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This is an experimental “anaerobic” natural coffee from Sidama, Ethiopia, produced under the guidance of Ardent Coffee’s Ashenafi Argaw on the Bensa Cooperative Washing Station.
The flavor profile represents the uniqueness of combining one of the world’s most beloved terroirs with an uncommon processing style. The flavors range from strawberry candy to sweet red wine with present floral notes of violet and a note of clove.
Our roasters found the coffee responded well to a gentler charge temperature and heat application but caution that the roast may easily accelerate during mid-to-late Maillard and into first crack.
When brewed, the coffee is shapeable by the brew device and filtration method, but seems to trend towards lower extraction percentages without losing intensity.
Taste Analysis by Chris Kornman
We chose to highlight this coffee as a Crown Jewel in large part because its flavor profile reflects the unique terroir under the influence of uncommon processing methods. The high points of many Sidama natural coffees are all here: strawberry fruit notes, grapes and peach candies with floral notes of violet and day lily. Yet these all exists under a veil of flavors we understand to be related to the limited oxygen maceration: super sweet wine-like flavors pair with mild gin-like flavors and an array of uncommon spices not often found in coffees from Southern Ethiopia: nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, cumin, and licorice may be found by those who seek them. This is not a terribly subtle coffee, nor is it without some degree of divisiveness: but for those who love the stylings of anaerobic naturals, this is a really interesting entry from one of the world’s most iconic coffee producing regions, under the watchful guidance of a highly experienced processing specialist.
Source Analysis by Charlie Habegger
Announcement: we can no longer take Sidama for granted.
The Sidama Zone has long been considered a kind of gateway to Ethiopia’s southern coffees. This is literally true, as Sidama is the first producing zone one enters on the way south from Addis Ababa. It has also been true in the cup: Sidama has been known for having a robust and stable union of more than 50 coops that turn out predictably honey-like, mouthwatering fully washed coffee year after year, and almost always with earlier availability and lower prices than neighboring Gedeo (a.k.a. “Yirgacheffe”). Perhaps because of its stability, the sprawling zone has also seen little disruption to its union presence and hallmark washed profiles.
But Sidama, despite its deliciously complex and successful status quo, is reinventing itself, one innovator at a time. For the past three harvests we have witnessed a number of private washing stations establish themselves and start proving that Sidama can compete with the most unique and cutting-edge coffees anywhere. This coffee is one such example. Ashenafi Argaw, a former director of the Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (SCFCU), now operates a private export business called Ardent Coffee. Through his close relationship with SCFCU, his former employer, he rents time at processing sites within the union’s Bensa cooperative for small-scale processing.
The site used for this coffee is located near Daye Bensa town. The site accepts cherry from 1500 farmers across the Shantawene, Bombe, and Hamasho communities in central Bensa. Along with coffee, farmers in this area commonly grow bananas, citrus, and enset—a fruit-less relative of the banana tree whose pulp is scraped and packed into cakes, fermented underground, and then sliced and toasted as kocho, a staple starch. Farms here surpass 2200 meters and the entire area is surrounded on its eastern side by the virgin Harenna Forest National Park. These are some of the highest elevations in all of Sidama, and some of the most remote. Harvest here pushes past the end of the calendar year.
It’s a little mind-bending to think of taking the legacy genetics and terroir of a place like the Bensa district and then exaggerating select characteristics through processing. But here we are. Despite the shock for cuppers like us in finding coffees as unique as this one from well-known Sidama districts, it feels right, like a natural progression, the way single-farm exports in Yirgacheffe and new organic estates in Guji are starting to frame the next generation of Ethiopia’s coffee.
This particular coffee is essentially a procedurally perfect late-harvest natural process with a unique stage of careful cherry maceration. Under the instruction of Ashenafi, cherry is brought to the processing site within no more than 8 hours of picking, inspected, floated for density, and then drained. Once initial selection is complete, the cherry is placed in a covered tank to ferment for 48 hours with limited oxygen exposure, during which a tube inserted into the tank allowed carbon dioxide to escape.
After the cherry fermentation step, all fruit is shade-dried as a typical natural, spread into a single layer on raised beds for the first 48 hours to allow for even drying of the outer cherry skin, which by now is partially decomposed from the anaerobic environment. After skin drying, the coffee will be piled 2-3 cherries deep for the remainder of the drying stage, during which Ashenafi assigns one full-time manager to each individual drying bed, to oversee cherry rotation and monitor the drying progression. Fully-dried cherry is then rested for 5 weeks in fresh GrainPro bags prior to final dry milling, to allow for moisture equilibration and for flavors to continue to deepen.
Oxygen-deprived, or “anaerobic” fermentation environments like the above have gained traction among processing wonks in coffee for the unique flavors and tanginess they can add, as well as creating exaggerated characteristics in the cup compared to what we’re used to. In this case, Ashenafi has created a distinctly tart and berry-forward natural with high acid and fruit articulation. It is a digression from the mainstream for sure, and an objectively successful result.
Green Analysis by Chris Kornman
Experimental oxygen deprived coffee processing methods can sometimes be wild cards in terms of green coffee metrics, but this wild and unique anaerobic natural hits the usual marks for high grade Ethiopian coffees. Super high density, low moisture, and small in screen size all point to the usual outcomes of good shelf life and a specific heat profile approach in the roaster. The fragrance of the green coffee points to its unique nature: a little pulpy and slightly winey but with the classic hints of florality we expect from Sidama coffees. It takes a steady hand during post-harvest treatment to make a coffee like this, and we’re lucky to have reliable trade partners like Ashenafi Argaw who regularly deliver coffees of this caliber.
Diedrich IR-5 Analysis by Chris Kornman and Doris Garrido
Doris and I made a roast plan for this coffee prior to batching it out, and Doris took the controls on the Diedrich while I played the role of helicopter in the background.
Our slightly lower charge temp of 380F was also matched with a closed airflow baffle and our idle 30% gas setting to allow the coffee to gently soak up some heat before we hit the gas at the turnaround. An increase to 85% burner power and a 50% airflow setting allowed the coffee to quickly come up to pace and begin changing color at about 4:30, when Doris fully opened the airflow baffle and reduced the gas slightly to 70%.
The coffee began sloping down, and Doris’ instinct to close the airflow to 50% again prior to first crack was prompted by the lowish rate of rise. However, at first crack this coffee (like most high density naturals) will begin to race, and despite a complete burner cut at 9:45 the coffee continued to accelerate. Despite this, Doris managed nearly a full 90 seconds of development and dropped the coffee at a hot (but quick) 405F.
Fearing a coffee a little on the darker side, the 55 Colortrack (internal) cued that the coffee would be nice for brewing as a medium-light drip coffee or espresso. I’d liked to have tried a slightly gentler landing but all told the coffee cupped true to profile with the signature pulpy/boozy notes in their subtlest expression, with a present candy-like sweetness, clean floral notes of violet and day lily, and a prominent peachy note that cooled quite nicely.
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 200g batch size, and begin roasting when I’ve reached my desired charge temperature. Read my initial post here and my updated post here.
A less-than-common processing method used on coffee harvested from reliably delicious producing areas surrounding Daye Bensa sounds like an adventure, and it is just that. For the adventurous out there, this coffee is one for the books. From the green to the final cup, this coffee defied expectations.
I knew from the green metrics that this coffee would need a little extra push. In counterpoint to Chris and Doris’ roast above, I started with 388.5F charge temperature, full heat application, and high airflow. I wanted the first part of my roast to be mainly conductive heat transfer. At turning point, I cut airflow, but reintroduced to 3 on the dial shortly afterward at 230F / 2:15 – this coffee took on heat very well. I reduced heat application to 7.5A at 265F / 3:00, then introduced full fan speed earlier than normal at 320F / 4:25 to slow this coffee down through Maillard stage. I was able to spend a decent amount of time in Maillard due to this move, and my only other moves were to reduce heat application further to 5A at 350F / 5:40, and to 0A at crack. I got decent post-crack development number of 1:06, or 12.6% of the total roast time, and dropped at 8:45 / 398F for a well-developed medium roast.
In the cup, this coffee was just a huge fresh fruit salad (not canned!). During Maillard, a perfume-like fragrance emanated from the roaster, and this carried through into the cup, mostly as it cooled. Hot, plenty of fresh cherry, jammy strawberry, and thick peach notes coated my tongue with sweetness. The perfumy note presented as baking spice when hot (something I usually associate with a roast that’s been drawn out a bit too long), but this less-than-ideal note completely disappeared on cooling.
I would of course recommend this coffee as filter drip or full immersion, but I think it would be a real adventure on espresso as well. While the intense fruit will really be intense in a straight espresso, I can see this making a phenomenal cappuccino, and for the less judgy espresso denizens out there, even an americano (no, really). Get ready for a wild ride, this is a spicy meatball!
Brew Analysis by Nate Lumpkin
I haven’t experienced an Anaerobic Natural coffee in a long time, let alone one from Sidama, so I was very curious to discover how this coffee would brew up! I reached once again for the Hario V60 and Bee House dripper, two brew devices that provide a nice contrast in extraction for brew results. I used my standard recipe of 18g coffee and 300g water, which generally creates a pleasant and well-balanced cup.
On V60, this brew finished in 3:02, with a TDS of 1.3 but a slightly low extraction of 17.75%, which was a little worrying for me. In the cup however, this coffee was enjoyable and complex. It had an aroma of reminiscent of gin, and notes in the cup of plum, red wine, and apple juice, with an array of fascinating spice notes like cumin, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and a dark chocolate and fresh almond finish. Despite its low extraction I liked this cup a lot.
On the Bee House, it brewed through at almost the same time, 3:04, and almost the same TDS of 1.33, but a more appropriate extraction of 18.65%. In the cup, this coffee was thick, dense, and tart, with flavors of macerated strawberry, plum wine, pomegranate, dense fudge and hot chocolate, and again that note of gin. This was an intense and complex cup with some powerful fermented fruit notes, so I would recommend a cup like this if you want to provide an intense experience! The previous cup was a little more prosaic, though I found its spices delicious and unique.