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Tariku Mengesha produced this natural coffee on his farms, scattered throughout the Banko Chelchele kebele (neighborhood) of Gedeb woreda, south of Yirgacheffe and just west of the bulgy border with the vast Oromia region.
While coffee is Mengesha’s primary income, which he uses to support his family that includes 10 children, he also grows navy beans and false banana, called “enset,” which produce no edible fruit but whose root and heart (well, rhizome and pseudostem, if you want to be botanically accurate) can be harvested. The average enset matures in four or five years, and the plant can provide around 80 lbs of starchy food, usually fermented underground for up to a year, after which the doughy substance can keep for up to a decade. While the fibers in the heart of the plant can be boiled, the most popular iteration is a fermented enset “bread” or “cheese,” called “kocho” – quite strong and foreign to the western palate, but a staple in Southern Ethiopia.
Mengesha’s coffee, on the other hand, should be easy to appreciate. At once very sweet and somewhat tart, we found cranberry, strawberry jam, and canned peach dominated the conversation, with some subtler tones of Earl Grey, plum wine, lychee, and vanilla playing a supporting role.
This is the first year we’ve purchased Tariku Mengesha’s coffee as a microlot, as well as the first as a direct export. Mengesha and a number of his neighbors have banded together under the organization of Bedhatu Jibicho and her family to take advantage of new ECX legislation allowing producers to circumvent the auction and sell directly.
Bedhatu Jibicho’s son Tesfaye Roba has taken up the task of organization in the fledgling company. In the past, we’d been able to secure these coffees through a special agreement with the Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, in which they held separate and sold to us directly lots like that of Bedhatu. However, this season Bedhatu and her neighbors have banded together, using the premiums they’ve received to establish a farmer-owned export company to sell us their coffee independently. It’s an example of the liberalizing market in Ethiopia, an encouraging development and one that will likely only further benefit all players in the supply chain, whether roaster, importer, or producer.
Tariku Mengesha’s coffee is fairly small in size, in line with typical arrivals from Ethiopia. However, other physical specs for this coffee are a little unusual: the moisture content is a little high and the water activity is well above average. Remarkably, the density is fairly low, as well. This coffee will likely defy your expectations during roasting, so be sure to check the relevant analysis section for a few tricks and tips.
And – what fun – Mengesha has provided us with his specific varieties! What follows is a summary gleaned from the work undertaken by Tim Hill and Getu Bekele in A Reference Guide to Ethiopian Coffee Varieties.
- Kurume (“Kudhume” in Guji) is a well known landrace (that is a wild tree selected “traditionally” for cultivation by farmers, not researchers) in the Gedeo and Guji areas; it is compact with small fruits, and good yields.
- Wolisho (or “Walichu” in Guji) is the name of a native tree that isn’t coffee, but looks like coffee – or vice versa – and the name was co-opted for this variety. At any rate, like Kurume, Wolisho is also a landrace and common in Gedeo and Guji, but is tall, open, and bears large fruits with inconsistent year-to-year yields.
- 74110 & 74112 are selections made from wild populations due to their resistance to Coffee Berry Disease (CBD) in 1974 by the Jimma Agricultural Research Center (JARC) and approved for release in 1979. Both are widely popular and show morphological similarities to Kurume type plants: compact in stature and small cherry size.
I took the reins on the little Ikawa sample roaster again this week to get a first look at this single-farmer natural Ethiopia. Using the open setting on our Ikawa Pro v. 2, I’ve been working to adjust our older profiles to make them compatible with the higher fan speed we’ve encountered since compensating for the recent firmware update. I tweaked Jen’s 5:15 long Maillard profile by extending the end of the roast 15 seconds and dropping the airflow a little after first crack, and compared it with my “Mellow” profile that roasts in 6:00 with a high variation of airflow throughout the roast.
My inclinations towards floral and citric washed coffees played out divisively in this compare-contrast scenario on the cupping table. I favored the Mellow (blue) profile, noting cranberry, jasmine, vanilla, and strawberry candy. However, the rest of the panel – more experienced and with a deeper appreciation of natural coffees than I – preferred the longer Maillard development (red), with prominent flavors identified as chocolate, cherry, plum, peach, and honey.
You can view the profiles on your mobile device, and download to your Ikawa library here:
This week’s analyses feature two dry process coffees from an informal cooperative in Banko Chelchele. I had the great fortune to be able to visit the farmers and to shake their hands on our Ethiopia origin trip last year. While Tariku Mengesha was not in attendance at this meeting, we did get to meet his fellow countrymen. It just so happened that his coffee made it to the ranks of Crown Jewel, so I suppose Royal will just have to go back this year to give congratulations in person!
As Chris mentioned above, this coffee may really throw you for a loop. The moisture content and water activity are particularly high, the screen size is small, and the density is lower than usual (very similar to this week’s release from Bogale Turki). I had learned my lesson with my previous roast, and decided from the outset to not let this coffee go much further into post crack development.
In my first roast (which you can see below), I started with a charge temperature of 390F, engaged the fan to 3 at 3:40/260F, increased fan speed to 5 at 520/300F, and put the fan on full right at crack. Heat application remained at 9A throughout. I dropped this coffee after 1:12 of post crack development, and it looked just a bit lighter than I would have liked. I also would have liked to see a bit more Maillard development time.
The results in the cup were anything but disappointing, however. Peach, grape, cherry, and an abundance of chocolate graced our notes. Sweet and delicious, while not being overbearing!
In the second roast of this coffee, I focused on letting the coffee develop a bit more after first crack. I also started with a lower charge temperature (385F) and a higher Environmental Temperature (337F). As far as airflow, I engaged the fan to 3 at 6:45/3:15 (much later than the previous roast), and increased to full at 10:15, after first crack. This only goes to illustrate further that introducing some airflow earlier in the mix would have pulled the roast along into the Maillard phase more quickly, wicking away moisture. This roast was nearly a minute longer, and 5 degrees of charge temperature never made this much difference in other roasts.
I did achieve a slightly longer post crack development time, and managed to not let the coffee race too much in the finish. Results in the cup were good, and far more complex than my previous roast. Notes included peach, red wine, rose, and Hawaiian punch. Certainly a fruity coffee, but with some complex overtones. I would suggest starting airflow very close to the beginning of the roast with this coffee, and maxing it out by the end of the roast. In any case, I believe you’ll be sweetly rewarded.
I chose the ceramic Phoenix dripper by Saint Anthony Industries for this analysis for a few reasons: firstly, I hoped that the extended drawdown would lead to a longer, sweeter brew. Second, SAI’s perfect filters lead to a really clean cup, which I thought would highlight the vibrant acidity of this delicious dry-processed coffee.
I succeeded in both endeavors: both brews went above four minutes, and featured tons of fruit acids and bright sweetness. Evan’s first Quest roast had a fudgy backbone and heavy prune, cola, and black tea notes, but these were countered by extremely clean and crisp flavors of lychee, peach, and bergamot. In the second roast, some delicate rose florals and syrupy stone fruit sweetness were the main feature, although the heavy sugars made a reappearance as balsamic reduction, vanilla, and fernet.
This coffee has a crazy amount of complexity, and although it is a natural, it doesn’t overwhelm the palate with overripe fruits and ferment. Instead, it offers and elegant and clean balance of flavors that make for a really delightful cup.