Sweet Maria's Weblog

back in black (from harar)

the title? well, i am just humoring myself. I have one clean t-shirt left and it's black. the fact is, i arrived in addis ababa on the unlikely on-time ethiopia airlines flight from dire dawa completely covered in fine dirt from the soils of east harar. we headed out at 5:30 am, before sunrise, to see the "raised bed project" we have been supporters of in a place called choma, way off the main road in the prime east hararghe growing region. it was one of those days in "coffee travel" that seemed perfect from beginning to end. how many coffee buyers go to choma? zero. were we the first there. definitely, aside from our partner in harar coffee, rashid ogsaddey. how many cars come down this road? about 1 every 2 months, and that is the local government official. in fact the road was completely constructed with hand tools by locals - no engineering, no machines, and it sure felt like it too. we arrived to see how the raised bed program was implemented, if the dry-processed harar coffees would benefit from this method, and if the farmers liked it. the answer to all was a resounding yes! they want more raised beds, they feel the coffee dries faster, better, and in fact i have never smelled whole dry cherry pods and sensed sweet floral (rose-like) notes. with traditional harar dp coffees, laid out on mats on the ground to dry, it took 3 days longer ... which means that much more time from musty, earthy flavors to infiltrate the coffee. it was an amazing day, with all of choma decending on us, so excited someone cared so much about their coffee to come from america to visit! i admit to some egotism here - i felt like a bit of a celebrity. but, through translation into the local oromo language, i think i conveyed the real appreaction we have for harar longberry coffee, for the local culture and local cultivars, and for their willingness to embrace the raised bed drying idea. it's a small crop this year, and that will be hard on the farmers, but they are still willing to try something new. and in the normal crop cycle of these heirloom, ancient ethiopian cultivars, next year promises to be a bountiful coffee season, and the raised bed program will be in full effect, yielding better drying in a shorter time, and ultimately better coffee in the cup! i am off to yirga cheffe tomorrow, hoping the next place i stay can wash a few shirts for me ... we'll see. -tom

early morning ethiopia

It's way, way to early to be awake, but it's way too hard to sleep. The problem with traveling to Africa or Indonesia is you are totally flipped, time-zone wise. Nothing seems right, and I am not especially good with time zone changes. I brought this second hand book with me, The Devil's Cup, a coffee travelogue with lots of neat information (not all of it accurate - is Harar where  Robusta "evolved" into Arabica coffee? I don't think so). Along with mistakes, there's the general swashbuckling traveler narritive; dusty roads, broken-down trains, sweaty street-side cafes, bitter coffee. Ironically, I have been to most of the places this guy has, but I didn't arrive on an Eritrean smuggler's boat, or hitchhiking in the back of a cargo truck. I flew, and quite nicely. It's not like Addis, or Harar, or Dire Dawa, or Sana'a are that difficult to reach; in fact on Emirates airline I had a massaging seat and more movies than my cable at home! It's just that it takes time that many people don't have. But that doesn't make for a great "coffee adventure story". I guess you have to read the book to know what I am talking about, but I have a very different impulse when it comes to a great trip like this. I think it is good enough as it is, no need to dress it up. The facts are plenty interesting, not enough to sell books, but certainly to those already interested in coffee. That's my 5 am thought; I will cup here in Addis again today, checking out new lots as they start to come in to the warehouses from the micro-regions. And if today is like the first day's cupping, things should be great this season!

...from the road

(A web album where I upload pictures from the road. No order to these ... Tom)

Warshing Dishes n' Spitting Coffee

If a "blog" is supposed to reflect real everyday life, then between every post about coffee there would have to be a post about washing dishes. A good part of cupping is washing dishes. I spend a LOT of time washing dishes, and spittoons, and dumping the grind thing over the spittoon, which gets really gross. Since I think, next the average coffee roaster shop, we cup a lot, we generate a lot of dishes, a lot of spent grounds, a lot of full spittoons. Gross, yes, but that's the way it goes. I think we might be on par with some green brokers/importers on daily cupping chores, and they usually have someone tasked with cleanup. I pity that person. On the plus side, I am headed to Ethiopia on Saturday, to Dire Dawa and Harar region first, then to Yirgacheffe and Sidamo. After that I will be in Kenya. More on that later... for now, it's just cupping and spittoons around here.
From Interesting Images

Cupping Sumatrans With Brasilians

Bruno and Chiago came by, two real Minieros ...ie coffee guys from smack dab in the center of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Bruno runs Beccor in Portland and we get some coffees from him, including the really nice Carmo de Minas lots from Sertao; my favorite of last year, the La Esperanca, and the Fazendo do Serrado we just added to the list. The odd thing is to cup Indonesia coffees with coffee people from ... well, anywhere but Indonesia. It completely baffles them. They think we're insane. How can we accept Sumatra wet-hulled coffees with fruity notes, earthy flavors, a rustic finish, then turn around and reject a Brazil lot with those same tastes? How can a Central America coffee with no acidity be sold at commercial prices, yet a Sumatra with no acidity attains healthy specialty prices? These Indonesians are defect coffees right? Yes and no. As consumers we have decided we don't want one flavor standard for all coffees. It's a specialty trade, right, and like a specialty store we want 15 types of mustard and 20 olive oils and just as many balsamic vinegars. Some of those push the envelope on "good taste" as well, in order to discover a wider range of flavors, some produced on the tree, some influenced heavily by the processing methods after the coffee is picked. Purists may cringe, but I think it's important to represent a wide range of coffee "characters" with the exception of those which are downright revolting or, quite possibly unsafe (moldy and musty coffees are indeed unsafe!) We look to each origin to perfect their own techniques, to "do what they do best" with their coffee. We don't want a Sumatra coffee from Panama, and we know for sure we cannot get the classic Panama cup profile from a Sumatra. What this says about our Gesha lots, our Nicaragua Java, our dry-process Centrals from Guatemala and Mexico ... I will leave that for further discussion. -Tom