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CUPPING REVIEW: Wet-Processed Ethiopias.

Kenneth Davids and the coffeereview.com cupping board review 12 fragrant wet-processed Ethiopia coffees from the 1998/99 crop.

An interesting trivia question to pose to purported coffee enthusiasts is where their favorite beverage originated. They usually look confused and, when pressed, name a Latin-American country -- say, Colombia or Brazil.

Of course, Coffee Arabica, the species that produces all fine coffees, originated in the highland forests of Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa. The arabica tree, which apparently still grows wild in the middle tier of the Ethiopian forest, was most likely domesticated as a kind of medicinal herb, and carried very early across the Red Sea to Yemen in southern Arabia, where someone discovered how good the seeds tasted when roasted, ground, and steeped in hot or boiling water.

Europeans discovered coffee in the coffeehouses of Cairo and Con stantinople and they began importing it from Yemen. Eventually they carried it to the rest of the world, including Latin America.

Ethiopia continues to be a rich, mothering, deep source of coffee. Ethiopia coffees range from those gathered in forests to those grown on large farms. Ethiopia coffees on the American specialty market tend to break into two categories: dry-processed coffees and wet-processed, or "washed," coffees. Most dry-processed Ethiopias on the American market originate east of the capital of Addis Ababa and are called Harrars, after the name of the principle market city. Wet-processed coffees tend to originate south and west of Addis Ababa and carry various market names, including Yirgacheffe (spelled in a variety of ways), Washed Sidamo, and Limu.

This month I report on a cupping of the remarkable wet-processed or washed coffees of Ethiopia by the coffeereview.com cupping board. If the Harrars and other dry-processed coffees of Ethiopia are idiosyncratic, mysterious, and ambiguous, the finest washed coffees of Ethiopia are the quintessence of elegance: bright, high-toned, and buoyant, with citrus and floral tones. Both are complex, but the complexity of wet-processed Ethiopias shimmers at the top of the profile, alive with lemon, spice, and flower tones that at times almost shock with their intensity.

Wet-processed Ethiopias are produced in several regions to the south and west of the capital of Addis Ababa. However, from the American buyer's perspective they really fall into two categories: coffees carrying the celebrated Yirgacheffe mark, from a region southwest of the capital, and all of the other wet-processed Ethiopias, which include wet-processed Sidamos, Limus, and others. In other words, from a cupper's perspective, Yirgacheffes set the standard and the other origins compete, usually with lower-key, less extravagant versions of the per-fumy Yirgacheffe profile.

Of course, there are stories of coffees from other areas being marketed as Yirgacheffes. But there is no mistaking the goal of any coffee that purports to be a Yirgacheffe. It is one of the world's most distinctive origins, always easy to pick out in a blend, singing its citrusy, floral song high above the chorus of mere mortal coffees sounding below.

This month's cupping brought 12 Ethiopia washed coffees: four Yirgacheffes, three Sidamos, three Limus, and two unusual coffees from the Mt. Welel area near the Sudan border. Of the 12 coffees, four were supplied by the Gourmet Coffee Project, an initiative funded by the United Nations designed to identify and develop new specialty coffees in producing countries and promote those coffees in more well-heeled parts of the world like North America and Japan. The four Gourmet Project coffees are identified rather specifically in terms of estate or mill.

In the case of the other eight coffees, no farm or cooperative is identified because Ethiopia sells most of its coffees by auction. Exporters bid on small lots of coffee based on appearance, grade, and cupping reports provided by government "liquorers" or tasters, then combine them into larger lots for export. This is why I have identified the various coffees by market or regional name (Sidamo, Yirgacheffe, etc.) and by the name of the American importer (Holland Coffee Group, Ethiopian Highland Coffees, etc.).

Perhaps predictably, Yirgacheffes continued to rule the wet-processed Ethiopia roost, with a considerably higher collective rating than samples from other regions. However, only one Yirgacheffe, the entry from Royal Coffee, displayed quite the astounding high-toned aromatic fireworks of which this origin is capable. A second Yirgacheffe, this one from Holland Coffee, also was impressive, though a bit lower-toned and perhaps more seductive than the Royal Coffee sample. The other coffees in the cupping were fragrant and agreeable, but failed to deliver quite the perfumed thrill that professionals and aficionados always hope for when dropping their noses over a cup of this most distinctive and exotic of coffee origins.

Cuppings are conducted by the Coffee Review, which is available on line at: www.coffereview.com.

Kenneth Davids has written a number of highly influential books on coffee, among them are "Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing," and "Enjoying an Espresso: Ultimate Coffee." In May of 1996, he received the SCAA's "Special Achievement Award for Outstanding Contributions to Coffee Literature."

ETHIOPIA LIMU EHIOPIAN HIGHLAND COFFEE

Aroma 6

Acidity 6

Body 6

Flavor 6

Aftertaste 6

Origin: Limu growing, region, western Ethiopia.OVERALL RATING: 80

Notes: Limu is generally considered the second most prestigious origin for Ethiopia wet-processed coffee after Yirgacheffe. From the 1998/99 crop.

Blind assessment: Is this Ethiopia smooth, complex, and gently authoritative, or slightly hard, grassy, and astringent? Either the panelists couldn't make up their minds on this coffee or the coffee couldn't make up its own mind. "Sweet, caramel, root beer," wrote another; but "cooled to unremarkable and astringent." I found this coffee chocolatey and rich on first impression, but a touch hard underneath, with a faintly bitter finish.

ETHIOPIA WASHED SIDAMO ETHIOPIAN HIGHLAND COFFEE CO.

Aroma 6

Acidity 7

Body 6

Flavor 7

Aftertaste 7

Origin: Sidamo Province, southern Ethiopia. OVERALL RATING: 83

Notes: Some Sidamo coffees are dry-processed, or dried with the fruit still attached to the bean, hence the "washed" in the description of this coffee. From the 1998/99 crop.

Blind assessment: A pleasantly sweet, balanced coffee free of vices but short on virtues: "sweet, not overpowering, but clean and bright," wrote one panelist. Best in the aroma, ornamented by agreeable innuendoes panelists variously described as herb, nut and spice. I found this coffee displayed an impressive chocolatey sweetness if approached with patience, but lacked range and dimension.

ETHIOPIA YIRGACHEFF MOLEDINA COMMODITIES

Aroma 6

Acidity 6

Body 6

Flavor 7

Aftertaste 6

Origin: Yirgacheffe growing region, northern Sidamo province, south-central Ethiopia. OVERALL RATING: 81

Notes: Yirgacheffe is the best-known and most celebrated of Ethiopia wet-processed coffees. From the 1998/99 crop. Moledina Commodities is a leading importer of quality coffees from Africa, Central America and the Pacific.

Blind assessment: Smooth, embellished with delicate fruit and floral tones, and understated -- apparently too understated for the panel. The herbal and spice notes in the aroma faded and turned vaguely tea-like as the cup cooled. "Nice but unremarkable," one panelist wrote. "The interesting aroma was somewhat lost in the cup."

ETHIOPIA LIMU GUMMER ESTATE GOURMET COFFEE PROJECT

Aroma 7

Acidity 6

Body 6

Flavor 6

Aftertaste 6

Origin: Limu growing region, western Ethiopia. OVERALL RATING: 83

Notes: Limu is generally considered the second most prestigious origin for Ethiopia wet-processed coffee after Yirgacheffe. From the 1998/99 crop.

Blind assessment: I found myself at odds with most of the panel on this balanced, low-key coffee. What I read (and enjoyed) as pleasant chocolate tones others apparently took as earthy or faintly dirty notes. Or so it seems. But everyone enjoyed the deeply dimensioned, nut-toned aroma.

ETHIOPIA MT. WELDEL ASHI GOURMENT COFFEE PROJECT

Aroma 6

Acidity 6

Body 6

Flavor 6

Aftertaste 5

Origin: Mt. Welel region, close to the Sudan border, Welega Province, western Ethiopia. OVERALL RATING: 81

Notes: Produced by small peasant holders in full shade using traditional growing methods. Like many Ethiopia coffees, probably organically grown, but not certified as such. From the 1998/99 crop.

Blind assessment: The nutty, sweet- herbal-toned aroma promised intrigue, but most panelists felt the cup disappointed: the acidity was a touch harsh, the flavor rather rough, the aftertaste astringent. Perhaps too much green, unripe coffee fruit made it to the bag.

ETHIOPIA WASHED SIDAMO OLEDINA COMMODITIES

Aroma 6

Acidity 6

Body 6

Flavor 6

Aftertaste 6

Origin: Sidamo Province, southern Ethiopia. OVERALL RATING: 80

Notes: Other Sidamo coffees may be dry-processed, or dried with the fruit still attached to the bean -- hence the "washed" in the description of this coffee. From the 1998/99 crop.

Blind assessment: Panelists described a pleasant Ethiopia coffee with hints of citrus, spice, and perhaps something less pleasant: a faint but disturbing undertone described by one panelist as metallic, by another as medicinal, another as baggy or ropelike. Perhaps a slight fault in the drying.

ETHIOPIA YIRGACHEFFEE ETHIOPIAN HIGHLAND COFFEE CO

Aroma 7

Acidity 7

Body 6

Flavor 8

Aftertaste 7

Origin: Yigacheffe growing region, northern Sidamo province, south-central Ethiopia. OVERALL RATING: 83

Notes: Yirgacheffe is the best-known and most celebrated of Ethiopia wet-processed coffees. From the 1997/98 crop. Ethiopian Highland Coffee Co. is a recently established importer specializing in Ethiopia coffees. It is a vertically integrated exporter/importer dedicated to "Rebuilding Ethiopia one bean at a time."

Blind assessment: A richly hightoned, citrusy coffee shadowed by a faint defect. The aroma is sweet and floral, the cup brisk and lemony but dulled by a slight but persistent hardness. "Bright, juicy and citrusy, but cooled to dry and gritty," complained one panelist.

ETHIOPIA MT.WELEL BURI GOURMET COFFEE PROJECT

Aroma 7

Acidity 6

Body 6

Flavor 7

Aftertaste 6

Origin: Mt. Welel region, close to the Sudan border, Welega Province, western Ethiopia. OVERALL RATING: 81

Notes: Produced by small peasant holders in full shade using traditional growing methods. Like many Ethiopia coffees, probably organically grown, but not certified as such.

Blind assessment: Floral notes shimmer above a chocolate-and-spice pungency. "Small but balanced flavor package" wrote one panelist. The "small" in that description may account for the relatively modest rating of this coffee. Or the weakness may reside in the ambiguity of the underlying pungency, which hinted at a slight hardness.

ETHIOPIA YIRGACHEFFEE ROYAL COFFEE

Aroma 8

Acidity 7

Body 7

Flavor 8

Aftertaste 7

Origin: Yirgacheffe growing region, northern Sidamo province, south-central Ethiopia. OVERALL RATING: 89

Notes: Yirgacheffe is the best-known and most celebrated of Ethiopia wet-processed coffees. From the 1998/99 crop. Royal Coffee is a distinguished California-based importer founded in 1978.

Blind assessment: This Yirgacheffe soared straight out of the pack, powered by flowers and spice in the aroma that carried into the cup with charm, depth, and vivacity. Not powerful, but certainly intense, the complexity of nuance provoked enthusiastic (if decidedly non-technical) words of trib te: "Wow," wrote one; "sweet & intense - awe-some!" exclaimed another.

ETHIOPIA LIMU KOSSA ESTATE GOURMET COFFEE PROJECT

Aroma 6

Acidity 7

Body 7

Flavor 6

Aftertaste 6

Origin: Limu growing region, western Ethiopia. OVERALL RATING: 82

Notes: Limu is generally considered the second most prestigious origin for Ethiopia wet-processed coffee after Yirgacheffe. From the 1998/99 crop.

Blind assessment: Panelist opinion was divided whether to call this Limu bland or (as one panelist put it) "comfortable." Most agreed that the aroma tended toward vanilla, berry, and chocolate, that the acidity was bright and sweet, and that the cup was agreeably sweet but underpowered, perhaps shadowed by slight vegetal tones.body and flavor develop nicely."

ETHIOPIA WASHED SIDAMO HOLLAND COFFEE GROUP

Aroma 6

Acidity 6

Body 6

Falvor 7

Aftertaste 6

Origin: Sidamo Province, southern Ethiopia. OVERALL RATING: 81

Notes: Some Sidamo coffees are dry-processed, or dried with the fruit still attached to the bean, hence the "washed" in the description of this coffee. From the 1998/99 crop.

Blind assessment: A borderline off-taste marred this otherwise fragrantly complex and intense coffee. The body in particular displayed an impressive tongue-coating, velvety persistence. Nevertheless, subdued but disturbing tones that panelists variously described as rough, harsh, or fermented depressed the rating. "This might be a very good dark-roasted coffee," one panelist speculated. "The hardness might mellow out and the intensity of body and flavor develop nicely."

ETHIOPIA YIRGACHEFFEE HOLLAND COFFEE GROUP

Aroma 7

Acidity 7

Body 7

Flavor 7

Aftertaste 7

Origin: Yirgacheffe growing region, northern Sidamo province, south-central Ethiopia. OVERALL RATING: 85

Notes: Yirgacheffe is the best-known and most celebrated of Ethiopia wet-processed coffees. From the 1998/99 crop. Holland Coffee Group, founded in 1988, imports distinguished specialty coffees from all over the world, but particularly specializes in coffees of Indonesia.

Blind assessment: A complete, balanced Ethiopia: sweet, full but light-footed, with a soft, floral-toned acidity. The flowers and citrus are delicate but complex, shimmering over a touch of darker tones. "[ldots] A good beginner's coffee; not too bold [ldots]balanced," wrote one panelist. The beginner's adjective probably indicates why this attractive coffee failed to provoke a higher rating: It is a bit underpowered, fading quickly in the aftertaste. But I suspect that many American coffee drinkers will love this gentle, roundly nuanced coffee.

PROCEDURE. Coffees are not identified until cupping is completed. A minimum of three cups per coffee are sampled, using standard North American cupping procedure. Coffees were roasted to a uniform degree of roast measuring 45 whole bean 47 ground on a Roller Roaster by Robert Barker and Kenneth Davids at Keystone Coffee, San Jose, California.

SCORING. Cuppers report scores from 0 (low) to 10 (high) for the standard cupping categories of fragrance and aroma; acidity; body; flavor; and aftertaste. Scores reflect both intensity and quality in each category. The overall score of 50 (low) to 100 (high) is based on overall consideration of the total merits of the coffee.

95-100 Truly exceptional

90-94 Outstanding

80-89 Good to excellent

70-79 Fair to good

[less than]70 Undrinkable to poor
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Title Annotation:Twelve Ethiopian coffees tested
Author:Davids, Kenneth
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Geographic Code:6ETHI
Date:Apr 1, 2000
Words:2298
Previous Article:Kenya Coffee Auctions In Question.
Next Article:Coffee's Business of Responsibility.
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