Peach, Honey and Blueberry
This is our first ever release from Moplaco’s own farm, Kawo Kamin. Continuing our ever closer collaboration, we have purchased this small lot from the farm, processed at Moplaco’s nearby Sheka mill using the honey method.
The Sheka forest is located in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR) in the far southwest of the country near the border with South Sudan. The forest, one of the most beautiful places we have visited during our years of coffee travels, is one of the largest areas of indigenous forest remaining in Ethiopia, known for its production of wild honey. While healthy bees are a good sign of biodiversity and minimal chemical use, much of the rest of Ethiopia has become over-farmed in recent years, so the government has encouraged agriculture across the SNNPR using grants. Especially tea and coffee production is incentivised, leading to the involvement of foreign investors, deforesting swathes of land to create large estates and enforcing questionable working conditions for natives.
Forty kilometres outside the town of Masha lies Moplaco’s Kawo Kamin farm, probably the single most beautiful coffee farm we have ever visited. Here, coffee is grown in synergy with the Sheka forest, using the indigenous forest as shade for the trees, keeping biodiversity alive. This also has a positive effect on coffee quality, the plants are well-nourished and grow in ideal moist conditions under the forest canopy. Some local farmers have even been able to maintain their bee hives around the 150 hectares of protected forest around the farm. This mode of production, working alongside the forest to cultivate coffee while still pruning and managing the plantation, is known as semi-forest coffee.
This carefully produced raw material is then taken to Moplaco’s Sheka mill to be processed. This station is Moplaco’s newest, and has mainly produced natural coffees so far, as the large fermentation tanks required to produce washed coffees are still under construction. The Moplaco spirit of experimentation that we have witnessed on our visits is also present here, small experimental lots of carbonic maceration and anaerobic processes have been attempted, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to taste these soon. This lot was also a rather small experiment, and we purchased the whole 400 kilo lot. Sheka doesn’t have access to the large de-pulpers seen throughout the rest of the country, as so far it has not produced any washed coffees. This means that to accomplish this honey process, the entire lot had to be de-pulped using a a small hand cranked de-pulper, before being dried for 17 days on raised beds. Plastic covers are often used, and the drying takes slightly longer than it would in much of Ethiopia due to frequent rains and cool temperatures. This leads to a soft ferment character in the cup, with stone fruit and soft berries joined by a deep and rich sweetness.
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.
With the honey process a certain amount of mucilage and pulp are allowed to remain on the coffee bean during depulping. The cover will stay with the bean during fermentation and drying thereby contributing to the sugars absorbed by the bean and affecting the flavour notes of the final cup. The amount of mucilage remaining defines the type of honey process - white, yellow, red or black in ascending order of mucilage concentration. If they are processed properly, the coffees can take on quite a lot of sweetness and flavours while remaining clean.
Raised drying beds (sometimes referred to as African drying beds) are often preferable when working with honey processed coffees, because of the additional airflow they allow. The air ensures that the beans dry evenly and reduces the incidence of fungi and bacteria formation. On the other hand, some farmers are accustomed to using sun-exposed patio drying that require a regular raking of beans to avoid moulds. While total fermentation and drying time depend on such choices as well as ambient temperature and moisture levels, red honey processing easily needs two weeks from depulping until drying has completed.