Since 2008, much (if not most) of Ethiopia’s coffee goes anonymously through the privately owned, government-warehoused Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX). Aside from cooperatives and large estates, coffees are sold through the ECX to exporters and in the processes rebranded by region.
Or…more or less by region.
This lot was marked “Gelana Abaya”, which used to be a district of the Oromia region in the southern zone of Borena; now, Gelana and Abaya are separate districts, but coffee from either of the two can still be marked as “Gelana Abaya.” Most likely, this coffee came from an area that is nestled between Lake Abaya on the West and the town of Yirgacheffe on the East.
Unfortunately we don’t know who produced this great coffee. The ECX does promise, at least, that the farmer gets paid 80% of the final export price, which means (s)he probably got paid well for it.
Unfortunately, though, we can’t be sure.
Now, we’ve had this coffee a few times at the Table; this coffee is famous for its bright and lively tropical fruit flavors. OQ Coffee Company is also very familiar with this coffee’s flavor profile and recently asked itself “What pairs better with tropical fruits than rum?”
So, they picked up a few American oak rum barrels from a local distillery and began testing. They rested varying amounts of Gelana at different lengths of time, roasting and cupping along the way. Today, we get to cup the final product of all their experimentation.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping a cup of Rum Barrel Ethiopia Gelana Abaya, from OQ Coffee Company in Highland Park, New Jersey. Feel free to pull up a chair.
origin: Kersa, Gelana Abaya, Oromia, Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia
producer: smallholder farmers
association: Ethiopia Commodity Exchange
elevation: 1700 – 1900 meters above sea level
cultivars: Ethiopia Heirloom
The aroma of this barrel-conditioned Gelana Abaya is very complex—a lot of layers going on. It places most of its emphasis on the rum barrel component: spicy oak that stings the nostrils and soothing vanilla that relaxes them. But there also plenty of coffee components coming out; most notably, its intense tropical fruit scents (berries and citrus) and floral aromatics.
Taking my first few sips of the coffee is a lot like slowly sipping a rum neat. It is a medium-bodied coffee with a thick, molasses-like texture and its spicy oak flavors bite at the tongue. You all know of my aversion to natural Yirgs because of the fermentation factor, but in this rum barrel-conditioned version of it it’s actually a pretty good fit.
As the cup cools off, its juicy tropical fruit flavors really take over and make the mouthfeel much creamier than it was before. Flavors of rum-soaked cherry, pineapple, blueberry, banana, and tangering acidity round out the bottom of the cup, much like a liqueur, while the spiced oak note imparted by the rum barrel remains consistent throughout, resulting in a complex finish.
Medium body; creamy mouthfeel; citric acidity; dry finish.
Today’s review combined the two styles of coffee that make me most hesitant into one super coffee that made me more trepidatious than any other coffee I’ve ever reviewed: a natural Yirg, and a barrel-aged one at that.
Having said that, though, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by OQ Coffee Company’s Rum Barrel Ethiopia Gelana Abaya. What made this coffee work, I think, was that they used a rum barre instead of another spicier spirit (like whiskey or Bourbon); that rum barrel imparted some flavors that really complemented the coffee’s profile.
So, objectively, this is a good coffee; it works well. Subjectively, though—well, it’s a bit much for me. It’s one that I found very interesting, but not one that I’d be likely to drink again.
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.