Sweet Maria's Weblog

ethiopia behind me, kenya ahead...

I arrived in Nairobi for the Kenya leg of my trip ... the longest coffee trip I have taken actually, at 20 days. It's nice to have a travel day, some hotel time here in Nairobi, and a chance to reflect on Ethiopia. Having gone to both the West (Dire Dawa, Harar) and the South (Sidama, Yirga Cheffe) was interesting. They are so different! One thing is clear, that the crop is small in all areas, and that the new Coffee Exchange that replaces the Auctions, called the ECX, has everyone confused. (http://www.ecx.com.et/) I am not even going to try to explain it here, but the consequence is that the entire coffee supply chain is constipated. Nothing is moving; cooperatives and private mills aren't delivering coffee, the Addis Ababa dry mills are not running, and nothing is shipping. That's not good for the coffee either, to sit in parchment when it ready for hulling, sorting, and export. So we'll see how it plays out in the next couple weeks, which are critical. I was able to do a fair amount of cupping of new crop lots, alongside some of my compadres, and am happy with the quality of both the wet-process and dry-process coffees. Koratie is cupping really well, and the raised-bed Harar project lots were ranging from really good to fantastic! While I have been to Ethiopia several times, it was my first real trip to the south and that leg was so rewarding. I have uploaded a few preliminary pictures to flickr (see the sidebar to the left) and am still sorting through a bazillion more.

Roast Pairing #6: DIY Mokha Java

Mohka Java is the historic grandfather of all blends. The Dutch were the first to take coffee from Yemen to their colony of Batavia on the island of Java. It was clear that the same seedstock was quite different; the Yemen intense and brighter than the soft, full-bodied Java. Some genius thought a mix of the two would strike an interesting balance, and voila! So what is the benefit of mixing a coffee with one distinct flavor profile with another, and what is the right way to go about deciding the in what proportions? Or are they just better unblended, as two unique and different coffees? Is a low-acid, full-bodied Java more to your liking, or a wild, intense Arabian coffee. We offer our Yemen Mokha Sana'ani and our Java Kajumas Organic Taman Dadar to for this test. We ask you to brew them each separately and note the cup. Then to try the classic 50-50 blend of the two. Experiment with 75-25 percentages, to see if the effect. We hope to get your feedback via the blog too.  As far as the roast goes, the Java was roasted to Full City+ with just the slightest hint of second crack: 16 minutes and 441 degrees by thermoprobe.  The Yemen was kept a bit lighter to try to bring out some of the fruited aspects of this lot, so I ended the roasts after 16 minutes at 437 degrees for a lighter version of Full City, hopefully.

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)