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: Chimaltenango, The Pearl of Central America

We’re very happy to share our first and only Central American offerings of 2015, now clear and available SPOT at the Annex in San Leandro.

Guatemala is veritable treasure chest for top coffees. We love the wide range of cup profiles from its many producing regions, from the clean stone fruit and yellow honey flavor of Sacatepequez to the dark fruit and rich cacao notes of Huehue. When I think of Alta Verapaz and neighboring Sierra de las Minas, I think of their electric acidity. In contrast, the Southernmost regions of Mataquescuintla, Chiquimula, and Esquipulas rely more on depth of sweetness and rich mouthfeel. And there is so much more variation, from region to region and within profiles, very much distinct to Guatemala. Outside of Colombia and Ethiopia there isn’t another producing country that offers as much variety.

As you might imagine, we at Red Fox do have a favorite corner of Guatemala, and that spot is Chimaltenango. Although located smack dab in the middle of the country just a couple hours north of Guatemala City, it also happens to be a region that is less traversed by coffee buyers. We love it so much that it’s the only region in all of Central America that we’re currently working in. We have big plans to develop a specific triangle-shaped zone towards the north of the country beginning in 2016. It’s from this triangle that some today’s offerings originate.

So what makes Chimal so special to Red Fox? Good question. To put it simply it’s a combination of 1800-2000 masl elevation, an almost pure presence of Bourbon and Caturra, and its accessible location — resulting in some of the most complete coffees in all of Latin America. These cups absolutely burst with fruit flavors, from black cherry to crisp red apple to currants of all varieties, alongside mandarin and white grape. They’re complex on the high end. They’re also sweet in the purest way, reminding us of wildflower honey and panela. Top Chimal coffees also offer weight at the back end of the cup with clear expressions of melted butter and fresh cream. Today’s offerings are beautiful examples of lots across this flavor spectrum.

Cheers,
Aleco