We originally purchased this lot of naturally processed Ethiopian coffee to be a component of our El Toro Espresso Blend, but it was such a standout on our cupping table we simply had to offer it on its own. It showcases everything we love about naturally processed coffees from southern Ethiopia: richly sweet fruit tones, a silky chocolate body, and a crisp clean acidity.

The area surrounding the market town of Yirgacheffe seems to be nothing short of a coffee wonderland. Thousands of farmers tend small plots of only a few dozen coffee plants, bringing their produce to one of the many local coffee mills. The remote hills of this region are coffee’s homeland. Many of the plants being harvested are wild or semi-wild heirloom cultivars. Only a small percentage of the coffee produced in Ethiopia comes from the “improved” and homogeneous varieties that represent the vast majority of the rest of the world’s production.

The Kerbal Aricha mill, which processed this coffee, sits only a few kilometers from the center of Yirgacheffe town, but receives coffee from over 700 growers. Much of the reason this lot is so spectacular is a result of the terroir in which it is grown. These hills sit above 1900 meters (6230 feet) and have soil that is extremely iron rich, conditions to which the coffee plants are perfectly adapted.

The other factor that contributes to this coffee’s greatness is the care with which it is handled post harvest. The Aricha mill accepts only coffee cherries picked at the peak of ripeness, winnowing out under and over ripe fruit. It is then spread on raised beds, allowing the drying process to occur with maximal airflow. Natural processed coffees like this are dried with the fruit still intact and surrounding the seed, and the early stages of the process are crucial. During the first few days the Aricha mill spreads the coffee in very thin layers and turns it every two to three hours, making sure that it doesn’t over ferment or even mold, either of which can lead to off, foul flavors.

Photo courtesy Royal Coffee

Drying Beds at the Aricha Mill
Photo courtesy Royal Coffee

After the coffee has dried four to six weeks, the dessicated coffee fruit is milled away from the seed, and the seed is then transported to Addis Ababa, where it is sold in the government run Ethiopian Commodities Exchange (ECX). There the Ethiopian Liquoring Commission certified this as a Grade 1 Natural coffee and it was made ready for export by removing the final layer of parchment skin from the coffee. It was then imported to the United States by Royal Coffee of Oakland, CA, who made it available to us here at Water Avenue Coffee.

This is one of those rare coffees that really shines just about every way you brew it. We use it to bring a level of deep fruit to our El Toro Espresso blend, and although we haven’t tried it as a single origin espresso yet, we’re sure it will be absolutely stunning. As a pourover it is intensely fruity with an unusual clarity and delicate body. We know that this will be an extremely memorable cup for everyone who tries it. Look for it to hit the shelves of our café and select wholesale customers the week of January 19th.