Like most major coffee countries Ethiopia has an intricate system of rules and standards surrounding the production of its prized coffees. This system, well intentioned as it may be, has an unfortunate side effect on the country’s smallholder farmers – the vibrant personalities that make each lot so unique are almost always obscured during processing, where size limitations lead to the mixing of lots from numerous small farms.
But this microlot, brought to us by Craft Coffee first-timers Anodyne Coffee Roasting Company, shows that this doesn’t have to be the case. Microlot coffees are fairly common out of Central and South America, but not so common in east Africa.
Smallholder farmer Aylele belongs to the 50,000 member strong Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, which helps the coffee growers of the Yirgacheffe district fetch premium prices for their crops. Being a member of the YCFCU allows Aylele to sell his special lot of premium cherries outside the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange where it would have been mixed with other producer’s coffee. Trading outside the ECX allows Aylele to get a premium price for his coffee. This coffee was produced on ten hectares of land, a hectare equaling about 2.47 acres. With a farm that’s more than 12 times the average size for the region, he produces lots that are just big enough to be processed individually.
Coming from a country dominated by large plantation lots and blended cooperative lots, this is a rare opportunity to experience the distinguished identity of a small-producer specific coffee.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping a cup of Ethiopia Aylele, from Anodyne Coffee Roasting Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, courtesy of Craft Coffee. Feel free to pull up a chair.
region: Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia
farm: Aylele microlot
association: Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union
elevation: 1500 – 1550 meters above sea level
cultivars: Ethiopia Heirloom
process: fully washed, patio dried
The aroma coming off of the Aylele is interesting – it has me somewhat transfixed with its bright and lively fragrances of tropical fruits (pineapple, grapefruit, cherry) and a meadow of wildflower aromatics.
The flavor profile of the coffee, however, isn’t indicative of its aroma. Or maybe it is – I’m conflicted.
While my palate is initially greeted by hearty flavors of burnt dark chocolate souffle, roasted nuts, and powdered sugar, each sip is interspersed with mildly abrasive notes of earth, roast, and copper. Then, toward the finish of each sip, the wildflowers from the aroma show up again to tickle the taste buds.
As it cools, an incredibly bright and tart lime acidity surges to the forefront of each sip, streaming down the center of the tongue then splashing into the sides of the mouth, making my lips pucker up just a bit after every slurp. I’m also picking up a lot of other tropical fruit flavors – peach, pineapple, strawberry preserves, lemon rind – the only flavors from the front that’s coming through now is a faint hint of soily earth. But that’s a good complement to the bouquet of flowers and herbs that I’m tasting around the tartness of the lime: blue bonnet, elderflower, sage, savory, and juniper.
That acidity, though – wowza.
Full body; silty mouthfeel; lime acidity; slightly dry finish.
the bottom line:
The Ethiopia Aylele, from Anodyne Coffee Roasting Company, is a bit of an oddity. I’m almost not sure what to think of it, to be honest.
Somehow, Anodyne managed to extract bright fruit and fragrant floral flavors out of a dark-leaning roast. In between moderately abrasive tastes of light roastiness, burnt chocolate, and copper are bright flashes of tart lime (which can sometimes indicate under-roast) and wildflowers. It’s kind of a mess; oddly enough, though, there is still an order to it. Controlled chaos, as it were – like the Universe.
There are moments of brilliance, moments that seemed underdeveloped, and moments that missed the mark. I would’ve liked an opportunity to spend more time with the Aylele – I think it might be one of those coffees that demands extra attention.
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Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.