Buying from Ethiopia continues to be a challenge for roasters and importers. More often than not, they are forced to purchase their lots through the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange—which is difficult if you require some traceability or back story with the coffees you want to purchase. You have to become a detective, scouring through pages and pages and pages of roaster and importer websites to find information about any given ECX coffee.
What I do know is this coffee comes from a washing station in the Gedeo Zone, west of the town of Yirgacheffe in the Guji area. The mill is called Kerbal Aricha and is owned by Surafel Birhanu, and is supplied by around 650 to 750 smallholder farmers (mainly garden growers), who produce around five containers of specialty coffee per year, and around ten commercial grade.
The varietals are anyone’s guess, but seem to be mainly made up from Typica and various other Ethiopian heirloom varietals. This is what you get in Ethiopia: lots of small growers with lots of different mutations and variations of plants, and little interest in separating them and figuring out what they actually have on their hands.
Ripe cherries are delivered to the mill where they are graded, sorted, de-pulped, and then fermented underwater between 36-48 hours, depending on temperature, humidity, and other factors. Parchment is then sorted in washing channels and dried on raised beds. The drying period generally lasts for up to two to three weeks, until moisture level reaches 12% or lower. The beans are then transported in parchment to the ECX warehouse in Awassa, then dry-milled to remove the parchment prior to shipping.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping the Ethiopia Aricha, from Flying Baron Roasters in Lakewood, Colorado. Feel free to pull up a chair.
region: Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia
farm: Kerbal Aricha Mill
producer: smallholder farmers
association: Ethiopia Commodity Exchange
elevation: 1800 – 2000 meters above sea level
cultivars: Ethiopia Heirloom
grind: 22, Preciso
coffee: 28 g
water: 400 mL
pour: 1:00 “Z” pour, 10 second stir at 2:00, drop at 4:00
The aroma of this Ethiopia Aricha is your prototypical natural Ethiopa. It explodes out of the bag as soon as I tear it open with bombastic scents of dark chocolate and massive berries; there also touches of brown sugar and cinnamon raisin bread that I find interesting.
The first few sips of the coffee, however, aren’t really what I was expecting they’d be. I was hoping for bright berries, sweet milk chocolate, and aromatic flowers; instead, I’m getting peanut shells, bittersweet dark chocolate, and burnt brown sugar and honey. It doesn’t taste over-roasted or stale or anything like that—there’s just something off about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. All of the flavors I want to be there are there, but they’re all slightly… askew. It doesn’t taste like a natural Ethiopian berry explosion; instead, it tastes a lot more like trail mix.
As it cools off, the coffee definitely livens; I’m tasting more of those bright, juicy fruits I was hoping for. Unfortunately, I’m also tasting more of that mystery flavor that’s throwing everything off—particularly in the finish. It’s a little papery, and it rises up to the roof of the mouth and pushes to the back while the fruits slip and slide on the tongue. I’m definitely tasting that prototypical blueberry up front, but there are some other fruits happening here too: Fuji apple, grape, peach, lime and raisin.
Medium body; slick mouthfeel; berry acidity; slightly dry finish.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
This is the first time in a while that a coffee has left me so flummoxed. Because here’s the thing—Flying Baron’s Ethiopia Aricha is a good coffee; really good. I could taste the potential. But there’s something sort of “off” about it that I had a really difficult time putting my finger on. It wasn’t over-roasted, it wasn’t stale…
You know, I actually think it might have been underdeveloped. I’m not a roaster, so I don’t feel qualified to make that sort of call, but there were some telltale signs of under-roast: the body was light, the texture was slick, almost watery, there was a lime note to it which can sometimes indicate under-roast (as does the Sencha and jasmine tea flavors I found), and all of the flavors I were expecting to be there were there, but they just weren’t fully fleshed out.
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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.