Orange Blossom, Blueberry, Milk chocolate
alt: 2042 MASL
Historically in Ethiopia, coffee farms are owned by men. When coffee cherries are harvested, they’re transported to nearby mills where they are processed in the order they are received with any other cherries delivered that day. As the depulped coffee seeds are inevitably mixed in the washing tanks and on the drying beds, traceability to the farmer is lost. The resulting coffee can be identified as mill-specific, but the exact farms that contribute to the flavors in the final cup maybe impossible to discover. These industry norms make this woman-owned, single farm lot from Ethiopia a rarity in many ways. Tigesit Waqa’s eight hectare farm is located 2,042 meters above sea level in southern Ethiopia, near the town of Idido where she grew up. Located in the Yirgacheffe district - a part of the Gedeo zone - the area surrounding Idido has a reputation for producing stunning examples of Ethiopian coffee. Tigesit’s farm is no exception. Having worked in coffee for twenty two years, Tigesit’s experience, attention to detail, and unwavering work ethic allow her to realize her vision of “maximizing coffee production and quality,” enabling her family to be financially secure and ensuring her children’s education. Growing on the farm are heirloom varieties native to Ethiopia, including Kurume, Wolisho, and Anigafa. The farm itself is organized in a system referred to as “agroforestry,” in which coffee and other agricultural crops are grown together and intermingled with shade-providing indigenous trees. To the untrained eye these agroforests may look untamed, but upon further inspection this balanced approach allows for economical and sustenance providing crops to be grown in partnership with native species while avoiding deforestation. Once coffee cherries are ripe, they are picked and kept on-site as opposed to being transported to a mill. This pivotal step in the processing of the coffee ensures Tigesit can manage quality and maintain traceability until the coffee is ready for export. The cherries are placed on “raised beds” to dry. The beds themselves are constructed of wood with a layer of mesh fabric. This design keeps the coffee suspended off of the ground, at a height that allows workers to easily rotate cherries for even drying, and permits air to flow underneath and through the bed of coffee. The beds are covered with tarps twice a day. Once during midday when the sun threatens to scorch and tear the skin of the drying cherries, exposing them to mold and pests, and again in the evening, when condensation can cause the drying cherries to reabsorb moisture, prolonging the drying process and increasing the risk of mold. Exemplary natural Ethiopian coffees feature floral, perfume-like aromas, fruity flavors of blueberries and strawberries, with underlying flavors of chocolate. Unsurprisingly, the terroir of Tigesit’s farm accompanied by her attention to detail results in one of the best natural processed coffees we’ve tasted this year.
Ethiopia: The Birthplace of Coffea arabica
While we may never know the exact details for the biological origin and evolution of Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica), we can make some plausible inferences based on research of its closest relatives. We know Arabica is a hybrid of two African coffee species: Robusta coffee (Coffea canephora) and Nandi coffee (Coffee eugenioides). Robusta has a wide distribution across tropical Africa, while Nandi can be found in the highlands of the African Rift Valley. It was in Ethiopia where these two coffee species hybridized, bringing Arabica into the world.
As a result, much of Arabica’s genetic diversity can be found in Ethiopia. This diversity is of a great benefit to coffee farmers in the country, as it ensures a wide source of planting material from wild varieties. To the global coffee industry, this treasure of genetic diversity allows for the continued discovery and creation of new varieties. This wealth of varieties also explains the large range of flavor profiles that can be found throughout various regions of Ethiopia. It’s difficult to make generalizations about the cup profile of Ethiopian coffees as most of the flavors that can be found in coffee are represented in different growing regions.
Coffee has been a source of food and drink in Ethiopia for hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years. Eventually domestication and farming of coffee took place and consumption increased. By the 15th century, coffee consumption had spread to Yemen where it was also farmed locally. Consumption continued to spread to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey, increasing demand from Ethiopia and Yemen. Coffee farming also expanded into other regions of East Africa.
With consumption expanding into Europe, the Dutch East India Company obtained coffee plants from the port of Mocha in Yemen and established coffee plantations in the Dutch East Indies, including Java and Sumatra. These plantations were able to supply Europe’s demand by 1719.
Coffee was eventually introduced to the Americas, first by French naval captain Gabriel des Cluiex in the West Indies, including Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Saint-Domingue. Brazil’s first plantation was established in 1727. By the 19th century, Brazil’s supply allowed coffee to go from a niche beverage to a drink consumed by the masses. Brazil remained by far the dominant producer of coffee throughout the 19th and most of the 20th century, before production in Central America, Colombia, Indonesia, and Vietnam began to chip away at Brazil’s dominance. Today coffee can even be found growing commercially in Hawaii, Australia, and California.