The arrival of east African coffees is, for coffee folk, a harbinger of spring. Fall harvests lead to vibrant winter arrivals from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and of course, Ethiopia. These coffees act as a little glimmer of sunshine among the murk and muck of wintertime.
Ethiopian coffees, in particular, always make us smile. Each region within the country has distinctive characteristics, but all are unified by their cleanliness, clarity, and colorful (but not overly aggressive) acidity. Many coffee bushes in the nation are heirloom species (rather than the heavily cultivated strains we often see see in other parts of Africa and in South and Central America), so there's a uniqueness to these ancient plants that we just might not see in regions that are newer to the coffee game. In addition to having a strong coffee drinking culture, Ethiopia has got the farming and processing thing down pat, which means you can count on high-quality crops with a lot of character pretty much across the board.
At present, a slew of Phoenix-area roasters are offering coffees from Ethiopia. Here's an introduction to three regionally-distinct offerings.
Nom de Plume Roasters - Illubabor Baaroo (Illubabor Region)
This coffee has a lot going for it. First of all, it's super fun to say "Illubabor Baaroo." Second, we can always count on Nom de Plume to roast coffees that truly accentuate everything Good and True in the beans - and to provide consumers with flavor notes, harvest information, and farm specifics that help complement the overall experience.
Let's break down the name real quick: Illubabor is the region in which the coffee was grown, Baaroo is the cooperative that produced it. Illubabor is located in Western Ethiopia, in the Oromia Zone. Baaroo is a small project of a larger non-governmental agency dedicated to bringing sustainable agriculture to this region after several decades spent struggling with various crop diseases.
This was the first coffee we've tasted from Illubabor Province. In true Nom de Plume fashion, the cup was clean, sweet, and articulate, without being boring or predictable. Citrus blossom aromatics are countered nicely by brown sugar, milk chocolate, and toasted nut notes.
The next two coffees are both from the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia, but they were produced in different woredas, or districts. The cooperatives that produce these coffees are comprised of members of separate ethnic groups, united under the same regional political administration. They are dramatically different in terms of flavor, roast style, and final cup expression.
Cartel Coffee Lab - Adado (Yirgacheffe)
The Yirgacheffe woreda, located to the Gedeo zone of the SNNPR, is known for producing zesty coffees with fun acidities and overtly herbal or floral characteristics. This coffee from Cartel is no different. Produced at an elevation of over 2000 meters above sea level by the Adado cooperative, this coffee has all of the vibrancy we'd expect from a high altitude coffee. This particular coffee comes from natural processed beans, meaning that the cherry is allowed to dry prior to the bean being removed. This yielding a cup that is at best juicy and sweet (and at worst, fermenty or pulpy.)
Cartel's roasts tend to be a bit lighter than some other local roasters, which tends to draw attention to the unique and complex acidities of their offerings. This coffee is no exception; the processing method results in buoyant concord grape-like notes in the final cup, with gentle rosewater aromatics.
It should be noted that Cartel does source some of their green Ethiopian coffees through local importer Aisha Tedros of A.T. Oasis Coffee and Tea, though the Adado is not one of them. Tedros, who originally hails from Eritrea, performs authentic Ethiopian coffee services at her East Valley shop - so if you find yourself falling in love with the beans, as we expect you might, you should go to A.T. Oasis to experience the ritual.
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Press Coffee Roasters - Amaro Gayo (Sidamo)
Amaro is what is known as a "special woreda" within the SNNPR, meaning that it exists independent of any presiding political zone. Amaro Gayo, located in, you guessed it, Amaro, is a washing station wherein many local farmers bring their coffee cherries for processing. Fun fact about this washing station: the coffees produced here are exported by Ethiopia's only female exporter.
We've always respected Press's commitment to roasting coffees that are balanced above all else. This coffee has a delectably syrupy sweetness, like warm blueberry compote, that is balanced nicely by a subtly bitter dark chocolate quality.