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.