At a Glance: single origin (Ethiopia); medium body; floral, fruity, bergamot, dry; medium acidity; washed

Greetings, coffee lovers. Welcome back to my table here in the corner of this cafe. It’s a gloomy, rainy day here in Chicago—which is great for being inside, relaxing, and having a cuppa with a friend. After trying Counter Culture Coffee’s Ethiopia Idido Natural Sundried last week, I was in the mood for some more Ethiopian coffee. Thankfully, The Wormhole is featuring Sightglass Coffee’s Ethiopia, Guji Shakiso this week and did a pour-over especially for us. I took the liberty of getting a mug for you, as well.

Feel free to pull up a chair.

So, this is the first time I’ve tried something from Sightglass Coffee, which is based in the great city of San Francisco. This is family-based start up coffee bar and roastery owned by brothers Jerad and Justin Morrison. And even though these guys are doing big things out there in the Bay Area, it’s the little things that they’re focusing on, and this is probably the reason for the success they’ve had thus far—small-batch roasting, single-cup brewing, small production, purchasing only the freshest lots, and even using vintage roasting equipment to stay true to coffee’s rich history.

I mean, one need look no further than their company’s name to realize that these brothers are completely dialed into ensuring that every step in the coffee’s story is at their level of perfection. From their website: “On our vintage coffee roaster, the sightglass is the viewing window that exposes the complex and delicate process of coffee being roasted inside the drum.”

I’ve been hearing a lot of good news about this company, so I was really excited when I learned that The Wormhole, here in Chicago, was featuring a few of their different roasts as guests at their pour-over bar.

Now, as we discussed last week (and I’ll consider this common knowledge, going forward), Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. And a vast majority of the coffee coming out of Ethiopia—at least some of the best coffees coming out of Ethiopia—are from an area called Yirgachefe, which is located in the south-central part of the country. This particular coffee, on the other hand, comes from town in the Oromia Region that is a little bit further south and east of Yirgachefe called Shakiso, which is in the Guji Zone.

This area, I would think, is the highlands of Ethiopia, with elevations rising up past 1,750 meters above sea level. These highlands have bored out over the past hundred or so years and Shakiso has become a mining town, being rich with gold. Another thing about this town, which I think is important to note (especially when it comes time to describe the coffee), is that the waterholes and the soil, to a certain degree, are somewhat salty. I’m not geologist, of course, so I’m not sure how that plays into the taste of goods grown here or if it factors in at all; however, based on what other coffee websites have said about the flavor profiles of coffees from this region and how they stand in contrast to coffees from other parts of Ethiopia, I’m under the assumption that the saltiness of the earth here is a factor.

What also comes into play are the different processing styles each region in Ethiopia employs. Whereas a lot of Yirgachefes are dry processed on raised beds, the Guji Shakiso employs a wet process (which, if you remember from last week’s review, is a Latin American practice that wasn’t even introduced to this area of the world until the 1950’s). If you ever wonder just how much of a difference in flavor profile these two different processes actually makes, look no further than last week’s and this review—the difference is so staggering, it’s almost as if these two coffees came from entirely different parts of the world.

So, let’s get down to brass tacks—what is the flavor profile here?

First of all, unlike just about every other Ethiopian coffee I’ve ever had, Sightglass’s Guji Shakiso only had a very limited amount of chocolate notes to it. A lot of times, when I’m describing Ethiopian coffees, I say things like “This tastes like a chocolate covered (fill in the blank)”—usually cherry, strawberry, or blueberry. African coffees in general, and especially Ethiopians, have a pretty heavy chocolatiness to them. Not this one. Another thing that made it unlike all the other Ethiopian coffees I’ve had is that it was fruity, but not like a juicy berry; rather, this one was a bit more lemon-citrusy.

The one similarity, traditionally across the board, with other African coffees I’ve had is that the Guji Shakiso has a very sweet, floral aroma. This coffee was like a big bouquet of violets delicately and finely arranged inside of a mug.

Beyond that, though, Guji Shakiso is something entirely different, entirely unique. It possesses the lighter side of a medium body, and wasn’t aggressive at all. Instead, it was very refined, very delicate—a coffee that should be sipped and savored, instead of one that comes at the palate with full force. It was sweet, but had a restrained sweetness to it—jasmine, ginger, honey, maybe a bit of caramel; certainly not as sweet as other African coffees. This coffee was a bit more bracing, kind of reminiscent of a cup of Earl Grey tea with a bit of lemon and honey squeezed into it; herbally, malty, and smooth, with notes of bergamot and lavender and a dry, moderately astringent finish. Its medium acidity will ensure that the flavor stays with you for a while, as will the waxy, walnut oily coating that will linger on your palate.

The Bottom Line

Sightglass Coffee’s Ethiopia, Guji Shakiso is a wonderful cup of coffee that is unlike any Ethiopian coffee I’ve had before; and, for that, I think it would behoove you to visit their website and purchase some—especially if you’re a big fan of Ethiopian coffees, but are wanting to try something different. Rather than being akin to a “chocolate covered berry,” it’s more like a cup of Earl Grey tea; very delicate and refined—not as aggressive or powerful as a lot of other African coffees can be (which made it the perfect choice for this gloomy, overcast, rainy Fall day). And as delicate and refined as this coffee is, I almost felt out of place drinking it. This is a gentleman’s coffee.

Besides this weather, a perfect accompaniment for this mug of coffee would be a Victorian novel—perhaps one about African colonization. Maybe H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 novel, King Solomon’s Mines.

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