Intro by Chris Kornman & Charlie Habegger
Samples arriving in our cloth branded bags from Mike Cummings, who expertly and efficiently runs the Royal sample room, bear the contract number and name of a coffee but rarely indicate more detail about the coffee’s history and origin.
In the case of this delicate and lovely natural coffee, we went about the usual procedure of sample roasting and cupping for approval before moving to the next stages of analysis, involving the full team. I happened to have a little coffee to spare and shared it with some colleagues, also working on site. Doris Garrido had roasted the sample for me, and I passed the remainder along Bolor Erdenebat to brew for the small crew that works daily at the Crown. Sandra Loofbourow, our Tasting Room Director, messaged me from across the building in all caps “WHOA THIS COFFEE!”
The group chatted about the experience for a few minutes, extolling its virtues. Concord grape and cotton candy sweetness accompany blackberry jam notes and a lush rose water fragrance and the impression of effervescence. We could tell something special was going on.
And then I started researching the coffee farmer and discovered that the origin of this coffee is one and the same as this year’s unprecedented, auction-winning lot from Ethiopia’s first ever Cup of Excellence competition.
Niguse Gemeda’s farm is in the Keramo community, part of Sidama’s Bensa district, just inside the zone’s eastern border with the Harenna Forest National Park. This part of Sidama contains some of the zone’s highest farming elevations and coolest daily temperatures. The farm itself is two hectares, only slightly larger than the average among smallholders in the region. But the quality potential was so apparently high that Faysel Yonis, founder of Testi Coffee and the innovative Testi Ayla coffee washing station, decided to pre-finance Niguse’s crop. This is the first harvest commissioned as a microlot by Faysel, the first microlot produced by Niguse, and the first exclusive purchase by Royal Coffee.
Per Testi’s president, Adham Z. Yonis, “Testi Coffee provided pre-financing for this coffee to be meticulously processed. Mr. Niguse is the farmer… Red cherries are selected, and placed on a raised African bed to dry for 19 days. Keramo is situated in a very high altitude area which gives the complex coffee profile, the red cherry maturity period a lot longer than the usual Ethiopian coffee. This long period in maturation we believe gives this coffee distinct character which is why it was the number 1 coffee during COE Ethiopia.”
Pre-financing a coffee crop, perhaps especially on a single smallholder level, is a sensitive undertaking. Niguse employs 30 people to complete a harvest, and with an elevation of 2100 meters, harvest is later and slower than many other farmers in Sidama. The two coffee professionals collaborated in processing, which was completed at Testi Ayla washing station, to which Niguse is a regular supplier. Drying demanded additional sorting and care to be sure only the best cherry was represented and dried as meticulously as possible. The results are exemplary: one of our highest-scoring natural Ethiopias this year (which is saying a lot), Niguse’s microlot is incredibly juicy, strawberry-sweet, and intense in the cup.
The coffee was preserved in vacuum-sealed packages from Addis Ababa to Oakland, and was transferred to its protective Crown Jewel packaging in November in order to keep the coffee as fresh as possible on its way to you. We’re thrilled to offer this special limited offering and can’t wait to hear what you think about it.
Green Analysis by Nate Lumpkin
This natural-processed coffee from Ethiopia comes to us with about average density, and somewhat above average moisture content and water activity. As is typical for a high quality Ethiopian coffee like this one, it is tightly sorted into a small screen size. The great majority of the coffee falls into sizes 14 and 15, with only very small amounts falling outside of that. This coffee’s fine green metrics should make for consistent roasting, though the somewhat higher than average moisture content may lead to a longer drying phase. Otherwise, check Alex’s and Evan’s notes on their roasts for some deeper roast advice.
The varieties that compose this coffee are indigenous landraces and selections, which simply means that they are varieties cultivated by the farmers themselves in Ethiopia, often originally selected from nearby wild forests. For those curious, genetic banks of arabica are kept at the Jimma Agricultural Research Center (JARC) and the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute (EBI), and Getu Bekele and Timothy Hill’s book Ethiopian Coffee Varieties does an excellent job documenting Ethiopia’s cultivars.
Let’s get this out of the way now. This coffee is stunning. It is shockingly good on every front I tried to challenge it on (not very hard, we’ve been at this for a while now, haven’t we, dear reader!). Visually, the uniformity of the small beans, an indication of impeccable growing practices and sorting along the entire processing chain, was so pleasing in its regularity. Aromatically, this coffee entices you, straight out of the bag, fruity goodness, with no hints of over fermentation, just clean coffee.
So, before we dive right into the roast, I shall let you know that the Cropster screen grab shows some very strange RoR (rate of rise) readings. I believe that I have a loose thermocouple/connection, and will be diagnosing the issue soon. But let’s dive in, shall we!
The small, almost uniform beans have an average density, but a slightly above average moisture level, leading me to believe that the roast would perform relatively smoothly, but that I would need to keep a close eye on the coffee as it lost moisture and started to lose organic material post first crack. I also decided to roast on one of our larger roasters, the Diedrich IR-5, as, knowing the popularity of this coffee, I would probably get into trouble if I didn’t share the wealth! It is also super helpful to have the privilege to roast on multiple machines. As a lifelong learner, I’m always fascinated by what a machine is capable of, and try to parse the results – are they a result of the roaster I’m using or of the adjustments I make? Hint, the answer is both.
I know the Diedrich has the capacity to retain a lot of heat, as the model I work on has ceramic plates (heat exchangers) that insulate the drum and allow it more heat stability. This, however, can be a disadvantage if you need to make very quick adjustments. With this in mind, I started the roast at 360 degrees F. I would have started the roast off a little hotter, but my 4lb batch size is the smallest I would recommend on this machine, and I had also been idling the roaster at 380 for about 10 minutes.
Because there was so much heat already built up in the drum, the lower charge temperature made sense. I also kept the gas at a minimum for the charge and initial drop, to allow the beans to enter a more gentle environment. I then cranked the heat up to about 90% (5 on our water column). Color change seemed to occur really fast, and I noted the first instances of it at about 245 degrees F, but I’m willing to say that, as a batch, it may have colored a few degrees higher than this.
From this point the coffee seemed to want to race through the roast process, so I slowed things down but coming off of the gas and opening up the air to 50% drum (50% cooling tray), to allow some ambient air in and for the drum to expel some of the heat. At 345 degrees F, I started stepping down on the gas with regularity, but only small steps. This was a mistake, I am usually less cautious than this, and should have stuck to my guns, and made two large adjustments instead of many smaller ones.
I had this thought because the coffee raced faster than it should, I found that the roast was still left with a fairly swift RoR coming into first crack. The coffee cracked at around 382 degrees F, but although I brought the gas down to the minimum and opened up the air, I hadn’t done enough in the preceding stage of the roast to manage the rush. No matter, doing such things as turning the gas off (which I hate), and opening up the air as soon as I could help slow the roast and I managed to eke out almost 13% development, ending at 410 degrees F.
As I was aiming for 15% development with a final temperature of 405 degrees max, I’m happy to say that this roast failed, but only because it tasted so good!! This coffee is exceptional any way you look at it – from green metrics delivered by the producer and millers, to the preparation and sorting, as well as every other link in the supply chain – but it’s even better when you taste it. Sweet, balanced and delicious, the cups were bursting fruit, concord grape and blackberries were very evident. The cups were jammy without being cloying, and there was a lovely subtle acidity running through the flavor profile – I caught it as lemon and lime, others picked up more on the lime. The sweetness and acidity were balanced by a gorgeous sweet cocoa note, a hint of effervescence and a viscous, but not overly unctuous body.
Lots of super special coffees like these are not around for very long, so pick up a box if you can (I have requested one for myself!). Enjoy a pudding-like cappuccino, a sweet and lively espresso, or a long delicious pour over. I can even see this coffee doing gang-busters on cold brew, and that is very unlike me!!
Ikawa Analysis by Chris Kornman
As of September 2020 we are running all Crown Jewel Analysis roasts on a brand new Ikawa Pro V3, using the most recent app and firmware version on “closed loop” setting.
After a few weeks away from the Ikawa I wanted to get my hands back on the machine for a couple of roasts. We have a little work to do, tweaking our current profiles to make them a little more universally applicable and this unique and flavorful Sidama provided a golden opportunity for a first run on the low airflow profile I first put to use back in April.
Nate Lumpkin, who’s been at the helm of many recent Ikawa analyses, noted on multiple occasions that this low airflow profile was poorly suited for high density coffee and often would drop to too low of a fan speed to move the beans for 10-15 seconds at the beginning of Maillard reactions. After confirming the intermittent occurrence tasting the difference between a failed and properly executed roast of the same coffee, we knew we needed to make a small adjustment. I chatted at length with the folks at Ikawa who indicated 65% is a bit on the low side for fan speed setting. While the original profile seemed to work just fine for most coffees it was intended to roast (i.e., lower density beans), perhaps I’d gotten a bit greedy trying to apply it universally to any coffee that came across our desks.
So I raised the fan speed at the 3 minute mark by 5%, which flattens that metric until the beginning of first crack. I also took the opportunity to clean up the beginning minute of roasting to more accurately reflect the temperature turnaround on a larger, drum type machine. The result was a similar-tasting profile with a good chance of success for even higher density coffee. The profile needs additional testing but on this coffee it produced a fairly hefty cup with a lot of candy-like and jelly sweetness. Not perfectly balanced, but a solid entry for the crowd looking for a smooth cup.
The Maillard +30 profile, usually a slam dunk for natural Ethiopias, here produced a cup whose sweetness veered into the artificial range, and lacked depth of flavor profile. I was uniquely surprised at its poor performance for this coffee, and while it did improve with cooling, the overall experience was lackluster by comparison. I’ve included it here for reference but would hesitate to recommend its application for this particular lot.
Surprisingly, the standard sample roast, our hot and fast profile, really pulled out the best from these beans with loads of nuance, ample florality and balanced acidity with plenty of ripe fruit notes to go around.
The coffee tended to reach first crack at very consistent placements on the profiles, so I wouldn’t hesitate to take this coffee on a quicker ride than you might be used to for the average natural Ethiopia.
You can download the profile to your Ikawa Pro app here:
Roast 1: Crown 7m SR LowAF 2
Roast 2: Crown Maillard +30 SR 1.0
Roast 3: Crown Standard SR 1.0
Quest M3s Analysis by Evan Gilman
Unless otherwise noted, I follow a set standard of operations for all my Quest roasts. Generally, I’ll allow the machine to warm up for 15 minutes until my environmental temperature reading is at least 250F, weigh out 150g batch size, and begin roasting when I’ve reached my desired charge temperature. Read my initial post here and my updated post here.
Approaching this coffee, I was aware of its very special nature and provenance. All that became more apparent as I took my sample of 300g from the vacuum sealed bag, which I could smell from across the room. Huge berry fruitiness very typical of a natural, fruit dried coffee wafted across the room, but so too did a note that brought me right back to my short visit to Ethiopia – kocho! While this fermented food doesn’t necessarily have an exalted place in the annals of western food critics, I didn’t find kocho to be offensive in the least, so this is a positive association for me. Anyhow, that initial impression didn’t carry over to the cup at all.
The tiny screen size is the next thing I took note of. This coffee wouldn’t be well suited to the Behmor because of its pointy beans, which may have the tendency to get caught in the drum. Smaller screen size also (generally) tells me I’ll need a little extra heat at the beginning of the roast.
To that effect, I started this roast with full heat application, and full fan as well. At turning point, I cut the fan, and at 275F / 2:50 I lowered heat application to 7.5A in an effort to bring this coffee through Maillard more slowly. Reintroducing fan to 3 on the dial at 300F / 3:30, and reducing heat application to 5A at 340F / 4:30, I really wanted to temper the end of this roast. A few seconds later at 350F / 5:00 I pumped the fan speed up to the maximum, and nearing first crack at 380F / 6:00, I cut heat application entirely. The coffee rolled leisurely into first crack, and I was able to get pretty decent development (15.5%) without my end temperature getting too high (408F).
I would have liked to roll into first crack with an even lower rate of rise, but the results here were phenomenal anyway, so I’m hardly complaining.
In fact, this roast turned out spectacularly in my estimation. My cupping of this coffee was an absolute explosion of berries and flowers that dissipated in a delicious departure from my palate. My Chemex brew, when hot, somehow tasted exactly like a crisply cool and tropically hoppy hazy IPA. As it cooled, the berry notes came out of hiding and into the light, while still maintaining the slight effervescence that Chris noted above.
This is a ridiculously delicious coffee. I can’t imagine a preparation method it wouldn’t excel at, but I might suggest that brewing as espresso might require some dilution because of the incredibly intense flavors in this coffee. Every time I finished a cup of this coffee, I was saddened by its departure. Such sweet sorrow, though! It’s probably a good idea to get your hands on some of this before it disappears..
Brew Analysis by Alex Taylor
What a literal treat to be brewing and tasting the highest scoring coffee from Ethiopia’s first ever Cup of Excellence! I brewed this coffee up a couple different ways to try to get as much out of it as I could, and because I simply loved the coffee!
Generally speaking, this coffee was easy to brew: it didn’t get astringent and bitter as I pushed the extractions a little, and maintained its body and sweetness across a few different brew profiles. We served this coffee in the Tasting Room for a weekend and it stunned several of our customers, both coffee professionals and the general public!
For the sake of giving the coffee the focus it deserves, I brewed a handful of pourovers as well. I’ve been working on my Kalita recipes a little more lately, and figured a coffee this excellent would be a good opportunity to continue. For my first brew, I went with a 1:15 brew ratio and loved the result: a full bodied, juicy, yet floral brew that I finished drinking before I had time to ask others to taste it. I found notes of raspberry, blackberry, Meyer lemon, caramel candy, fudge, a pleasant black tea note, and a floral finish. The fruit notes were delicious, but what really impressed me was the black tea and florality in the cup; natural Ethiopias with these characteristics are often some of my favorite coffees!
For my second brew, I lowered my coffee dose a little, bringing the brew ratio to 1:16, in hopes of opening the flavors up a little more and maybe getting a little more out of those black tea and floral notes. From a brew spec perspective, this seemed to work; the TDS went from 1.61 to 1.48, but I managed to keep the extraction almost the same. The resulting brew was very similar to the first in flavor profile, but some of the flavors lightened up a bit and I definitely found a little more clarity and balance in the cup. Instead of raspberry and blackberry, I tasted strawberry and tart blueberry. The black tea was a little sweeter and more pronounced, and I was able to identify floral notes of jasmine and lavender, rather than generic florality. The body was also lighter, giving the brew an almost refreshing quality! I think I preferred the second, lighter brew, but could definitely see plenty of people choosing the first. The main takeaway here should be that this is a phenomenal coffee loaded with flavor and capable of performing well across a variety of brew profiles – a winner indeed!