Last year we featured a dry processed and a honey microlot from the Sipi Falls project near Mount Elgon in Eastern Uganda – a country known less for its high quality small lots and more for its ability to pump out massive quantities of inexpensive Robusta. However, the Sipi Falls mill, operated by Kawacom, is doing solid work with Arabica farmers. We’ll be expecting uniquely processed microlots again this season, but first we couldn’t pass on the chance to feature this elegant and clean washed coffee from the same group. 60kg bags (which are certified Organic & Rainforest Alliance) are available of this lot, as well as Crown Jewel boxes.
The coffee is grown by smallholder producers on the northern slopes of Mount Elgon, a massive peak, nearly its own micro range, split practically 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.
Coffee producers in the region had been home processing their coffee (and still do), thinking it was a way to add value to their crops. The Sipi Falls washing station has gone to great lengths to sit down with producers and show them the time savings and added value (and quality) 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.
One of the coffee’s main features is its cleanliness, an attribute too often absent in hastily processed, discount Arabicas from the same country. It has a mild, lovely citric acidity. At lighter roasts it shows off hints of chamomile and yellow tropical fruits, while darker styles showcase its intense sweetness that starts like sugarcane, flirts with caramel, and finishes with maple syrup and chocolate mousse. It’s a crowd-pleaser, and easy to appreciate, we think.
This Sipi Falls lot is pretty average looking by the physical numbers. Moderate moisture, slightly elevated water activity, medium density, and medium-large screen size. 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, mostly leftovers from British occupation. The first two introductions in the early years of the twentieth century were island coffee strains from Réunion island (heirloom Bourbon) and Jamaica. That variety is often referred to as “Blue Mountain,” though it is genetically indistinct from heirloom 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 mutation or hybrid of the other introduced cultivars.
On the sample roast, this coffee shined with a bright and juicy acidity, so I decided to concentrate on sugar browning and sweet tones to create balance. I decided to lengthen the Maillard phase by turning the gas down ever so slightly just after yellowing. This worked like a charm and the coffee was very sweet on the table. After a minute and a half of reduced heat, I turned the heat back to 3 gas for the remainder of the roast. While I was able to lengthen my time through first crack, this maneuver lowered my momentum before first crack, which increased my post crack development time longer than I intended. The acidity was traceable in the fragrance and aroma, but subtle in the cup overall. This roast profile would make a delicious single origin espresso. For more acidity, I would eliminate the decreased gas adjustment after yellowing and shorten my overall roast time.
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.
I have come to look forward to the arrival of Ugandan coffees primarily because of Kawacom’s Sipi Falls mill. This is a coffee that started better than other Ugandan coffees I had tried (the first few being circa 2008), and has gained in reputation and quality ever since.
In the Behmor roaster, this coffee didn’t need much goading along to move through the roast. Taking on heat easily, this coffee began to smoke a bit. This situation still makes me nervous, so I was just a little quick to drop this roast. At the cupping table folks seemed to enjoy it, however light it may have been.
Mango, cantaloupe, and caramel were some of the dominant notes in the cup, so you could say this is a fairly tropical tasting coffee with plenty of sweetness.
If I were to have done anything different with this roast, it would have been to leave it in just a little longer – a common theme at this point. When in doubt, just give it a couple more seconds with the Behmor roaster!