Bergamot, Lemon and Black Tea
We have been purchasing Ethiopian coffees through Moplaco for three years now, and have grown to trust their buying practices and the quality that they are able to offer, both in coffees they produce themselves, and those they purchase from neighbouring mills. This lot is an example of the latter. This lot was purchased by Moplaco from the Mijane Werasa station, located just 10 kilometres outside of Gedeb, one of the main coffee buying centres of this micro-region, where Yirgacheffe coffees are produced. The conditions here are perfect for growing high quality Arabica coffees, with high altitude, cool temperatures and especially cool nights leading to slow cherry maturation and very dense seeds. In fact, Heleanna, founder of Moplaco and therefore one of our most trusted authorities in Ethiopia, believes that the best ‘Yirgacheffe’ coffee comes from the Gedeb Woreda, with great intensity and clarity of flavour. This washed process lot is showcasing soft bergamot florals, followed by crisp and zesty lemon and a black tea finish, overall reminiscent of a fresh earl grey tea.
In Ethiopia, coffee still grows semi-wild, and in some cases completely wild. Apart from some regions of neighbouring South Sudan, Ethiopia is the only country in which coffee is found growing in this way, due to its status as the genetic birthplace of arabica coffee. This means in many regions, small producers still harvest cherries from wild coffee trees growing in high altitude humid forests, especially around Ethiopia’s famous Great Rift Valley.
There are three categories of forest coffee growing in Ethiopia, Forest Coffee (FC), Semi-Forest Coffee (SFC), and Forest Garden Coffee (FGC), with each having an increasing amount of intervention from coffee producers. Forest coffee makes up a total of approximately 60% of Ethiopia’s yearly output, so this is a hugely important method of production, and part of what makes Ethiopian coffee so unique.
Full Forest Coffee means no intervention, only picking coffee cherries from wild coffee trees, under natural forest cover. This mode of production is very low yielding, but has a very high value in terms of carbon capture and biodiversity. The high level of shade and diverse nutrient supply also leads to very high quality. ~10% of Ethiopia’s production
Semi-Forest Coffee allows a little intervention, the thinning out of native tree species, planting of extra coffee seedlings, but maintaining much of the original vegetation and shade trees. ~20% of Ethiopia’s production
The Forest Garden Coffee system is much higher yielding, and is normally used when growing coffee is the family’s main income. The area is mostly dedicated to growing coffee, although some other crops may be interspersed. There is much more intervention in the forest here, pruning, weeding and stumping coffee trees, and removing shade trees to make way for denser coffee planting. This is the most productive of the three types, and makes up around 30% of Ethiopia’s total coffee production.
Throughout all of these systems, a much higher level of biodiversity is maintained than in modern coffee production in most of the rest of the world. This is partly due to the forest system, and partly down to the genetic diversity of the coffee plants themselves. There are thousands of so far uncategorised ‘heirloom’ varieties growing in Ethiopia; all descended from wild cross pollination between species derived from the original Arabica trees. This biodiversity leads to hardier coffee plants, which don’t need to be artificially fertilised. This means that 95% of coffee production in Ethiopia is organic, although most small farmers and mills can’t afford to pay for certification, so can’t label their coffee as such. The absence of monoculture in the Ethiopian coffee lands also means plants are much less susceptible to the decimating effects of diseases such as leaf rust that have ripped through other producing countries.
When we choose to share a coffee, it’s because we feel it showcases clear character in the cup, the origin of which can be traced back through the coffee chain. We are inspired not only by sharing this carefully created raw material, but by conveying how each step of the coffee’s journey has led to what you find in your cup, be it terroir, varietal, post-harvest processing, or something else entirely.
We roast with a gentle touch in order to unveil these characteristics with the highest level of clarity. Be it a dense, high-grown heirloom varietal from Ethiopia, or a lower-grown Bourbon from Brazil, we always aim for this same clarity, and write taste notes as an introduction as to what to expect from the raw material. We would expect higher acidity and a lower body from Ethiopia, so would use notes such as citrus fruits and tea to describe this. From Brazil, we are more likely to use notes such as chocolate and nuts; to convey the heavy, sweet character and pleasant dryness we expect from lower-grown coffees.
The washed process involves completely removing both the cherry and the mucilage from the outside of the parchment with the use of friction, fermentation and water. After being harvested, the coffee cherry is then sliced open by either a metal or a sharp plastic blade. The two seeds (also known as beans) are pushed out of the cherry, which leaves the seed with mucilage as their outermost layer. It is essential in the washed process that all mucilage is removed from the seed which leaves only the flavor that developed in the cell structure of the seed prior to processing.