Discovery Subscription (2021, 8) - Fresh arrivals from Ethiopia


Fresh arrivals from Ethiopia

This month’s subscription is one we have been looking forward to for some time. The arrival of fresh crop Ethiopian coffees is always a big event for us, bringing some of the most distinctive flavour experiences we find each year. In recent years we have also seen more and more diversity in Ethiopian flavour profiles, due to relaxing regulations allowing more traceability and experimentation. It is this diversity that we celebrate this month, with two very different interpretations of the quality potential of Ethiopia. Chelchele is a classic example of the Ethiopian profile, with fresh citrus acidity and crisp florals, while Shantawene is a more wild and modern interpretation, full of rich tropical fruit.

To understand these coffees, it is important to understand the unique context in which they are produced; what makes Ethiopia such a special coffee origin?

1 x coffee
Chelchele - Washed Heirloom (250g / 8.8oz)

2 x coffee
Chelchele - Washed Heirloom (250g / 8.8oz)
Shantawene - Anaerobic Heirloom (250g / 8.8oz)


How coffee is grown in ethiopia

In Ethiopia, coffee still grows semi-wild, and in some cases completely wild. Apart from some regions of neighbouring South Sudan, Ethiopia is the only country in which coffee is found growing in this way, due to its status as the genetic birthplace of arabica coffee. This means in many regions, small producers still harvest cherries from wild coffee trees growing in high altitude humid forests, especially around Ethiopia’s famous Great Rift Valley.

There are three categories of forest coffee growing in Ethiopia, Forest Coffee (FC), Semi-Forest Coffee (SFC), and Forest Garden Coffee (FGC), with each having an increasing amount of intervention from coffee producers. Forest coffee makes up approximately 60% of Ethiopia’s yearly output, so this is a hugely important method of production, and part of what makes Ethiopian coffee so unique.

The three categories

Full Forest Coffee means no intervention, only picking coffee cherries from wild coffee trees, under natural forest cover. This mode of production is very low yielding, but has a very high value in terms of carbon capture and biodiversity. The high level of shade and diverse nutrient supply also leads to very high quality. ~10% of Ethiopia’s production

Semi-Forest Coffee allows a little intervention, the thinning out of native tree species, planting of extra coffee seedlings, but maintaining much of the original vegetation and shade trees. ~20% of Ethiopia’s production

The Forest Garden Coffee system is much higher yielding, and is normally used when growing coffee is the family’s main income. The area is mostly dedicated to growing coffee, although some other crops may be interspersed. There is much more intervention in the forest here, pruning, weeding and stumping coffee trees, and removing shade trees to make way for denser coffee plantation. This is the most productive of the three types, and makes up around 30% of Ethiopia’s total coffee production.

95% organic

Throughout all of these systems, a much higher level of biodiversity is maintained than in modern coffee production in the rest of the world. This is partly due to the forest system, and partly down to the genetic diversity of the coffee plants themselves. There are thousands of so far uncategorised ‘heirloom’ varieties growing in Ethiopia; all descended from wild cross pollination between species derived from the original Arabica trees. This biodiversity leads to hardier coffee plants, which don’t need to be artificially fertilised. This means that 95% of coffee production in Ethiopia is organic, although most small farmers and mills can’t afford to pay for certification, so can’t label their coffee as such. The absence of monoculture in the Ethiopian coffee lands also means plants are much less susceptible to the decimating effects of diseases such as leaf rust that have ripped through other producing countries.

This month's coffees

The coffees this month are grown mainly using forest systems, popular in the Sidamo Region. The Sidamo region, especially its western edge, is famous for the incredible diversity of flavour profiles it produces within a relatively tight area, from light and tea-like Yirgacheffe, to heavier, intensely aromatic coffees from Kochere only 20 km to the south. It is in Yirgacheffe that Chelchele is grown, a typical bright and aromatic washed lot. The well-known coffee towns of Gedeb and Guji also lie within the Sidamo region. Shantawene comes from the far north-east of the region, on the edge of the Harenna forest, one of very few areas where coffee still grows completely wild. The village of Shantawene is actually located in the same Bensa Woreda as the Bensa Logita mill we have purchased from several times in the past. The Harenna forest is dense and humid, providing thick shade for the plants, and a vibrant ecosystem in which to grow, ideal conditions for producing the highest quality. This area is also of slightly higher altitude than most of western Sidamo, with some growing lands reaching up to 2300 m. This results in coffees with bright and clean acidity, but a heavier mouthfeel and a more concentrated sweetness.

All coffee in Ethiopia is hand-picked, at optimal ripeness. As different cherries ripen at different rates, even on the same tree, pickers often have to revisit a plot up to four times each harvest season. However, this is vital for quality, as under and overripe beans can lead to defects in the cup. After smallholder producers have picked their cherries, they are delivered to small processing stations, normally located close to the area in which the coffee is grown. Until recently in Ethiopia, processing was thought of in a very binary way, with only washed and natural coffees seen regularly. However, this is starting to change, so this month we want to showcase the archetypal profile of Ethiopia alongside an example of the potential of experimental processing.

First coffee

Chelchele - Washed Heirloom

Soft fruit-driven natural Ethiopia

Chelchele is produced by METAD, a family-run business driven by three brothers, Aman, Tariku and Michael. They own several mills in the Oromia region, including in some of the most iconic Ethiopian coffee towns, like Yirgacheffe. METAD encourage and provide training in environmentally sustainable farming practices; many of their coffees are certified organic. This lot comes from the Chelchele mill, located right in the middle of the area that produces Yirgacheffe coffee. METAD have a very in-depth and precise system of traceability, making sure that coffee delivered from different towns and on different days is kept separate throughout the process. Therefore, we know that this lot comes from farmers around the town of Halo Beriti, and that it is grown between 2000 and 2200 masl. In the cup, this leads to a highly concentrated sweetness like tinned fruit, while maintaining the citrus and floral character that we so enjoy in Ethiopian coffees.

Second Coffee

Shantawene - Anaerobic Heirloom

Wild anaerobic lot by Daye Bensa

In 2006, brothers Asefa and Mulugeta Dukamo founded Daye Bensa, a coffee grower and exporter in Ethiopia. They now own several washing stations, serving more than 1400 smallholders in the towns of Bombe, Karamo and Shantawene in the Bensa district. This coffee however, rather uniquely for Ethiopia, was grown on a single farm, Daye Bensa’s own land just outside the village of Shantawene. Using the Shantawene farm as an example for the smallholder farmers they work with, Asefa and Mulugeta have participated in a government sponsored reforestation program, leading to enhanced shade and biodiversity in their fields, even by Ethiopian standards. This leads to well-nourished coffee trees, producing raw material that truly reflects the potential of this region. With this lot, they have used anaerobic fermentation to create a wild and tropical fruit driven take on already sweet and rich terroir flavours. Whole cherries are sealed in plastic tanks for 72 hours before being moved to raised drying beds, and turned often during the entire 3 week drying process.


Memorable flavour experiences

Ethiopia’s unique mode of production leads to some of the most memorable flavour experiences in coffee, and recent changes in export regulations have only served to expand the palette of tools at producers’ disposal. The diversity of flavour we have seen from Ethiopia in recent years is unprecedented, only serving to cement its reputation as one of the most exciting coffee origins. This month, we showcase both the excellent coffees that have built Ethiopia’s reputation, and the potential of experimental processing in this iconic origin.

About Discovery

The opportunity to share new experiences

Our Discovery Subscription allows us the opportunity to share new experiences with you every month, taking you with us on our journey through the changing seasons of coffee. This allows you the opportunity to taste new lots from across the coffee landscape as they arrive at our roastery, when they’re fresh and in season. We strive to find the most delicious and thought-provoking coffees we can get our hands on, working together with a group of innovative and dedicated partners we have met over our years in the industry. We are inspired not only by sharing their painstakingly created raw material, but by conveying how each step of its journey has led to what you find in your cup, be it terroir, varietal, post-harvest processing, or something else entirely.

We always aim to tell a story

One of the best ways to appreciate the effect of these factors is to taste coffees side by side. Our most popular option allows you to experience two coffees every month, maybe different varietals or processes from the same farm or region, or maybe two parallel lots from producers at opposite ends of the coffee belt. We always aim to tell a story with our coffee choice, focusing on a different aspect of what we’re finding exciting in coffee right now. Sharing these experiences each month allows us to expand our coffee horizons together, and develop a shared vocabulary within both taste and preference in coffee.

We’re always happy to continue our conversation with you through our webshop portal, whether it be purely practical, or discussions about this month’s coffees. We see our role as simply a middleman between you and some of the best coffees in the world, and the people who produce them. These people inspire us, and we do our utmost to share both their coffees and their stories with the people who appreciate them most.