At a Glance: single origin (Ethiopia); light/medium body; citrus, herbal, syrupy; medium acidity; washed; indigenous

Hello once again, coffee enthusiasts. ‘Tis I, your humble host, Drew. Welcome to my table here in the corner of this cafe. Before we get things started today, I want to first thank all of you out there in Reader Land for making the month of January my most successful month to date. This website has come a long way since the early days, and I have you to thank for making it a somewhat popular coffee destination. Looking forward to bringing you even more features in the coming years.

Good. Now that’s out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks.

I am continuing my coffee review marathon today with a post about a roaster that, quite frankly, I’m very surprised I hadn’t reviewed before: Chicago’s very own Intelligentsia Coffee. Intelligentsia, of course, was one of the pioneers of the so-called “third wave” of specialty coffee and one of the biggest proponents in the American popularization of single-serve brewing methods (like the use of a pour-over bar). I guess this is the reason I never really thought to review their stuff – with their massive popularity, I just assumed everybody and their brother already knew their story. That, and since I’m so massively poor, I can’t afford to buy their coffee.

However, thanks to the concept of the guest roaster pour-over bar (I’m telling you – I’m going to keep harping on this subject until every coffee shop in America implements it), this time at Caffe Streets in Chicago, I was able to sample a cup of one of their newest offerings, Shegole Ethiopia.

Feel free to pull up a chair.

There are nine distinct coffee growing regions in Ethiopia: Lekempti, Illubabor, Djimma, Harrar, Teppi/Bebeka, Sidamo, Yirgacheffe, and Limu. Yesterday, we traversed the Ethiopian Highlands and ended up in Rophi (a Sidamo region) to try out the tiny village’s coffee, courtesy of Portland, Oregon’s Coava Coffee Roasters. Today, we’re heading back over the mountains to the West, into a region called Limu Kossa, Jimma.

Intelligentsia got this coffee from the Limu Coffee Farmers Co-op Union. According to Intelligentsia’s coffee buyer, Geoff Watts:

The Shegole coop belongs to the Limu Union and is one of the flagship groups in the [TechnoServe] project. Although it was constituted in 2005 with a total membership of about 400 farmers, the last two years have seen it blossom considerably. Since 2009, in large part due to their consistent success in raising quality and achieving increasing returns to the members, the group has grown to almost 1000.

The project Watts is referring to is one being conducted by TechnoServe – an organization that is dedicated to achieving “business solutions to global poverty.” They’ve been doing a lot of work in Western Ethiopia, which has given reason to coffee companies like Intelligentsia to turn their attention away from more established regions (like Sidama and Yirgacheffe), and instead focus on some of Ethiopia’s oldest and most underrated coffee regions – like Limu.

The coffee that is grown here is done so where the air is thin, at elevations of up to 1600-1950 meters above sea level. Unlike a lot of the Central and Eastern Ethiopian coffees, which have bolder, more full-bodied flavors, this coffee is known for its spicy sweetness, herbal notes, and lighter body.

The aroma of the Shegole Ethiopia is very pleasant, very perfumy. It recalls notes of hibiscus and rose hips. Very sweet. Very delicate.

I was very surprised when I took my first sip, though – Darko, one of the guys at Caffe Streets, told me, “This coffee is a bit light, so don’t expect a big, full-body Ethiopia.” I had just Coava’s Ethiopia – Rophi, which was a bit lighter than I anticipated, so I thought that the Shegole would be something a bit like that (especially since it’s from nearly the same region of the world). But I was shocked at how light this coffee is! It drank less like coffee, and much more like tea.

Coincidentally, the flavor was a bit more tea-like as well. I mean, there were a lot of really nice notes in there, don’t get me wrong. It has a bit of a citrus zestiness to it, with some spice that makes the tongue tingle with each sip. There are also hints of figs and orange peel. The best part, though, was this thick, rounded syrupy molasses flavor that coated the palate as the coffee finished, leaving behind the sort of astringent aftertaste common with lavender-tinged Earl Grey teas.

However, because the coffee was so lightly-bodied, these incredible flavors were hard to detect. I’m not sure what a remedy to this would be either; Intelligentsia couldn’t have really roasted the beans longer, naturally – that would burn all the delicate flavors away. Perhaps, if you were to brew some of this for yourself, I would recommend increasing the amount of grounds you brew. I bet a couple more scoops would really bring out those flavors.

The Bottom Line

I’ve always been of the opinion that Intelligentsia’s coffee was a little too light for me. I’m not sure at what point in the coffee process this happens – maybe it’s not roasted long enough, maybe Geoff Watts just has a palate for really light-bodied coffees, I don’t know. This coffee was certainly no exception, though. It was really good, sure – it had a lot of really interesting notes that were pleasing. But, in the end, it just didn’t have a big enough personality.

It’s good, but it’s nothing to shout about. It’s definitely worth whispering about, though.

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