My colleagues are well aware that dry processed coffees are not my favorite style, so when I dropped a 90 point cup score they joked that this lovely Crown Jewel was, in reality, a 110 point coffee. Regardless of what you might grade it, it’s sure to put a smile on your face: delicate sparkling raspberry and strawberry notes are held aloft by a generous ginger candy and vanilla-like sweetness and the unmistakable aroma and flavor of jasmine ties the experience together effortlessly. It’s really pretty special.
To say that recent history in Ethiopia has seen significant changes to the social and political structure of the country would be an understatement. We’ve seen numerous regional uprisings, the election of Africa’s youngest political leader, opening diplomatic dialogue with Eritrea, and a major overhaul in the way the country’s commodities exchange handles exports and direct trade – and that’s just in the last calendar year!
Kayon Mountain Coffee Farm is itself a relatively new establishment in the Guji region, near the border with Gedeb, in the vast Oromia state. Established by local families who call the town of Shakiso their home, the shareholders are no strangers to the coffee trade, having engaged in the coffee auctions for over thirty years. Kayon Mountain was founded in 2012, and has been venturing into direct exports for three years now. Managed by Ismael Hassen Aredo, the establishment employs 25 full time workers and up to 300 people for seasonal help during the peak of harvest. The farm is about 500 hectares in size – quite large – and is about 50% planted with coffee, the rest being a mix of cabbage, indigenous shade trees, and natural forest.
All three of the Kayon Mountain coffees we purchased this season arrived in exceptional condition, and we elected to highlight this absolutely immaculate natural as a Crown Jewel. While farmers across the globe still practice this method of letting the coffee fruit dry like raisins around the seed, it all started in Ethiopia. It’s still common to see smallholder farmers drying their daily harvest on their porches or lawns across the country. Unlike much of the rest of the world, many of these farmers will then roast and grind their own harvest – Ethiopia is the world’s only major coffee producing country whose volume of consumption equals its export.
Standard fare by some numbers, and a bit of an oddball by others, this dry processed Ethiopia looks pretty classic by screen size (small & widely distributed) and moisture (moderate). However, it defies convention in its water activity – I took additional readings and calibrated my equipment to confirm; it’s unusual in my experience for a coffee reading under 11% in total moisture to achieve a higher than 0.60 water activity, but that’s exactly what we have here. Paired with a surprisingly unimpressive density, this will likely cause the coffee to change color a little more rapidly than expected in the roaster, hit crack at a higher temperature, and possibly respond quickly and favorably to caramelization.
Ethiopia’s genetic diversity of coffee is no secret, but increased attention is being paid to distinguishing cultivars and varieties, thanks in part to the work undertaken by Tim Hill and Getu Bekele. Established in the 1960s, the Jimma Agricultural Research Center was instrumental in selecting, breeding, and distributing scores of cultivars throughout the country in the decades following Haile Selassie’s downfall. These have included region-specific varieties, specialty cultivars, and hybrids and wild selections made for disease resistance.
I was pretty excited to brew this Ethiopia Natural. Using the Phoenix 70 from Saint Anthony Industries (which is taller and narrower than the V60) allowed the coffee to spend more time in contact with the brew water, while SAI’s Perfect Paper Filters produced a super clean cup. The narrow angle of the P70 dripper leads to longer dwell time, and since this coffee has low density and was packed full of flavor, I didn’t want to over-extract. With the EK43 on grind setting 9, I started with a 1:16 ratio recipe using 25g of coffee and 400g of brew water. I stirred my 50g bloom dose aggressively for the first 10 seconds – the shape of the P70 can lead to more pockets of untouched coffee in the bloom phase, so be sure to stir thoroughly when using this method. This first brew took a total of 3:51 seconds and tasted of fresh raspberry, plum, jasmine, milk chocolate, and black tea. The mouthfeel was very heavy and viscous, which gave me the impression that this brew had yielded a very high extraction. I was incorrect on that count – the refractometer read a 1.29 TDS with 21.82% extraction, indicating that there was more I could pull out of this coffee.
For the second round, I tightened up the grind setting on the EK 43 to 8.5 while keeping the rest of the recipe static. This produced some heavier fruit notes, like blackberry and maple, but also created a really pleasant syrupy mouthfeel with the clean sweetness of star fruit and sparkling wine. This coffee is incredibly complex, and many of our flavor descriptors were multi-word items, like berry compote, chocolate cake, and balsamic reduction. Spending time exploring these varied and fascinating flavors is a ton of fun, so make sure to run this coffee through several different brew methods and recipes before limiting it to just one.