Ask any traveling spoon or coffee cupper, their favorite countries to visit and Ethiopia and Kenya are always near the top. Why? You could talk about the people, the mills, the country side and the labs, but ultimately, it’s about the coffee. And for a spoon, it’s the proverbial kid in a candy store, or more precisely finding Willy Wonka’s factory.
Ethiopia is full of diversity in the cup. No wonder over 75% of the Good Food winning coffees are from Ethiopia. From its floral and delicate acidity, to tropical notes like pineapple and stone fruit such as peaches, Ethiopian washed coffees are unique. Not to be outdone, its Natural counterpart features fruit bombs with flavors of blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, and every other berry along with the same pineapple and stone fruit.
Kenya on the other hand packs a punch with high citrus acidity balanced by notes of current, cherry, peach and more. Some have savory notes of tomato or sweet herbs, but all good Kenya coffees are sweet and bright. Both countries are dominated by small farmers and Cooperatives (groups of 100’s to 1000’s of small farmers in a unique micro climate).
While some trips are visits to see the harvest and meet the people, this trip was all about cupping. Departing LAX at 6 pm on a Wednesday and not arriving in Addis Ethiopia till 2 am on Friday. It was a long trip to get there, so the spoon wasted no time. Our first visit to export partner Teddy at 9 am to cup tables of washed and naturals. Often this visit would occur in late January but the crop is later this year so late Feb was perfect. From there with no time for lunch, we went straight to another long-time coffee exporter Haile for more tables of Coffee. Ending late, we were finally able to have a nice dinner before getting some rest.
Saturday was just as busy starting again early with Aman and his brother Tariku who we get our Hambela from and who’s coffee supplied half the Good Food Finalists. Flavors from our top washed included floral tea-rose, citric lemon grass, berry fruit notes, full honey body and extremely complex. Our favorite natural was a Hambela from the Guji Region full of berries. Notes included not only berry, but intense blue berry, pineapple plus lemongrass citric acidity, sweet, complex and rou. For those who are not familiar with 'rue' or ‘rou’ it is like a sweet eucalyptus or herb and commonly used in the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony. But again, our day was not done as next we visited new friends who cupped several tables of PCS or Premium Cherry Selection micro lots. Featuring some of the same coffee regions sold by others, the team at TESTI (meaning happy) have convinced the farmers to hand sort so only the best cherries are used and it pays off in the cup.
So much good coffee in Ethiopia, both washed and naturals, that we could not visit all so planned a return after Kenya to visit and cup more. Speaking of Kenya, we were up early at 4:30 to head to the airport for our flight to Nairobi and Dormans. But first we have a bit of a break so after landing in Nairobi we were able to visit the Giraffe Center as well as the Nairobi National Park. The Giraffe center was crazy as the large animals would eat right from you hand or spoon. I think Giraffe’s would make great coffee cuppers as the have what appears to be the longest tongues, some 10” sticking out to get treats from visitors. At the National Park we enjoyed a safari of epic proportions. The park is right next to the city with high rise buildings in the background. It’s a sort of wild animal park but no animals are in cages and you drive right though the dirt roads among the animals, Unfortunately the old Lion who we saw on our last visit is no longer there as he escaped over a fence and was eating good on cows from nearby farmers who put an end to his easy hunting. But we did see several lions walking but 50 yards from herds of zebras, water buffalo and others. Upon returning to the hotel we actually skipped dinner to get some sleep for the cupping ahead.
Cupping at Dorman’s is like no other place in the world. Typical tables are 40 coffees at a time and we cupped one after another after another. For two days we cupped over 300 coffees and finished day two with a final table of our top 21. While all were outstanding, we ended up choosing 5 to buy. From AA to PB (Peaberry) with some familiar names to a couple new ones, we left confident we will again have some of the best from Kenya. And while Kenya is always one of our favorite origins, all agreed this year’s crop is even better than last. The only challenge this year is that crop production is down so prices are up. But sometimes that is the cost of great coffee and we feel this years are with the price.
Heading home, I flew back through Ethiopia so visited with our old roaster Michael McIntyre and his wife. Great to see how Michael and flourished in the industry and better yet he wanted to prove it to us with many great coffees. One such coffee is a Bombe natural from Sidama we will be bringing in. Unfortunately, Michael works with lots of small farmers and groups so the lot is small but packed with fruit flavors.
Looking forward to receiving and sharing this years coffees from Ethiopia and Kenya…..