, seedlings to continue to help increase coffee production, and benefit from access to the global specialty coffee market. Gahahe was built in the mid 1980s, a time when the World Bank was investing heavily in Burundi's coffee sector, building out washing stations like this one to serve the surrounding coffee communities, outfitted with a eco-pulping Penagos for processing coffee cherry. More recently they've come under the direction of a Burundi coffee investment group who are able to offer this coffee, as well as a few others we've purchased (Yandaro, and Kibingo to name a couple), agronomical assistance to station members, regular maintenance of washing station equipment and drying beds, and management teams who follow the coffee deliveries from cherry selection, to keeping lots separated by quality tiers. Since partnering with this group, several of the stations have seen top placement in Burundi coffee competitions, including Gahahe placing 4th in the 2015 Burundi CoE, and 7th the year prior.
A sweet honey smell exudes from the ground coffee, and dark spice accents that I think are unique to Burundi and Rwandan coffees. City roasts smell like dark honey, with cinnamon powder and all spice notes, and wafts of loose leaf tea. Closer to Full City and you're met with vanilla caramel and roasted nibs. The wet aromatics have a smell of warmed sweetened condensed milk, a saturated sweetness that gives way to creamy honey, and spiced tea smells when breaking through the crust. The cup is fantastic when roasted light and dark, but I think my favorite brews were at the City end of the roast spectrum. When roasted light, citrus flavors and acidic impressions ring out in the cup, notes of mandarin, and orange marmalade, and both flavor and brightness like orange herbal tea. Gahahe has such a clean finish, honey and fruited sweetness are both persistent in the aftertaste, as is a spiced accent that reminds me of Darjeeling tea. I was surprised at the level of chocolate in Full City roasts, that along with a dark berry flavor, come together like dark chocolate-covered blueberries. Citrus remains central to the cup character at this roast level too, coming off like pulpy orange juice in the finish. What a fantastic cup this coffee from Gahahe Station makes, and doubles as chocolate-centered espresso too, with a lovely floral blueberry aromatic note as well.
Kibingo Station is a coffee cherry collection site located in Kayanza, Burundi's northern province that borders neighboring Rwanda. The washing station acts as a central delivery site for a few thousand small holder famers who occupy the 18 hills that surround Kibingo. Farmers grow mostly older bourbon types, the original coffee cultivar introduced to the area in the 1930s by Catholic monks traveling from the island of Reunion. Kibingo sits at just under 1900 meters above sea level, and many of the farmers have coffee planted much higher than this. Kibingo is named after reeds that are growing in the river running alongside the station site, planted in order to help keep the soil at the banks from eroding. They've been around since the mid 1980s, and this year Kibingo took 1st place at the Burundi Cup of Excellence competition, no small task. Kibingo roasts easily, very little roast color variance as you move from yellowing, to browning, and onto first crack. It helps that the sort is so good, with little to no trace of underripe coffee in the few hundred grams of coffee that we roasted.
Glimpses of floral tea notes and sweet baking spices are sensed when grinding up light roasts of Kibingo, a cup complexity alluded to early on. Fruited accents come through with a shade more roast development, my City+ roast concocting allusions to elderberry tea and orange essence, with clean, raw sugar sweetness. The wet aromatics smell delicious at both City and City+ roast levels, the sweetness spanning a range from raw honey to raw natural sugars like sucanat, and breaking through the crust you're hit with a heady sweetness of maple icing and brown sugar candies. Kibingo brews up fantastic, pour overs of our lightest roast showing aromatic tea notes like chamomile and blackberry leaf, giving way to deep raw sugar flavors, like turbinado, and panela. An orange aspect rings through too in terms of both flavor and acidity, mandarin orange and honey tangerine notes, along with a lemon-like brilliance that livens up the cup. Flavors in the finish include tart berry, caramelizing sugars, whole all spice, and tannic black tea. City+ roasts also proffer bright citrus and layered sweetness, as well as red fruit accents like cherry juice, and cascara tea. I recommend staying in the City to City+ roast range, not taking roast development too far beyond the end of first snaps. These roasts will make the most complex cups, offering the most "showy", competition-level brew.
Yandaro Station is a coffee cherry collection site located in Kayanza, Burundi's northern province that borders neighboring Rwanda. The station itself is in the Kabarore Commune, which it serves, but also is a central coffee cherry delivery site for 22 of the surrounding villages. Farmers grow mostly older bourbon types, the original coffee cultivar introduced to the area in the 1930s by Catholic monks traveling from the island of Reunion. Yandaro sits at just under 1800 meters above sea level, and many of the farmers have coffee planted much higher than this. Yandaro was built in the mid 1980s, a time when the World Bank was investing heavily in Burundi's coffee sector, building out washing stations like Yandaro to serve the surrounding coffee communities. More recently they've come under the direction of a Burundi coffee investment group who are able to offer Yandaro, and several other Kayanza stations (Kibingo is another), agronomical assistance to station members, regular maintenance of washing station equipment and drying beds, and management teams who follow the coffee deliveries from cherry selection, to keeping lots separated by quality tiers. Since partnering with this group, several of the stations have seen top placement in Burundi coffee competitions, including Yandaro placing 7th and 19th in the last two Burundi Cup of Excellence competitions.
The dry fragrance of Yandaro at City roast level shows unrefined sugar sweetness of demurara and palm sugar, with dark vanilla bean and subtle tea-like accents. I roasted this coffee to three different roast levels, and with a shade more development a sweet dried cherry note is noticeable. Pouring hot water brings out more of the sucanat/turbinado raw sugar smells, and with a candy ginger accent, presents a ginger snap cookie aroma. The cup of City and City+ roasts are lightly fruited, cherry flesh and the fruit skin, an orange pulp note, and add a nice contrast to the dominant, underlying sugar browning sweetness. Caramel sweetness flourishes at a wide roast spectrum, and brewing a City+ roast through a filter cone, you're presented with a wide range of molasses sugar flavor notes as the cup cools in temperature. Fruited accents are understated but leave a lasting impression as you move through the cup, yellow cherry, satsuma orange, and a floral Meyer lemon note. Acidity is best at City and City+ roasts, a citric vibrance bringing structure to the cup, as well as having a mouth cleansing effect in the finish. At Full City sweetness has is more molasses-toned, with bittersweet dark chocolate flavor providing a nice counter balance, and a dried blueberry note accenting the finish. Full City roasts will work great for espresso too, a distilled citric snap up front that gives way to syrupy chocolate flavors that fill out the middle and finish.
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.
Sota Coop sits just a few kilometers outside of Bedele town in Ethiopia's Western-most province of Illubabor. They formed the cooperative in 2000, but in 2010 however, they became part of an initiative we helped to set up in Ethiopia that assisted at the cooperative level. The program was administered by a non-governmental organization and helped to coordinate agronomists, finance processing equipment, train leadership, and facilitate more efficient business practices including profit re-investment and fair distribution to farm workers. They've since "graduated" from the program, and are now operating under their own leadership and member-elected board. Processing is done mechanically to remove the fruit from the beans. The beans are then soaked in fiberglass bins overnight to clean any remaining solids before dried on raised beds. Having only produced naturals prior to receiving the processing equipment, producers now are able to sell their clean parchment at levels 3 and 4 times what they sold at in the past.
Sota is not your standard Ethiopian coffee. It's a cup profile personified by its dark sweetness. The fragrance of the dry grounds is very sweet like red honey with background notes of dried tamarind, and apple dusted with cinnamon and ginger powders. Brown sugar and cream soda smells effervesced from the crust of the coffee at City roast, and spice and fruit smells accented the steam on the break, as well as a brief spot of fresh floral. At a City roast level the floral aspects remain more of a backdrop, but are perhaps the most present at this light level, reaching their apex with hop-like presence when the cup cools in temperature. City and City+ roasts are more driven by dark fruited sweetness, like what you find in date and raisin, along with flavors of sugar cane soda, and raw honey with beeswax. The acidity has a sparkling beauty too, like fizzy orange soda. Dark, sticky fruit flavors are prominent in Full City roasts, body dense, and bittering cocoa tones are ushered in toward the tail of the finish. A supremely sweet cup in all three of our roasts - City, City+, and Full City - and considering the balance between sweetness, mouthfeel, and acidity, Sota will make for an outstanding espresso.
The Nano Challa Cooperative is part of an initiative we have in Ethiopia to work direct at the coop level. The name Nano Challa refers to a local mythic tale about a challenge to become King of Jimma, and the coop adopted it to signify their desire to be a strong cooperative. Indeed, many coops in the West of Ethiopia have struggled to find good buyers who will pay enough for the coffee, to manage their own debts, and from internal struggles and graft. Nano Challa was formed as part of an initiative to aid farmers in a more comprehensive way. The program was 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.They've since "graduated" from this program, and are now part of an independent, local Union who assist the cooperatives with functions like marketing, exporting, and general representation on an international scale. Nano Challa is a smaller cooperative coffee mill near Gera town in the Agaro area, Western Ethiopia. (The area also has some of the finest honey available in Ethiopia). The farms are at altitudes between 1900 to 2100 meters, planted in old regional varieties of coffee.
Nano Challa has a honey sweet smell in lightest roasts (City), stone fruit and tea suggestions, and sugary sweetness that finds it's apex when adding hot water. Brown sugar and toffee smells are focused in the wet aroma, a candy sweetness that reminds me of torrone (minus the nuts), and the break releases a light accent of pearl jasmine tea, giving way to more weighty fruited smells that have elements of fruit cobbler. Brewed, Nano Challa produces a lightly fruited cup at City and City+ roast levels, with refined sweetness, and pristine finish. The underlying flavor is reminiscent of white honey, which is mildly fruited in flavor, and an aromatic note of ginger chew candies. Lighter roasts have a mild citrus note like orange juice, pulp and all, along with subtle Earl Grey and Jasmine accents. Darker fruit tones are built up at deeper roast levels, along with a Ricola-like dark herbal aspect, and the finish is marked by pleasant bittering qualities of cacao and dried orange peel. A mild citrus-like acdity serves as a focal point too, especially in the lighter roasts, adding a mouthcleansing affect to the finish. This years' Nano Challa has a dense mouthfeel, especially in middle to dark roasting, making for a nice choice for espresso blend accent coffee.
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.
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.
The Ngandu wet mill was erected in the early 1950s in the Mathira Division of Nyeri County. Settled on the slopes of Mount Kenya, farmers in this area benefit from the nutrient rich volcanic soil, as well as high altitude. Most farmers are above 1700 meters, and the station itself is located just below at 1650 meters above sea level. Ngandu once belonged to the Mathira Farmers Cooperative Society, which served the wet mills in the area at that time. They've since broken off, along with six other wet mills, to form the Rutuma Farmers Cooperative Society ("FCS"). The FCS currently serves about 1700 small farmers between all of it's processing facilities (the "Factories" as they're called in Kenya), small producers who generally manage much less than a hectare of coffee. The dominant cultivars are SL-28 and SL-34, as well as some Ruiru-11. This is the AB outturn, a grade classification that specifies the physical size - in this case 15 to 17 1/64ths of an inch - and low defect count.
Toffee sweet smells are released after grinding City roasts of Ngandu, as well as a sweet cherry smell thats more like a cherry flavored drink than the fruit itself. Fruit jam suggestions come through with a little more development, Full City roasts marked by a smell of blackberry preserves. Sweet smells are spread thick in Ngandu's aroma, spanning a range of raw to caramelizing sugars, dried fruit, and deep cocoa roast tones in our Full City roast. Red fruit notes are prevalent in the brewed coffee, our City roast offering more of the cherry alluded to in fragrance, along with raspberry juice, and dried mango. Ngandu has softer acidity than most of our Kenyas, even at City roast level, but the flavors are clean and articulate, and the subtle lemon water mouthfeel adds a soft vibrance to the cup. I get a floral, retronasal response too in these light roasts, like an understated lilac aroma. Full City roasts are a bold brew, bittering cocoa flavors are tempered by sweet berry fruit, and a tropical aroma. Being that this isn't a super bright coffee, it's a great option for Kenyan espresso. An espresso shot of the Full City roast with just a day's rest tasted like dark chocolate-covered dried cherries, with a tart pomegranate note in the finish.
This coffee is a small blended lot made up of coffees from the various wet mills under the Kiama FCS (Farmer's Cooperative Society). The wet mills, or "factories" as they're referred to in Kenya, are collection sites where local farmer members sell their whole, harvested cherry where it is then passed through wet milling equipment to process the coffee down to the parchment covered seed. Much of the separation of defects are processed by hand, the coffee hand-picked at various stages on the drying beds, before a final hand picking on tables once completely dry. Small washing stations are aligned with a particular "society" which is what they call a cooperative in Kenya, and in this case, that society is Kiama. We keep returning to the societies who seem to regularly produce some of the best Kenya coffees we see, such as Kiama and Barichu societies. This coffee was purchased direct, not through the Kenya auction system, so we could avoid the risk of losing it. It also means we paid a bit more, premiums which go back to the coop for distribution.
This AA grade outturn from the Kiama Factory has a convincing level of dried fruit and sugar sweetness from the start, the ground coffee offering up smells of golden raisin, and a sweet buttery toffee side. Adding hot water sees sweet orange and lemon scents accenting the steam, and a bittersweet baked sugar smell exudes from the wet crust. Our Full City roast showed darker fruit accents, with caramelizing sugar sweetness at equal intensity. The cup is fruit-forward when hot, tart berry and cooked fruit flavors are surprising from the get go. Let the cup temperature cool off a touch and you'll be rewarded with flavors of blueberry, blackberry juice, and concord grape. Fruits flourish in both light and dark roasts, and my City roast cooled out to a complex fruited cup that was also tropical, winey, and tied together by a soft, fruited acidity, much more muted than many of our other Kenyas, but sufficient for a well structured cup. My Full City roast was a real berry bomb, a blueberry flavor much more focused and singular, with pleasant burned sugar notes, laced with dark plum and grape accents. Even at Full City, chocolate and roast bittersweetness are nowhere near a central cup features, with dark fruit notes being the most dominant cup characteristic. Body is weighty too, like fruit juice, leaving behind fruited flavors that endure in the long finish.
Thageini Factory is part of Aghuti Farmers Cooperative Society (FCS), an FCS that includes a few other stations we buy from: Gititu and Kagumo. It's not the "factory" as we might imagine it. "Factories" are essentially small washing stations aligned with a particular "society" in Kenya, what we would call a "cooperative". We return to the societies who seem to regularly produce some of the best Kenya coffees, and each year we come across societies that are new to us as well: such as Aghuti. This coffee was purchased direct, not through the Kenya auction system, so we could avoid the risk of losing it. To do this we pay a price that is higher than what the top auction bid might be, but it means we get the exact lot we want. During the final dry milling, the coffee seeds are separated by size which is measured in 1/64ths of an inch, and they call these separations "outturns". The main ones we're used to seeing in specialty coffee are AA 17-19 screen, Peaberry 15 screen, and AB 15-17 screen, which this lot is.
Thageini has a 'big' fragrance when coming out of the grinder, red berry and dried tropical fruit smells lining the aromatic profile. A perfumed red tropical punch smell comes up from the ground coffee along with a smell of berry cooked down with raw sugar and cinnamon. It's a super sweet smelling coffee, sugary smells are candy-sweet, and the wet aroma is blossoming with maple sweetness and fruit smells like pomegranate and juicing oranges. Citrus is the first flavor I can think of when sipping the hot cup, like lemon icing, a tartness that's matched by underlying layers of sweetness. The cool brew reveals a fruit and raw sugar centered cup, flavors of berry and subtle tropical accents circle back to that "Hawaiian Punch" aroma sensed in the dry grounds, along with lingering unrefined sugar sweetness. There's a cinnamon powder accent too, most noticeable in the finish. Acidity is brightest in light roasts, some tart citric aspects as well as a berry like brightness, especially in our darkest Full City roast. I think it's helpful to point out this isn't "bright" by Kenya standards, but a much more well-integrated into the cup profile. This works in favor of single origin Kenyan espresso too, no puckering acidity to take away from delicious dark chocolate and berry fruit flavors that make their way into the shot.
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!
This is coffee lot incorporates peaberry selections from several coffee washing stations in Rwanda's southern and western provinces. Peaberries are an abnormaity that happens when only one of the two coffee seeds inside a coffee cherry germinates, and proceeds to mature inside the cherry as a small, rounded seed. They occur on every coffee shrub, but only in small amounts (roughly 5%). When we buy peaberry lots from a single farmer in say, Guatemala, the final bag count is usually only a couple bags due to the small farm sizes. But in Rwanda, we're buying from cooperative stations that collect coffee from hundreds to thousands of cooperative members, who between them, produce considerably higher volume of this small bean rarity. "Milles Collines", as Rwanda is commonly referred to, French meaning "the land of 1000 hills". The cooperatives who contributed to this blend are situated in the villages at the tops of some of these "collines", affording access to the higher elevation coffees, and offering ease of delivery for these coffee farm members.
When pondering what I consider to be common flavor characteristics of Rwandan coffees (at least a lot of them), tea and spice would be at the top of the list. This peaberry blend is a good example of those flavor characteristics, and both middle and darker roasting express aspects of herbal and black teas, and mix of dry spice accents. I also think of the syrupy sweetness that comes with being all Bourbon cultivars, especially in those lots grown at high altitudes, like the farms where this coffee comes from. The aromatic profile is built on a base of raw sugar sweetness, caramel cookie accents, and an interesting Rooibos note. Deeper City+ roasts show a fruited side as well, and flavors of dark berry come through with more detail in the brewed coffee. I really enjoyed drinking this peaberry in the City+ - Full City roast range, which really captures a foundation of unrefined sugary sweetness, like raw cane juice and accents of blackstrap molasses, as well as an undercurrent of blackberry syrup, top notes of herbal and black teas, and a clove spice note in the finish. It'd be a disservice to not mention chocolate too, especially at Full City, which acts as the mortar holding these layers of flavor together. Full City roasts make a wonderful Espresso, inky chocolate flavors gush, with waves of dark cherry, and specked by cinnamon and clove accent notes.
Gitesi is one of my favorite sites in Rwanda. Not only is it located in a beautiful valley, but the washing station looked clean, well-organized, and the leaders seemed motivated and competent. I had already cupped quite a few day lots (wet-process batches from coffee cherry received in a single day), and I knew the coffee was really good. The Gitesi site is at 1740 meters, actually one of the lower areas surrounded by high ridges ranging up to 2000 meters, where coffee is grown. 1,830 coffee farmers in the area supply Gitesi with cherries each year. The station fosters a relationship with the farmers by paying an additional dividend at the end of each season based on performance. Gitesi was started in 2005 and has been building capacity each year. Like much of Rwanda, the coffee is Bourbon variety. We "built" this lot by looking at all their day lot batches and combining the best ones. We found some excellent process batches from the middle harvest. And we're not the only ones noticing: Gitesi won COE a couple years back and continues to produce competition level coffees.
Gitesi continues to produce some of the best coffee we see from the region. From the outset, Gitesi shows an attractive set of aromatics, perfumed with clover honey and subtle spice accents, a cola smell in our City roast. Aspects of complex sugar browning come into full view when you add the hot water, with sweet smells of caramel candies, and a collection of fine black tea smells released on the break. City+ roasts are intensely sweet, a framework of sugar cane juice and clean raw sugar sweetness making up this coffee's backdrop. As you move through brews of City roasts, citrus accent notes come into play, like lemonade, and a brisk flavor of orange spice tea. And speaking of tea notes, Gitesi has them in strength, the cooling cup presenting Earl Grey, Darjeeling, and Orange pekoe undertones. The acidic impressions fall somewhere between a palate cleansing black tea and lemon-spritzed water, both having a mouth refreshing effect in the finish. Darker roasting builds flavor layers of fine dark chocolate, and with uncompromising sweetness all the way to the outer edge of Full City (but for the most complex cup, don't stray far from City+). Gitesi brews so well, with the quality of a competition-winning coffee.
Tucked away in the Nyamasheke region of Rwanda's Western Province is the Cyato washing station site. This is one of two washing stations managed by the Fidele family, the first of the two producing naturals and started by the father, and Cyato managed mainly by son Leo (that's Leo in the second image). Cyato is set up with a Penagos 800, and they are producing mainly fully washed coffee. The station is much farther than some of the others we buy from in Nyamasheke, and on the edge of the Forest of Nyungwe. Cyato sits at roughly 1850 meters above sea level, and the local coffee farmers have coffee planted well above 1900 meters, growing older Bourbon cultivars. Coffee is wet processed, hand picked, and dried at Cyato proper, but then moved to a house nearby where they store the dry parchment to rest before preparing for exportation. A newer venture for the Fidele's, they hope to reinvest in their wet mill for the upcoming season in order increase the mill capacity and produce a higher volume of exportable specialty in return.
"Elegant" comes to mind when taking in our City roast of Cyato. With pristine sweetness that's like simple syrup, clean citrus and berry tones, and a floral overlay, it's clear from the outset that this new arrival is a cut above. Smelling the ground coffee, you're hit with a smell of sugar cane juice, a sweetness that achieves a floral pitch, and you start to get a sense of the clear fruited notes that will invariably accent the cup. In the wet aroma I get an underlying honey sweetness, not the density of honey itself, but like tea sweetened with honey, along with a spiced orange smell that reminds me of orange marmalade. Once the cup cools enough to drink it, a lovely citrus-like brightness is apparent from the get go, like pink grapefruit, which is complementary to the citrus accents that come into play as the temp dips further. A light honey note accents the cup, and a pervasive yet simple raw sugar sweetness stays with you from start to finish. Berry notes come through too, like tart wild berry and cranberry, and a blueberry flavor note that carries a floral side like when the fruit is ripe. A dark grape note develops in City+ roasts, coming off like warm grape juice peppered with whole clove and all spice berry, and an orange blossom aromatic note graces the finish. The citrus acidity rings though at this slightly darker shade, and both City and City+ finish clean, a brisk tea-like quality and baking spiced accents come to a point.
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 a 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.
The peaberry outturn from Tarime is a real powerhouse, dry fruit and loose leaf dry tea notes accent a clean, simple syrup like 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. 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, herbal flavors come to fore, along with candied citrus, and a resonant grape note too, tart like green grape and the grape skins too. The weight of this peaberry coffee is impressive and like fruit juice on the palate, 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!
Tarime is a 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! A large bean, AA screen size, this lot is a bit more brilliance in acidic impression than the peaberry, which is a bit more fruit forward. Together they present a unique pairing, showing how different coffee from the same process batch can have distinct flavor profiles.
The cup shows clean raw sugar sweetness, tart tea, and with herbaceous accents that weave in and out of the profile. The dry fragrance of City and City+ roasts have aspects of raisin and grape, with big whiffs of brown sugar. Adding hot water, a smell of fruit reduction emerges, with unprocessed muscovado-like sugar blooming with the wetted grounds, and a black tea note is released in the steam. We found City+ to Full City to be our preferred roast range for brewing, but I imagine sweet and bittering tones to pull through well on up to 2nd crack. Our City+ roast had syrupy sweetness, revealing layers of unrefined sugars as the cup cools in temp. Panela and demurara provide stable base sweetness against which fruited top notes including blackberry and a soft grape accent stand out. Like the coffees from neighboring Kenya, Tanzanian coffee can have mouth cleansing acidity, and this Tarime lot does not disappoint. A tartness builds as the temperature dips, and along with a flavor of jamaica flower tea, presents tart, tea-like impressions in flavor and brightness. Full City roasts have a flavor of 70% or more cacao bar, with rue-like herbal aroma filling out the finish. Mara Tarime AA is a big-bodied cup, which matched with the aforementioned profile, lends to decident chocolate flavors. This is a great dual-purpose coffee, working well as both brewed coffee and single origin espresso.
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.