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intro

Coffee from Sipi Falls in Uganda has become a mainstay of the Royal Coffee menu, and reliable high-quality deliveries as well as lovely dry and honey-processed microlots can be had with predictability.

There’s a natural coffee on the way from Sipi that we’re pretty excited about, to the extent that we nearly overlooked this absolute gem that just arrived recently. It is so sweet and aromatic, lush floral botanical fragrances meld effortlessly with cotton candy and bubble gum sweetness, rich flavors of nougat and vanilla, and capped by a delicate apricot note and a light but present cranberry acidity.

The coffee comes to us by way of smallholder producers growing coffee on the northern slopes of Mount Elgon, a massive peak split nearly in two by the border of Uganda and Kenya. The microregion is rife with coffee and is well-served by the Sipi Falls mill, a centralized washing station with the capacity for processing cherry and drying coffee to improve the value to local farmers.

Uganda’s reputation for high quality Arabica is still in its infancy, in many ways. Much of the coffee grown in the country is Robusta – close to 85% – and Arabica’s value continues to be undermined by historical low margins on the futures trading market. However, 2018 has seen the introduction of a coffee auction in Uganda in an effort to promote high quality and better prices. Uganda is currently Africa’s leading exporter of coffee by volume (Ethiopia produces more, but exports less), and is among the only African nations with consistent annual production volume increases.

Near the Sipi Falls Mill, producers for years had been accustomed to rudimentary home processing techniques. Kawacom, the export company that owns the washing station, has gone to great lengths to prove the added value (and subsequent profit) by contributing their unprocessed cherry to a central mill where washing, fermenting, and drying can be performed consistently with professional oversight. They have also started an example nursery with high quality varieties and provide agronomic support to the local smallholders, many of whom are families led by women.

We are thrilled to announce that we’ve secured certification for our Crown Jewel program, and that this Organic Uganda, along with an Organic Sumatra, will be the first to join the menu as fully certified 10kg Organic Crown Jewels.

green

The coffee here easily achieves expectations: moderate moisture figures accompany a fairly average density and fairly tight screen size, all the result of good sorting practices. There are a number of physical grades in Uganda. Some generic coffees are simply delineated by process (washed are called “Wugar,” dry processed naturals are “Drugar”), others use the British grading system of AA and AB like Kenya or Tanzania, but not so with this lot.

Arabica grown in Uganda has a number of sources, many remnant from British occupation. The first two introductions in the early years of the twentieth century were island coffee selections from Réunion island – Bourbon, brought via Kenya and Tanzania – and from Jamaica, all British colonial origins. The Jamaican variety is often referred to as “Blue Mountain,” though in truth it’s genetically indistinct from Typica. SL28 and 14 from the Scott Lab coffees in nearby Kenya were brought over in the middle of the twentieth century, and lastly a local strain known by its regional distinction “Bugisu” is likely a local mutation or spontaneous hybrid of the other introduced cultivars.

taste

probatino

Whilst the other Crown team members have tasted this coffee over successive seasons, this was my first introduction to our Crown Jewel from Sipi Falls. At first smell of the dry grounds I was in no way confused as to why this coffee has become a stalwart of the Crown Jewels menu. I was delighted immediately by clear sweet floral aromatics and completely blown away by this washed lot from Mount Elgon. I have had coffee from Uganda before, and been pleasantly surprised by some of the specialty robusta offerings I have cupped in previous years. However, I was not expecting to be as entranced by this arabica offering as I was. As Chris mentioned in his introduction, high scoring specialty arabica offerings are just beginning to be seen and expected and for this reason, I have never had the opportunity to roast a coffee from this origin before. I had little idea what to expect, but this is not a shy offering, as its explosive first crack announces confidently!

This dense coffee was surprisingly easy to roast. Expecting that I would have to crank up the heat and push the boulder up the hill of the curve from the turning point through stage one, I started this roast at the high end of the heat range. However, it was able to handle the heat well enough that I decided to pull back on the heat after only a minute and a half, almost a full minute before coloring occured. After adjusting the heat once, I then didn’t have to worry about heat adjustments after that, the coffee ‘roasted itself’ – steadily declining RoR made for a longer ratio of stage two and not touching the gas meant the coffee could stand a longer post-crack development. The crack, as mentioned announced itself loudly at 392F, surprising not only myself, and people walking past the lab! The pay-off of those longer Maillard and post-crack development ratios in relation to the relatively quick progression of stage one resulted in one of the sweetest coffees I’ve ever tasted! Notes from the team included nougat, cotton candy, caramel, vanilla and bubble gum. There are multi-layered chocolate notes that drive this coffee’s structure from hot to cool and the fruits – oh the fruits! Pear, peach, dried strawberries, apricot and white grape all crammed themselves into this flavor profile. A sweet, almost thickly bodied coffee, I have no problem with suggesting for a delicious softly acidic, fruit forward espresso, or a long hug in a mug of drip or pour-over brews. Whatever takes your fancy, this coffee delivers every time.

behmor

Unless otherwise noted, I follow a set standard of operations for all my Behmor roasts. Generally, I’ll use the 1lb setting, manual mode (P5), full power, and high drum speed until crack. Read my original post and stats here.


While it’s getting close to Independence Day here in the United States of America, one cannot find a fireworks stand within 30 minutes driving distance of the Bay Area. What a shame. Then again, we need not look further than Uganda to get things popping off. The crack on this coffee was raucous, and the flavor in this coffee brought the party, too.

I started this coffee off relatively blind, only knowing that it was relatively dense and had a medium-wide screen size distribution. Everything in this pointed to a coffee that needed a little extra push to get to first crack. I was wrong! This coffee cracked early and strong, perhaps one of the strongest cracks I’ve heard from the Behmor.

First crack occurred at 10:05, and I reduced heat to 75% (P4) right afterwards. I also opened the door at 10:30 and 11:00 due to the vigorous development in this coffee. The result on the cupping table was a resounding plummy sweetness, with cherry, cranberry, raisin, and peach notes. All of this was with a very gentle note of pepper to top it off. This is not a dry processed coffee, and it brought clean fruit notes in the way only a washed coffee can. Crisp and sweet.

There’s a reason this coffee keeps coming back as a Crown Jewel. I could see this being used as a single origin drip coffee offering, as well as a bright and fruit-forward espresso pulled at higher ratios of water to coffee. Ugandan coffees don’t come in too often, give this one a shot!

brew

The first of two brews for this awesome coffee from Uganda was just bursting with sweetness. Brewed on the Phoenix c70, molasses, dates, raisin, caramel, brown sugar, toffee and cocoa mixed harmoniously with a gentle pear/white grape acidity with an incredibly clean finish. I found myself wanting more after each sip, so after I finished letting the others taste, I poured the rest of the brew into my mug and enjoyed it myself! I would not be upset at all if I had to drink this coffee every morning for the rest of my life.

That being said, brew analysis is much more interesting when we force ourselves to make a change to our first brew. I decided that I wouldn’t mind just a little more acidity from the coffee, so I cranked the brew water to 205F (we typically brew at 200F), and even tightened the grind a little, too. I definitely found some more prominent acidity, with notes of cherry, lime, and juicy plum, but overextracted this brew a teensy bit as well. We picked up on some cedar and dry nuts, and the finish wasn’t quite as juicy as the first brew’s, but we still tasted that rich, molasses-y sweetness from the first cup, so we weren’t too disappointed. This new organic offering from Uganda (our first certified organic Crown Jewel) is definitely one you don’t want to miss; if you can get your hands on some, you’ll see for yourself!

Origin Information

Grower
Sipi Falls Coffee Project
Variety
Bourbon, SL14, SL28, Blue Mountain
Region
Sipi, Kapchorwa District, Uganda
Harvest
September - February
Altitude
1500 – 2500 meters
Soil
Volcanic loam
Process
Fully Washed and dried in the sun
Certifications
Organic, Rainforest

Background Details

Mount Elgon is a massive peak split nearly in two by the border of Uganda and Kenya. The “mountain” itself is more an enormous expanse of successive plateaus that float dramatically above the surrounding valley floor. It is also home to a dense patchwork of farming communities growing some of the best organic coffee in Africa.   Sipi Falls, named after the mountain’s most famous waterfall just down the road, is a centralized wet mill located in the Kapchorwa district that buys and processes cherry from 8,000 organic and diversified farms across the northern part of the mountain. The sheer volume of quality coffee produced by this single wet mill is a testament to the truly ideal conditions of elevation, biological wealth, and human experience that abound between the farmers and Sipi Falls’ management team. Not to mention the ingenious business model itself, which, more than 20 years after its founding, continues to be a leader in affordable, certified coffee of the highest quality on the continent. The wet mill was Africa’s first certified organic producer, in 2002.  Farmers across Mt. Elgon for years have been (and still are) accustomed to rudimentary home processing techniques. The vast majority of coffee coming off the mountain is pulped in tiny batches, often on borrowed equipment, and fermented in a bucket or a nylon bag prior to being tarp-dried on the ground, or at best on a mesh screen a few inches above the patio. The team at Kawacom, the export company that built the Sipi Falls mill, recognized greater potential in the landscape than previously seen, and set about to capture that potential at scale.   Sipi Falls facilitates retrieval of cherry, mechanical de-mucilaging, fermentation, washing, patio pre-drying, mechanical drying and conditioning at their mill property at 1800m elevation. In the on-site cupping lab they taste every finished batch immediately after drying completes, and then again multiple weeks later to verify the final rested quality for export. The result is not only a clean, exemplary expression of the gorgeous Elgon terroir, but a shelf-stable green coffee whose delicate attributes resist degradation. And profitability follows: the qualities produced by scaling and centralizing processing mean a significantly higher cherry price to farmers; not to mention relieving them of the extended labor, risk, and expense of processing and storing coffee at the household level. The wet mill also recycles its wastewater through a series of filtered lagoons and maintains a large organic nursery for the benefit of participating farmers.  Sipi Falls’ coffees are rich and delicious but also capable of surprising florality and mandarin-like sweetness. It's an incredible experience to see such a prime terroir be unlocked through quality processing, where just a matter of years ago it was often lost in transit. Sipi Falls doesn’t stop there, however. The handful of experimental-process microlots they produce each year from their best farmers are something different entirely, and stand easily in comparison with the most gorgeous coffees anywhere in the world.