Anaerobic fermentation natural dried on raised beds
November - January
Worka Sakaro is a municipality located in northeast Gedeb close to the Guji border. It is a remote but impressively industrious area for coffee production. Of the 1300 hectares that comprise the area, over half of them are planted with coffee. Up to a few years ago when coffee exports were allowed only limited channels, the vast majority of coffee grown in this area was either processed and exported by the Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (YCFCU), consolidated under the wide-reaching Worka Cooperative, or sold anonymously through the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX). Today, however, in addition to the Worka Cooperative splitting into multiple smaller coops, there are increasing numbers of single farm owners and independent companies who are processing and exporting direct. It is an exciting time to be buying in Gedeb, where we expect to see new layers of coffee continuously unfold as its local industry accelerates.
The Worka Sakaro washing station is owned and operated by Tracon Coffee, an independent exporter who manages 6 stations total in Gedeo. 852 individual smallholders contribute to Worka Sakaro, each averaging 1.6 hectares of coffee, and most of them also producing enset—a fruit-less relative of the banana tree whose pulp is scraped and packed into cakes, fermented underground, and then toasted as kocho, a staple starch in the area.
At Worka Sakaro, natural processed coffees are typically sorted by hand on arrival to the processing site and then taken directly to raised beds to fully dry, a process that takes about 21 days. This particular lot however received a unique twist on the traditional natural: fresh cherry is first vacuum sealed in stainless steel canisters for 4-5 days, creating an environment deprived of oxygen and increasingly pressurized by the carbon dioxide emitted in the fermentation of the fresh fruit. Once the vacuum fermentation is complete, the cherry, now pale yellow from loss of pigment, is transferred directly to raised beds to sun-dry for 15-18 days until the moisture is reduced to the level of a typical complete natural.
Oxygen-deprived, or “anaerobic” fermentation environments like the above have gained traction among processing wonks in coffee for the unique flavors and tanginess they can add, as well as creating exaggerated characteristics in the cup compared to what we’re used to. In this case, Tracon has created a distinctly intense and tropical fruit-dominant natural profile with soft acids and a structure that is both creamy and juicy. It is a unique digression from the mainstream for sure, and an objectively successful result.