intro

This unique and delicious Crown Jewel 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.


Following on last year’s success, this special microlot coffee has undergone “Honey” processing, a hybrid processing method that strips the skin and fruit away but leaves the sticky mucilage surrounding the coffee in tact. Before this, however, the coffee cherries must be floated to sort for density and damaged seeds. After pulping, unlike with washed coffees, the mucilage-covered parchment is sent straight to the drying tables, skipping the fermentation tank and channel grading steps. After a full three weeks drying under retractable canopies and undergoing frequent turning to promote even, slow drying and hand-picking to remove visible defects, the coffee is ready to export.

 

The selection retains much of the acidity it would possess if fully washed, with present citric flavor and a solid molasses backbone. In a lot of ways, it resembles the flavor profile of a nice Rwanda or Burundi coffee. It’s a great example of what attention to detail in processing can produce, and we’re thrilled to have it back on the menu, both as 10kg Crown Jewel boxes and standard 60kg GrainPro lined jute bags (which carry RFA certification, as well).

green

Solid looking by the physical numbers, this green coffee is dense and dry. It’s a little larger than average but has a 4-screen spread in size distribution, so be sure to keep an eye on even color development after first crack. You might be inclined to slow your roll a bit, so to speak, during caramelization.

 

The varieties grown around Mount Elgon and the Sipi Falls Mill include Blue Mountain – genetically indistinct from heirloom Typica – and SL14 and SL18, both from Kenya’s now extinct Scott Laboratories. SL14 is coffee berry disease (CBD) and drought resistant; SL28 was developed from a drought resistant strain found in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and is considered to have the highest cup quality of the SLs, but is a little low in productivity. Both SL14 & 28 are selections related to heirloom Bourbon.

taste

ikawa

Due to the size and high density of this coffee, I decided to use a longer roast profile that would allow for ample time during the post crack development stage. I started with a smooth and steadily increasing heat percentage through the rest and then started to decrease just before first crack began. The airflow profile is set to allow for a drop in fan speed around yellowing and then increase until the final stages of the roast when the coffee expands, becoming brittle and producing smoke.

 

On the cupping table this coffee was very sweet and delicate with lots of fresh blossoms, honey, and stone fruit. This is a very clean and sweet honey processed coffee that is reminiscent of a premium Costa Rica Honey coffee.

probatino

Starting from a relatively high charge temperature of 379°F, I delayed heat until well after the turning point and closer to the yellowing stage. At 2:19 my rate of change was 20.57°F/30 seconds and I turned the heat up to 3. I knew that this honey coffee needed time as well as temperature to bring out its sweetness and lose any vegetal graininess. I adjusted the heat down at 4:13 by a quarter tick to extend my Maillard time and reduce my rate of change even further.

 

On the Ikawa this coffee cracked early and it was no different on the Probatino. First crack occurred at 6:31 with a temperature of 393°F, which honestly caught me off guard because it was several degrees earlier than I had expected. My rate of change was at a nice 8.47°F/30 seconds, so no gas adjustment was needed until further into the post crack development stage. Unlike the natural coffee from the same region, this honey processed coffee lost heat at a predictable rate and I ended the roast at 8:03 with an end temperature of 406.5°F.

 

On the cupping table this coffee was very sweet and clean with plum jam and a honey-like texture. This coffee has a very mild and clean fruit acidity with lots of pear and florals. Such a different profile from the natural coffee, but of equal caliber. I think this coffee can take more heat in the beginning of the roast so it doesn’t lose steam so quickly towards the end. This coffee is lovely and tastes like spring.

quest M3s

This week I worked with a new thermocouple, extending the probe down through the green coffee chute as an alternative to the suggested MET (Maximum Environmental Temperature) location while I wait for my proper probe to arrive. This is a bare ‘beaded wire’ thermocouple that came with the Mastech MS8217 multimeter I purchased some time ago for personal use. Looking at my results, this gave me a better idea of when to expect crack to begin. My measurements for MET topped out at 180C (356F) for every roast this week, but I believe this number would have been significantly higher with better probe placement. Next week, I’ll be taking a look at BT (Bean Temperature) placement.

As with my compatriots above, I wanted to allow this coffee to stretch out and bask in the heat of the roaster for a bit longer. Looking at the larger screen size distribution and the notes from Jen, I thought this coffee would be a bit more resistant to heat application. The Quest is more powerful than I gave it credit for!

I started this roast with 9.5A power, the back open, and a charge temperature of 450F as read on the provided probe in ET (environmental temperature) position. At the start of roast, my ‘MET’ probe read 137C, very close to my previous roast. In order to draw this roast out, I closed the back of the roaster and raised the fan speed to 3, before turning point. Turning point occurred at what I’ve come to think of as the standard time and temperature, 405F/2:30. At this point, my ‘MET’ probe was rising slow and steady at 150C.

This gambit didn’t seem to work out. The ET was really chugging along, so I reduced heat to 7.5A at 425F/4:30. At 440F/6:00 I increased fan speed to 6, and succeeded in delaying crack until 7:30, the same exact time as the Uganda Natural from this week. Go figure.

I was determined to not let this coffee develop too much, so I dropped after 1:15 of post-crack development time. The cupping notes were relatively positive, but my own feeling (and the consensus) was that this coffee could have developed a little longer. Much to my chagrin, those extra 15 or 20 seconds at the end of the roast really could have added some dimension.

This coffee was still delicious, however. On the cupping table, there were some serious peach and lime notes, and a very light honey-like sweetness. I generally discount the note of ‘honey’ for honey processed coffees, but in this case I found it very fitting.

brew

This honey processed coffee from the Sipi Falls mill tasted so clean on the cupping table that I decided to experiment with it on a V60, hoping to showcase the super clean characteristics and peachy-sweet flavors this coffee has to offer. Starting with the EK 43 at grind setting 8, I brewed a 1:16 ratio cup using 25g of coffee and 400g of water. My standard protocol now includes stirring the bloom for the first 10 seconds of extraction and adding even 100g pours of brew water. This yielded a cup full of honey sweetness, orange, plum, and raspberry fruit notes, with caramel, brownie, and oak as its base. It also featured some really interesting notes like lemongrass and clove or baking spice. Needless to say, there was a lot going on. I wondered if shortening the extraction would create more balance and sweetness while retaining most of these delicious flavors.

For the second cup, I used a 1:15 ratio and kept the rest of the recipe the same. This cup didn’t have the same explosion of flavors, but did feature some elegant pear and apricot sweetness that I really enjoyed. There was a prevalence of caramelized sugars – toffee, cookie dough, brown sugar – but these were balanced by the sweet acidity of lemon candy and orange marmalade. This coffee is kind of like a bouquet arrangement; a good dial can bring attention to certain features (or flowers) in the bouquet, but it’s up to the barista/flower arranger to choose which notes they want to highlight. No matter what, it will be delicious.

Origin Information

Grower
Producers organized around Sipi Falls Wet Mill
Variety
Bourbon: SL14, SL28, and Blue Mountain
Region
Kaproron, Kween District, Uganda
Harvest
October - February
Altitude
1500 – 2000 masl
Soil
Volcanic loam
Process
"Honey" Process: depulped with mucilage remaining, then dried on raised beds under a retractable canopy
Certifications
Rainforest

Background Details

Mount Elgon is a massive peak split nearly in two by the border of Uganda and Kenya. The “mountain” itself, now an extinct shield volcano, 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 more than 8,600 organic and diversified farms across the northern part of the mountain with an average of 0.2 hectares of coffee apiece and ranging from 1450-2200 meters in elevation. 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 vast majority of coffee processed at Sipi Falls is fully washed but starting in 2016 the quality team at the mill started tinkering with honey and natural processed cherry. These coffees trickled out into the world at first with very little fanfare, in what could only be considered a side project for Sipi Falls; however, with a few years under their belt, there is now an annual portfolio of honey, natural, and custom washed coffees that masterfully showcase the full spectrum of Elgon’s high-elevation terroir. The naturals in particular can be some of the best in Africa, which, with Ethiopia nearby, is saying a lot. Cherry for this custom process comes from select grower communities within Sipi Falls’ greater catchment area which are located at very high elevations and who have a track record of impeccable harvesting. Upon delivery to the wet mill the day’s cherry is meticulously sorted and floated for density before being washed clean and queued for depulping. Rather than ferment overnight in the wet mill’s network of long ceramic-lined tanks, the depulped parchment is transferred to the mill’s screen tables to dry. Originally constructed on an unused slope of mill property, the raised drying tables have multiplied as the natural and honey volumes have grown, and now feature more permanent construction and a dedicated staff. The gooey parchment is laid in an even layer and consistently turned throughout the drying cycle. Constant turning helps to maintain even moisture evaporation and prevent the sticky mucilage from clumping together and trapping moisture inside, which can easily create mold in such conditions. Once the full batch reaches 11% moisture content, all parchment is removed from the beds and conditioned in the warehouse on the wet mill property for multiple weeks. Each lot is tracked throughout its conditioning phase by Sipi Falls’ quality manager, who cups and approves every lot at least once just after drying, and again about 2 months later to check that the conditioning is stable. These experimental lots are beloved at Sipi Falls, and (as with quality teams all over the world with a passion for the new and delicious) are by far the most deliberated. And thanks to the added uniqueness and cup quality, farmers selected for these microlot programs see the highest bonuses of anyone selling cherry to Sipi Falls. Sipi Falls’ honey coffees are layered with varied sugars and sweet spice, reminiscent of rum cake or snickerdoodle cookies. It is 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.