Kedir Jebril Imamu & His Fabled Gogogu Forest Coffees

Central Guji is one of the coffee world’s veritable treasure chests. As the Ethiopian coffee trade has made itself over several times in the past 12 years, so has Red Fox. The advent of ECX prior to the 2009/10 harvest brought me personally to Uraga having to say goodbye to the strong relationships built over several years with privately held washing stations in Gedeb, Yirgacheffe and Bensa in Sidamo. Working through Guji’s Cooperative Union I found myself making trip after trip to Layo Tiraga in Central Uraga’s forests and eventually Yabitu Koba in the Ugo Begne forests building a pipeline for top lots to the US. The beautiful coffees in Yirgacheffe and Sidamo became an afterthought as I pushed to put this region on specialty coffee’s radar. As the Union found themselves in brutal political and financial struggles in the early years of Red Fox we branched out to working with small, independent washing station owners in the specific forests in and around Harso Larcho Torka, Bire, Gogogu, Ugo Begne, and Bere.

Enter Kedir Jebril Imamu. On the surface Kedir appears to be just another independent washing station owner from Dilla in the Gedeo Zone. His two brothers, Feku and Abdi, have coffees widely praised by the industry that Red Fox used to source and deliver in the immediate post-Union years. There is more notoriety on both of his brother’s names in the North American coffee market because they’ve been so widely traded and marketed by us and several importers post-Red Fox. But it’s the youngest brother that might just emerge as the new wave industry leader in Haro Welabu, the newly zoned Guji Woreda immediately east of Hambela Wamena and west of Uraga.  

Kedir grew up working odd jobs around Dilla, mainly construction. He eventually saved enough money to open his own coffee transportation company moving coffee from the bejewelled coffee forests surrounding Dilla—specifically Central and Northern Guji—down the mountain to major trade centers. 11 years ago, Kedir built his very own washing station, Gogogu Bekaka, in the Gogogu kebele of (formerly) Uraga, Guji. Since then Kedir has gradually increased his bandwidth with the neighboring coffee farmers growing his volume at Bekaka to roughly 2 container loads annual. 2 years ago, Kedir built his second washing station, also in the forests of Gogogu: Gogogu Wate. Production is lower annually here as Kedir continues to develop confidence from his neighboring farmers. We expect up to 200 bags available only this season.

Kedir’s the youngest of the Jebril brothers and he might just be the savviest. Kedir incorporated his own export company in 2020. That’s a big deal. Kedir will be exporting his own coffee direct to Red Fox this season. He delivered his coffee directly to ECX in Dilla for the first 7 years of Gogogu Bekaka’s existence. He worked with a private export company for the past 4 years through the country’s Vertical Integration system allowing privately held businesses to traceably purchase coffees again. Kedir wasn’t happy with this arrangement though—he knew his coffee was more valuable than the prices he was receiving for it. We bought his Gogogou coffees 2 seasons ago and plan to never let them go. This is the quintessential relationship archetype that Red Fox seeks out in Ethiopia; a small, locally held washing station with exclusive export to us in the US. Oh, and the coffee is amazing.  

GOGOGU HARVEST ‘20/‘21

The Central Guji season started in early November this year and will finish up in mid-January. Most washing stations will begin to prepare Grade 1 quality a couple of weeks into the season as the harvest picks up and ripening begins to become more dense. They’ll continue preparing Grade 1 quality through the season stopping in the final week or so as the very last fruit comes off the trees in their areas. The early and late season coffees will become Grade 2 quality. Kedir has stricter protocols. He processed the first month+ of cherry as Grade 2 and only selected the fruit from the densest ripening period of the season, Dec 10 – Jan 5, as Grade 1 this year.  His offerings from Bekaka and Wate are the purest essence of what the surrounding forests can be and are.  

Kedir’s fermentation process is extensive—he leaves freshly peeled seeds underwater for 60 hours compared to the average washing station’s 48. Coffees are then washed vigorously in elongated channels while also being selected for quality. The less dense Grade 2 quality beans are sifted off the top of the channel and taken to their own drying stations. The denser Grade 1 coffees eventually make it to a soaking tank where they’ll sit overnight removing any excess mucilage from the seed before they’re sent to the drying beds. Kedir keeps his parchment coffee covered in mesh for the first 5-6 days in order to avoid cracking and direct exposure to sunlight which can damage the integrity of the beans. After this first drying period the coffee is then opened to sunlight and left to dry for another 5-6 days before being conditioned in the storage warehouse for upwards of a month.  

Kedir paid 25-29 birr/kg for coffee cherry in the 2020/21 season. It’s important to note that the standard local price for cherry prior to last year was in the 14-20 birr/kg range for many years.  Increased competition through the Vertical Integration concept has very much increased financial viability for coffee producers across Centra/Northern Guji from Uraga to Haro Welabu to Hambela Wamena. 

THE GOODS

Even though these coffees are only a bumpy 20 minute drive from each other, the flavor profiles are uniquely distinct.  

Gogogu Bekaka: Tropical yellow fruits are the headliner here—sweet but bright, sparkly mango and ultra-ripe papaya reign supreme with lingering rosewater Turkish delight in the background.  The finish shows a more caramelized character along the lines of bruleed meringue or marshmallow. This cup profile has haunted me with memories of Yabitu Koba/Ugo Begne Forest coffees of years past for the past week. These lots will demonstrate a truly dynamic range across the flavor spectrum. So structured. Perfectly complete.  

Gogogu Wate: The Wate lots also conjured memories of coffees of yesteryear and right off the bat with their scallion-like aromatics. Scallion? Yes. Oddly enough, it’s the one single flavor attribute I seek out most in Central Guji coffees.  It’s an indication of 2 things: 1) that the coffee is mighty fresh,  2) so fresh that as the lot conditions over the course of a month or so that exact scallion character morphs into the most stunning honeysuckle/orange blossom fragrance. It sounds odd but it’s the secret sauce. Moving forward the cup profile itself in a word is electric. Key Lime.  Radiant, fresh, crisp Key Lime. Persian Lime. Kaffir Lime. Lemon Lime. All the limes. This is an effervescently refreshing coffee.  

 

To learn more about our work, check out our journal and follow us on Instagram @redfoxcoffeemerchants, Twitter @redfoxcoffeeSpotify, and YouTube.

 

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: 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: 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.