Newsletter: Ethiopia Guji Uraga

We all know the highest grown coffees at altitude are the last to ripen, meaning they’re most often last in the queue at the dry mill, and they’re the last to ship. In the case of Ethiopia, they are also the coffees that need some extra time to compose themselves and shine in the cup. After a handful of years experience with Uraga coffees, my personal favorite area in Southern Ethiopia, I am confident that this is essentially fact.

This season’s Yabitu Koba and Layo Teraga out-turns prove that. It’s been just over a month since they arrived into the Port of New Jersey, and these coffees are beginning to reveal themselves. The journey from the southern interior of Ethiopia to Addis to Djibouti, up the Red Sea and across the Mediterranean, finally traversing the Atlantic is an arduous one. It stresses the coffee. In the case of these higher altitude coffees, I think they become tight and need time in the warehouses to acclimate. Let’s say that they’re now getting comfortable in their new surroundings.

Our Uraga lots typically hit their peak flavor potential fall through winter and we’re tasting the onset of that concept just now. Some of my favorite emails of the year are those I receive from roasters in Jan/Feb, when I’m selecting new crop lots in Addis, telling me that Yabitu is better than it’s been all season.

Don’t miss out on top lots that will carry you safely through winter until new crop arrives next spring.

We’ve made allocations of all three of today’s offerings in both Continental Terminals NJ and The Annex CA.

OFFER
*units are available as 60 kg grain pro lined jute bags.
*all units are now SPOT The Annex CA/Continental Terminals NJ

Yabitu Koba #728 FTO fragrance: spice (clove, allspice), ripe plum — cup profile: fresh blueberry, root beer, pear, cherry tomato, cider-like mouthfeel — 88/89 points.

Yabitu Koba #729 FTO fragrance: stewed peach, wildflower honey — cup profile: crisp and refreshing malic acidity, white pineapple, rhubarb, fresh milk, cacao nibs — 90 points.

Layo Teraga: fragrance: peach, brulee’d sugar — cup profile: white grape juice, meyer lemon, refreshing/piquant acidic character, almost ethereal cleanliness in the finish, hints of macadamia in the aftertaste — 88/89 points.

Cheers,

Aleco

Newsletter: Ethiopia Early Season Arrival: Yukro Cooperative

Tasting the first washed coffees from the Technoserve Agaro coops back in 2008/09 was like unlocking the code on a brand new origin. Coffees from this area, just west of Jimma town about an hour or so out the road to Illubabor, can be unique and utterly special. But they weren’t always. Jimma had long been an afterthought of a region, producing primarily Grade 5 naturals. Of course, washed coffees falling under the DOC of Grade 2 Limu can be great, but the Limu 2 denomination covers an extensive swath of land, and identities of great individual coffees can be camouflaged or entirely lost.

But let’s stay on track. Let’s talk about cup profile. The aromatics of the best lots in Agaro are as florally potent as anything coming out of Yirgacheffe, though the cup character leans more towards yellow fruits like peach, mango, and even sweeter rainer cherry. Acidity in these coffees is piquant and effervescent, like champagne grapes. Sweetness is heavy like honey, but complex enough to conjure notes of candied ginger.

What are you waiting for? If the cup profile alone is enough to pique your interest, skip ahead to the offer below or hit the Book Online link above to reserve coffee or request samples now.

If you’re still with me…harvest in Western Ethiopia begins and ends a little bit earlier than down south. This year, I spent the month of January in Ethiopia analyzing and assembling lots, cupping through all of the Agaro week separations before other buyers arrived in Ethiopia. Lot variation is always a rollercoaster ride out there, so being early certainly reaps its own reward. Another benefit to the timing of that trip is that our first Ethiopia containers of the new season have now arrived.

Among the newly arrived coffees is one of our favorites in all of the coffee producing world: Yukro. Yukro is a cooperative that now falls under the jurisdiction of the Keta Union, which governs this newly famous growing region of Agaro. The original Yukro Multipurpose Cooperative, established in 1977, produced and sold both coffee and honey. The coffee was naturally processed junk. The honey was great.

Delving into more recent history, we have the the Technoserve projects in Jimma, Illubabor, and Kaffa to thank for changing the processing approach out west. Technoserve gave cooperatives like Yukro (and Nano Challa, Duromina, etc.) the opportunity to increase the value of their coffee by developing its inherent quality through improved processing. No more sun-dried natural crap. Instead, and with the help of Penagos equipment, coffees in Agaro were being washed clean for the very first time. Now, after mechanically removing the bulk of the fruit/mucilage from the beans, they are soaked overnight in fiberglass tanks. This allows for any remaining sugars to be fully removed from the surface of the beans. The coffees are perfectly clean by the time they hit the drying beds for the 8+ days they’ll need to complete processing. Yukro has the good habit of managing the initial 24-48 hours of this stage under shaded canopy to protect the wet parchment from intense sunlight. This keeps the parchment from cracking, which protects the beans from direct sunlight and damage, lengthening the shelf life and roast potential of the coffee.

Yukro is beautiful again this season. It’s taken several years of cupping and patience to understand how these coffees evolve from being fresh off of harvest to PSS to arrival, then through summer and into fall. In an enigma that is uniquely Ethiopian, sometimes these coffees truly hit their stride 10-12 months after harvest. We’ve tasted the evolution of this year’s Yukro from harvest to PSS to arrival and all signs indicate that this lot, representing weeks 3-5 of harvest, is going to be something decisively delicious for many months to come.

I’ve conservatively scored the arrival 88/89. Aromatics are less intense, but still sultry in their sweetness — yellow peach, hints of fresh ginger, and dark honey prevail. The cup is laden with ripe nectarine and pluot notes that become very apparent as the cup hits room temperature. When cool, the finish effervesces and refreshes with an ethereal crispness reminiscent of some of my favorite sparkling Savoie wines.

Cheers,

Aleco

Ethiopia 2015/2016 – Harvest Update & Forward Contracting

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It’s good, gang. It’s really, really good. I’ve spent the majority of the past two weeks in Addis, walking warehouses and cupping through table after table of gorgeous coffees. The South is indisputably brilliant this season. The West has shown an eclectic array of profiles with some very unique character. Weather has impacted Harar dramatically this season, but the coffee quality is fantastic. And we are hard at work, paring our selections down several times over to make sure we’re working with the very best coffees Ethiopia has to offer.

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Let’s start from the top….Guji has become one our top regions at Red Fox. Uraga, at the northern end of Guji zone, is the highest elevation coffee-producing area in the country at 2300 masl. Kercha, to the west, is an emerging producing region, and we’re seeing some of the best lots of the year coming out of here. Dynamite coffees are coming into Addis from all reaches of Guji. Along with fully traceable lots from Guji, we also purchase small volumes of top lots through the ECX. This season’s selection is without question the best we’ve sourced in the last handful of years; I scored the pre-shipment sample 91 points last week.

But Guji isn’t all we do. We put a lot of effort into bringing in some of the finest Grade 1 Kochere of the season. We love Illubabor, too. A handful of the cooperative groups born out of the Technoserve project, now unified under the Sor Gaba Union, offer some of the most unique flavor profiles in the country. A plummy, dark cherry, red grape, coca cola-like character tends to be more present than the honeyed, jasmine, sweet citrus, stone fruit profiles of the south. These are coffees that show tremendously well as filter or espresso.

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And we are bringing in some top lot coffee from Sidamo for the first time this season. We’ve cupped several times with these folks over the past few months, and have made our rounds through their warehouse. Our selections from Sidamo add a new dimension to our offerings — think sweetly floral aromatics and a heavy, ripe-fruit character from red cherry to satsuma.

Last but not least, we’ve begun selection for this season’s Harar lots. Drought has hit the region hard and production is estimated to be down anywhere from 40-50% compared with last season. We toured the western end of Harar a couple weeks ago and found the trees scarce, with very little coffee remaining on the few we came across. Khat production continues to increase at alarming rates, encroaching on the soils once dedicated to coffee production. Both the weather and khat make for a bleak future in Harar, as far as coffee is concerned. The lone bright spot at the moment is quality. Due in some part to the drought, coffees are drying very quickly and therefore tasting as clean as ever. Soft dark fruit is the tone-setter, along with raw tobacco and high % cacao. Cups are redolent with concord grape, blackcurrant, and fresh-picked ripe blueberry.

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Newsletter: Ethiopia Duromina, Crown Jewel of the West

My work, this particular life, has afforded many memories over the past 15 years. Many beautiful inspiring memories and a handful of frustrating moments as well. I’ll never forget sitting in the Addis Hilton Lobby during the winter of 2008, having just come back from my what-had-become-routine visits to the Wondo Group’s washings stations in Gedeo and Sidamo. I was amped after seeing the cherry quality coming into the mill and the separation in the warehouse. Dreams of the coming month’s perfume-y, floral cupping tables were already becoming fodder for my dreams.  

And then it all came crumbling down. Eleni Gebre wanted to meet to discuss this plan for an exchange she had been pitching feverishly to the government. All grains were to be traded, in the hopes of raising the country’s commodity based revenue. More dollars coming in. And it appeared as if she had accomplished her goal of adding coffee to that list of grains. She was on the verge of turning our trading landscape on its head. As could be imagined, I was beginning to lose my cool as she waved a Stumptown printout of the current “Moplaco Yirgacheffe Grade 2” offering in my face. Apparently we were already happy participants of her greater scheme. At least that was her ploy.  

Luckily for us, my old pal Chris Jordan, in the early stages of shaping Technoserve’s grand vision for Western Ethiopia at that very moment, was sitting with us as well. Technoserve (TNS) was in its second year marketing the coffee to the world, and essentially counted only Starbucks and Peet’s as its specialty customers. They wanted to involve the higher-end roasting companies at the time and we, Stumptown, were to be the first participants. Outside of Limu G2’s, which comprised all of Western Ethiopia’s washed coffees south of Lekempti, there wasn’t much diversity in what one could do buying clean coffee out there. Traceability? Building viable business structure within coops and community? Both laughable. Technoserve changed that game over the course of the following  two years. We immediately made our way west and found ourselves in Agaro. We had the combination to the vault all to ourselves. We started bringing in Yukro, Nano Challa, and Duromina lots in 2009. They blew our minds. They made us forget about lost relationships in Yirgacheffe. These coffees were absolutely wild and unique.  

TNS put simple business models in place, systems that empowered people and communities in areas that were washing coffee, and controlling their own destiny, for the first time ever. Farmers were no longer left that the will of the intermediaries roaming the countryside offering a price of the day. They were able to connect to the market directly. There have been many success stories, though none greater than Duromina. This particular cooperative has grown and invested better than rest. Their volume has increased, as has their coffee quality. As leadership within TNS has changed, we’ve spent the past few years poking around for that diamond in the rough; that lot with intoxicatingly floral aromatics that smells like some amalgam of honeysuckle, freshly grated ginger, and ripe mango. The very best lots from Agaro have such a saturated combination of cane sugar sweetness and meyer lemon/white grape that they used to remind us of drinking limonanda con panela in Colombia. Even reminiscent of watermelon juice as well. They’re just that refreshing. Well, we finally found it folks. This season’s one and only Duromina offering is an absolute beauty. It’s perfectly clean. It’s bright without an edge. It’s succulently sweet. The arrival came in hot at 90 points.  

Newsletter: New Gold, Ethiopia Guji Banco Michicha G2

Pull out your map of Ethiopia. Trace your way due south from Addis. You’ll pass Shashamane and then Awassa. You should see Yirgalem next, then Dilla. Yirgacheffe town just below. Eventually you hit Hagere Mariam. Hagere Mariam is part of the old Bule Hora zone. It’s now considered to be part of Sidamo, although that could quite literally change tomorrow, as Ethiopia’s geographical boundaries are forever roaming across hilltops into what once were neighboring tribes. Between Yirgacheffe town and Hagere Mariam is Gedeb, which was once known as Worka. For the young twenty-something version of me, Worka was the holy grail of coffee. All coffee, regardless of denomination. Just northeast of Gedeb is Uraga, which is home to some of our longest-standing relationships and absolute favorite coffees. A bit further east of Uraga is Shakiso, the region that put Guji on the map, with coffees like Mordecofe, Mormora, and Suke Quto originating in the heavily-shaded forests outside of town.

But let’s inch our way back west for a moment. If you have a topographic map, you’ll find Gedeb on the western-facing slope of a mountain. Uraga lies to the northeast, the town of Banco sits in the valley on the mountain’s southeastern-facing slopes, Hagere Mariam a bit further south. Now, draw a loop on your map around all four. The ever-so-slightly older version of myself currently considers this area to be coffee’s greatest treasure chest of all. The lots coming out of this tiny area can be some of the most explosive coffees on the planet. Not Kenya explosive, but those honeysuckle, jasmine, wildflower honey masterpieces that we all know can only be found in Ethiopia. Coffees with ripe fruit flavors of every kind — meyer lemon, white grape, ripe red berry, currant, nectarine, kiwi, and beyond. They’re all there.

We’ve had a heavy presence in Gedeb since pre-ECX days. Y’all know our story in Uraga. The Kilenso and Borena coffees are from Hagere Mariam. So now we’re learning Banco. And Banco is unique. It doesn’t taste like the other Guji coffees we buy, nor is it similar to Uraga or Gedeb. The Banco profile is its own thing entirely and we’re so happy that it brings even more diversity to our offerings.

Where else to start but the aromatics? It’s that fragrant, perfumed component that separates Ethiopia from the pack, after all, and our Banco Michicha doesn’t disappoint. That uniquely Guji pairing of ripe peach and floral honeysuckle set the tone immediately for the cup profile. More of both flavors brim from the cup, along with canteloupe and brown sugar. Redcurrant and melted butter overtones make this a distinctly Banco coffee. The mouthfeel and finish have a stunning vanilla custard quality. This is a sumptuous, intensely sweet selection for those who have become as enamored of the Guji cult classics as we have.  91 points.

Enjoy what’s still left from this current crop and start dreaming of what’s on the horizon for the next one.

Cheers,
Aleco

Newsletter: Ethiopia Harar Longberry G3

This very small offering has been a long time coming. The whole concept of this offering is extremely unique. To be perfectly frank, we don’t do naturals at Red Fox. We don’t believe in naturals at Red Fox. The idea of “naturally” processed coffees contradicts our mantra entirely.

Until now.

Why? A whole lot has to do with weather. Drying naturals in less than perfectly arid, sunny conditions is a gargantuan risk — not just a risk of uneven drying, but of stimulating ochratoxin growth on the fruit itself. Drying naturals in Yirgacheffe in December, or in Panama in January, or in Kenya at any time is really, really tricky. It’s inadvisable to say the least. A lot of our aversion to naturals has to do with risk vs. reward for the farmers themselves, as well. I’ve seen too many buyers encourage farmers to make naturals, in less than ideal conditions, and then not buy the coffee when the processing doesn’t turn out as they had hoped. This rant could continue for pages but that’s not the point. Our point is that we have finally (after years of searching) found a natural that we stand behind.

Why? Because it was grown in Harar where the arid, desert-like climate is conducive to drying in under 20 days. Because the culture and lack of water in Harar is such that the natural process is the only process used across the region, dating back to the 10th century. Lastly and most importantly, because we partnered with Heleanna Georgalis who was born and raised in Eastern Harar. Heleanna’s father, Yannis, was one of two major players in the region for decades pre-ECX. He had the state-of-the-art drying and preparation facilities in Dire Dawa. Yannis lived and breathed Harare coffee culture for the vast majority of his life. He was a legend among Ethiopian coffee traders for his work in the east.

We spent a week in East Harar with Heleanna earlier this year learning the culture and trying to get a feel for the communities and their coffee-producing habits. It’s a whole other world out there. The “Mokka” variety is found only in Harar and parts of Yemen. The elevation is extreme, hitting above 2,500 masl in certain instances. And the climate is just so dry, with annual precipitation under 1,000 mm. This is our first offering from the area, but we plan to build on it and to offer multiple lots beginning in 2016. Red Fox projects are in the works as I type this. Harar will become one of the players in our lineup that adds real diversity to our menu.

The cup profile from Harar is as unique as they come. It doesn’t taste like the naturals from Sidamo or Yirgacheffe, which have that Nestle Quik strawberry syrup flavor. It differs even from a Yemen. The finest Harars burst with ripe, refreshing blueberry and fresh cut strawberry. Tangy, greek yogurt pervades both the flavor and mouthfeel. The finish is sweet and cacao-y. Our Grade 3 Harar offering is a meticulously prepared coffee that roasts almost as evenly as a washed coffee.

We’ve sent samples of this coffee out to folks we’ve cupped with over the past 10+ years, folks with some of the most respected pallets in our industry, and the feedback has been extremely positive. We almost never score naturals, but I am going to conservatively put an 88 on this one and call it the best Harar I’ve tasted in the past 15 years.

Cheers,
Aleco

 

Newsletter: Prime Lot Ethiopia G1 Arrivals

They’re just aren’t any other coffees that need as few words to express their greatness as washed Grade 1 Ethiopias. They are the premier lots from the world’s premier producing country. Preparation is flawless and quality unparalleled. Today’s lots are arguably our finest offerings from Ethiopia of the season, and are prime examples of what G1 arrivals should be. They’re gems. They’re SPOT New Jersey right now.

Let’s get down to it:

KOCHERE G1:

Kochere is the peak of altitude for Yirgacheffe’s coffee production. Many coffee professionals consider it the pinnacle region — not just for Ethiopian coffee, but for coffee production in general — and it’s hard for us to disagree, considering the quality of the coffees that we see annually.

Today’s offering is the best Kochere lot we’ve offered in our first two seasons at Red Fox. Period. I don’t believe in ‘perfection,’ but this may be as close as coffee gets. It’s a supremely sweet and juicy lot with all of the ripe fruits — from blackcurrants and berries, to nectarine, to tart, refreshing white grape. The profile is seamless with no edges. This is purely clean coffee with exquisite balance to boot.

GUJI G1:

Those of you who speak with me frequently know that Guji is my favorite region in the entire coffee universe. I have a hard time getting past the unique and enticing floral character. I’m a sucker for that ripe peach, raw honey, and assam finish. They’re just so ridiculously refreshing, often reminiscent of watermelon juice. What else do you want?

Today’s offering is prime time Guji. Its aura beams from the cup with an orangish-yellow hue. Peach blossoms and wildflower honey create an aromatic explosion for a coffee that follows through with ultimate honeyed sweetness and dried apricot in the cup. As the coffee cools, brown sugar becomes the prominent note coating more ripe stone fruits. Nectarous coffee.

Dry mill preparation was handled by the ruthlessly meticulous Heleanna Georgalis, Ethiopia’s champion of true Grade 1 quality.

 

Newsletter: New Crop Yirgacheffe G2

The season is upon us. Our first containers of washed Ethiopian coffees have now arrived on both coasts and what better way to start our offers with than the Queen Coffee of them all, Yirgacheffe. Today’s offering is a gem with all of the classic flavors we look for from that fabled region and in spades: potently perfumed honeysuckle in the fragrance, honey + milk chocolate candy bar on the break, white grape and perfectly articulate meyer lemon in the cup, with that concept continuing through the finish and morphing into a lemon hard candy note. It’s easily a 90.

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But can we trace this coffee back to the farm or cooperative level? No, we cannot. Did we buy it purely because of its electric flavor? No, we did not. We love this lot and, don’t get me wrong, we feel fortunate to be in a position of selecting the finest Ethiopian coffees available. This Yirg is a stunner and we stand behind it 1000%. But there is more to it than that.

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I personally have spent the past decade traveling to and within Ethiopia and have seen internal coffee politics change dramatically over that period. The Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX) was established immediately following the 2007/08 harvest and instantly changed the playing field for all of us. As the coffee buyer for one of the world’s premier direct trade roasters, I was upset that the private washing stations and exporters we worked with prior to ECX were no longer able to export coffee to us directly. These partners were often the most trustworthy folks we had relationships with. They not only delivered the best quality, and in a timely manner, but they were the ones paying more to the farmers for cherry. It was the only way they could compete with the cooperatives next door. I was upset because the vast majority of these exporters were about to see their businesses become defunct due to the new laws.

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So we promptly began drumming up a new strategy. We decided to put the ECX in our rearview mirror, more out of emotion than anything else. We began buying from the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (OCFCU) as well as from privately leased landholders with 30+ hectares of coffee production who, under the new laws, were still allowed to export directly. According to the new rules, landholders of this size were allowed to ship the coffee that they produced on their own farms. Those who were merely buying fruit, many of whom were our friends and strategic business partners in the growing regions, would have to tender their coffee blindly to the exchange, making those coffees untraceable beyond the larger region. But with the advent of the 2009 harvest, the truth became clear. Our tiny little business wasn’t sending a message to the government by avoiding the exchange. In fact, all we were really doing was hurting the businesses, and thousands of farmers along with them, that helped get us to where we were, reputation-wise. Why should farmers be punished for choosing to receive a better price for their cherry? To be perfectly honest, many of the privately held washing stations are STILL paying more for cherry because it is STILL the only way they survive against the neighboring cooperatives.

It takes a whole lot more than farmers and roasters to compose a strong and successful supply chain. Developing a win-win-win-win situation between farmers, export partners, ourselves and our customers is what’s most important. We’re only successful if EVERY participant involved our chain is winning.

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This Yirgacheffe is the first lot of several that we’ll offer this season prepared and exported by our old friend Heleanna Georgalis in Addis. Heleanna, like her father Yiannis, was born in East Harrar. They’re a family of coffee traders trying to find a way to not only survive as a business in the ECX era, but also to continue doing what they love….produce, cup, prepare, and ship extraordinary coffees. They’ve been loyal to us for years and we continue our loyalty to Heleanna. She knows exceptional coffees and we are proud to offer them. And that, folks, is why we’re in this business. It’s the people that interest us most. All of them. Producers, exporters, roasters and the rest. Building a winning supply chain is what this is all about.

Heleanna also happens to be our best dry miller of coffees in all of East Africa, bar none. Those of you who are tired of flawed green preparation coming out of Ethiopia will be pleasantly surprised with these lots. They’re meticulously sorted. They’re perfect.

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