Have you ever wondered where coffee originated? I mean, what society originally decided to grow this plant, extract the beans from within the cherry, roast them, grind them and then steep them in water to create the tasty, caffeinated beverage we all love so much today? Well, wonder no more! Coffee, both the plant and the consumption of the beverage, originated in Ethiopia. Because of this, and the fact that Ethiopia remains a key player in the specialty coffee market, Ethiopian coffee often holds a special place in hearts of many coffee professionals across the industry. Not only is there extensive coffee history in Ethiopia, but coffee remains essential to the country’s economy. Coffee accounts for roughly 60% of export earnings and provides a livelihood for approximately 15 million people.
In an article by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), buyers, roasters and baristas alike share their experiences with, and thoughts about, Ethiopian coffee. Julie Housh, of Intelligentsia Coffee and Chair of the Barista Guild of America said, “As a Barista, a coffee from Ethiopia was one of my first eye-opening, ‘OK, coffee doesn’t always taste like coffee’ kind of cups.” Erin Meister, who works in customer support and as a trainer for Counter Culture’s Counter Intelligence, explained that when training and educating coffee professionals, she likes to create context and build a connection to the coffee on a greater scale. She finds that talking about Ethiopia is a great way to do this because, “Not only is it the ancient birthplace of the plant and the beverage of coffee, but the very roots of our coffee-drinking and -sharing culture is bound by the ceremony and traditions that sprung out of that soil.” Buyers and quality control experts weighed in on the discussion as well. Sean Capistrant, junior trader and QC director at Trabocca North America, comments on the range of Ethiopian coffees, saying, “the luscious berry notes of a Sidamo, the crisp acidity of a Yirgacheffe, or the delicate sweetness of a Limu is what keeps bringing us back to these coffees. Roasters are able to highlight different characteristics with different roast profiles.” To view the complete article, visit www.scaa.org. Our very own Roastmaster, Jesse, says, “selecting our new crop Ethiopians in the spring is one of my very favorite duties as a roaster and green coffee buyer. Some of the samples we receive are so amazing that it kind of reinvigorates my passion for coffee and makes me want to hop right on the sample roaster and really nail some profiles.”
If you’ve ordered our Ethiopian coffee lately, you’ve probably been asked if you’re looking for the Washed or Natural Process. The first time someone asked me this I just stared in confusion and asked about the difference. Basically, it boils down to this: coffee beans come from inside a coffee cherry. In coffee production, the coffee cherries are picked off the coffee plant once they are ripe and then the beans need to be extracted and dried. In Natural Process, aka dry process, the beans are dried while still inside the coffee cherry, so the whole fruit, including the coffee cherry and mucilage, is dried and then the coffee bean is separated from the rest of the fruit. This is the oldest method of processing coffee. The coffee cherry and mucilage are composed of sugars and alcohols, which play a role in the sweetness, acidity and overall flavor profile of the coffee. This tends to result in coffees that have a heavier mouthfeel, lower acidity levels and intense, exotic flavor profiles. Alternatively, Washed coffees involve first separating the coffee bean from the coffee cherry and the mucilage and then drying it. Washed coffees are typically characterized as being clean, bright and milder in flavor due to the process. This tends to result in a more consistent flavor profile. The majority of the coffees we carry here at UP, and in general industry-wide, are washed coffees.