For the most part, I remain relatively unbiased when it comes to producing countries. You know, it’s not just about the terroir, it’s about understanding your product and market — with a little old fashioned hard work thrown in too. Most coffee farmers have all the potential in the world. Yes, it’s true that some do live on the sunnier side of the hill, or at the highest peak which can provide some advantage to cup quality. However for the most part, variety, processing, soil nutrients and selective picking are things you can have some control over in order to increase the quality and uniqueness of your coffee. After spending the past couple of years visiting the coffee growing countries of the world, I finally made my way to Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. Only to discover that most of their secret lies in the gifts Mother Nature has provided for them.
There is something about a great Ethiopian coffee that I really appreciate. For the most part, I would consider them some of the best coffees in the world. There I’ve said it! I know it’s somewhat taboo to pin point a country as ‘the best’, but I’ve got to call it like it is. What is it specifically that makes the Ethiopian cup profile so amazing? I can narrow it down to a few things including their heightened sweetness and clarity of flavour. They’re complex and layered, distinct and recognisable. A great washed Yirgacheffe ticks all these boxes without question and can demand attention from across the room. They can be so sweet and distinct they remind me of dessert wines with delicate florals, honeys and stone fruit. Even thinking about now is getting me really excited. Many of us are aware that with the introduction of the ECX (Ethiopia Commodity Exchange) in recent years, exact traceability is difficult, while small exceptional lots can become homogenised and mixed into larger volumes. Regardless of this, Ethiopia still manages to produce something special which demonstrates quite easily what amazing stock they have to begin with.
The most memorable part of my drive into the highlands of the Guij and Sidama zones is the wild growth of the heirloom coffee trees and the incredibly fertile soils which even I could recognise as such.
You had the sense that merely spitting out a couple of apple seeds would eventually lead to a thriving mini-orchard. The dark red earth just seemed ready to receive and things grew strong and healthy. It’s my belief that these heirloom varieties are the building blocks for this amazing coffee. Combined with the altitude and soils, this region really is a haven for coffee growing. So it doesn’t surprise me that the name Yirgacheffe is so famous, as this particular part of the world has some of the healthiest and most naturally fertile growing conditions I’ve ever seen.
The next time you have an Ethiopian coffee, really try to engage the senses. Smell it, breathe it in and savour its textures and flavours. You’ll find that there is something significantly different about these coffees.