This coffee is a special preparation for Royal by Hambela Estate, managed by METAD Agricultural Development PLC. The farm is located in the ill-defined borderlands between the Sidama and Guji Zones in Southern Ethiopia. Regional borders have been drawn and redrawn, and names of districts and neighborhoods have changed multiple times in the last two decades (further complicated by non-standardized transliteration from local languages). The area where the farm is located was formerly part of the Sidamo region prior to 1995, the Guji zone was created in 2002 after neighboring districts split apart. Guji is located within the vast Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest and most populous ethnic region.
Drying coffee in the cherry is the original tradition in Ethiopia. Coffee is not just a cash crop here; it’s a way of life. Ethiopian coffee culture runs deep even in the rural farmlands, and it’s entirely common to see a day’s harvest from a small private coffee garden drying in the cherry on a porch or patio. Ethiopia is among the only producing countries where coffee farmers roast and brew their own harvest. Hambela’s large scale and access to resources and land has enabled them to dry not just their washed coffees, but also their natural dry coffee cherries on raised beds, improving consistency and quality.
METAD is a third generation family owned business with a rich history. After World War II, the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie awarded Muluemebet Emiru – the first African female pilot and family matriarch – with land in the Guji and Sidama zones which was then used for coffee development. These days, METAD is managed by Aman Adinew whose resume includes director positions at Fortune 500 companies and at the ECX.
METAD’s accomplishments include bolstering the local community with employment opportunities including a workforce that is over seventy percent women, educational opportunities including sponsorship for a state-of-the-art elementary school with more than four hundred students, and healthcare for employees. METAD was also first to partner with Grounds for Health in Ethiopia to implement a successful cervical cancer screening program for women within the coffee growing communities. The company provides technical assistance and shares modern farming equipment local farmers, and has the first and only private state-of-the-art SCAA certified coffee quality control lab on the African continent, used to train both domestic and international coffee professionals.
This fresh and fruity smelling natural dry process achieves the infrequently seen grade 1 demarcation for its clean prep. Typically dry and dense for an Ethiopian coffee, perhaps the most unique feature about the green coffee is its shape. Many of Ethiopias heirloom varieties exhibit a long, narrow shape sometimes referred to as “longberry.” This lot is somewhat more dramatic in its long, narrow shape than others, which might require a little extra attention as it develops in the roaster.
This coffee was a stunner on the cupping table and both roasts were equal in quality, but had very different flavor profiles for a natural Ethiopian coffee. The first roast PR-332 was clean and vibrant with fruit punch with a bright acidity. PR-333 was berry and plum jam with a nice tannic finish like a full bodied, dry red wine. How we achieved these two flavor profiles is not straightforward, so let’s take a look at the main differences in these two roasts. The drop temperatures and the gas at charge are not dramatically different. The first of many differences is that both roasts increase the heat at different stages of development. Examining the differences at the end of these two profiles would be foolhardy because decisions made later in the roast were reactions to this initial difference. The first roast, PR-332 increases heat before the Maillard reactions begin from 2 to 3 gas, which is about as high as I go on these small batch sizes. The second roast, PR-333 begins with a medium heat and a slightly higher charge, increasing the heat after the Maillard reactions begin to gain momentum into first crack. Our team was split on which profile they preferred, which is the hallmark of a flexible and dynamic coffee.
Jen’s intentional differences in roast styles created two very different flavor profiles when cupped, and those profiles stayed true to form in our brewing trials. The chameleon-like nature of this natural process Ethiopia made for some stark disagreements (no punches were thrown) but ultimately the roasts offered up two exceptional brews that clearly delineated opposite ends of the flavor spectrum, at least for dry process coffees. Note the low extraction yield despite very long dwell times on both brews.
PR-0332 was my personal preference. Lots of very fresh tasting fruits and sparkling acidity here left us with the impression of raspberries and wildflowers. If a pristine finish, bright fruit flavors and and acid profile that leans more tartaric than acetic are what you like, this roast is your huckleberry.
By way of contrast, PR-0333 offered heavy fruits, dark berry candies and compotes, plum jam, and red wine. It’s a natural coffee-lover’s natural coffee through and through, and while it didn’t win my heart, it didn’t have to – there were plenty of resounding shouts for an encore.