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This fun-filled and fruity natural coffee returns to the menu a little later in the season than in years past, but with all its characteristic verve and charm. Rather than the blueberry notes we’ve cupped in the past, this year’s iteration includes a softer, gentler profile with loads of ripe fruit sweetness and stone fruit flavors taking center stage. Nectarine and apricot are the stars of the show, with supporting notes like coconut, banana, raspberry, and grape filling in the chorus.
The coffee 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.
Undermined by historically low prices and the perception as a robusta origin, Uganda instituted a coffee auction in 2018 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.
This particular micro-lot is one of just a small handful of natural coffees produced by the station. Coffees like this, where the fruit is untouched and allowed to sun-dry (called “drugar” in Uganda) retain high amounts of fruit flavor from the increased contact time with the cherry. This lot was floated in water to sort for density and damaged beans prior to drying. The raised beds provide even airflow and the employees of the mill turn the coffee frequently to ensure uniform drying for optimal quality and shelf life.
A little smaller in size than average, mostly 15-17 here, but what it lacks in diameter it more than makes up for in density. Moderate moisture and water activity figures round out an unchallenging lot here from Uganda that should behave with relative predictability both on the shelf and in the roaster.
The varieties grown around Mount Elgon and the Sipi Falls Mill include Blue Mountain – genetically indistinct from Typica – and SL14 and SL18, both from Kenya’s now extinct Scott Laboratories. SL14 is a familiar Ugandan coffee, selected for coffee berry disease (CBD) and drought resistant; SL28 was selected 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. SL14 was originally identified as a Bourbon selection, but genetic testing indicates it is in fact more closely related to Typica.
Every time I hear the name of this coffee it reminds me of the magical Paradise Falls from the Pixar movie “Up”. The magic is found the musical name of Sipi Falls, as well as the alchemy performed by the roaster which transforms these beans into a coffee that has *gasp* made its way onto my top 10 list of favorite coffees of all time! Did I mention that I LOVE this coffee?
Sipi Falls is a series of three waterfalls that lie on the edge of Mount Elgon National Park near the border with Kenya. Local coffee from this region is usually referred to as Bugisu coffee, however, this seems to refer to local nomenclature of coffee farmed by the Bugisu tribesmen who live on Mount Elgon rather than a specific genotyped cultivar or variety. The climate here is cooler than most of the rest of the country, and you can taste it! Coffee grown at this height has the advantage of slow cellular respiration and maturation leading to super sweet cups and a layered, complex acidity.
This natural, organic coffee has a softer acidity, which is to be expected, but this doesn’t lessen the impact of the cup profile at all. This smaller, dense coffee took on heat well, and with only a medium application, held steady for the whole roast. Drying relatively quickly, the coffee had a long and luxurious time in the Maillard phase, coasting straight through first crack once the heat was turned down at the start of the first few pops. This simple roast profile created a delicious and complex cup. Notes of black cherry, concord grape, and praline gave the coffee a sugar punch. Cinnamon and vanilla provided a light spice element, and the gorgeous creamy body was matched by a light hibiscus tartness and berry acidity which stopped the coffee being cloying, creating a balance that the velvety, lingering aftertaste made sure lasted for quite some time. I shall be stealing the rest of this sample to enjoy on my stoop over this weekend’s Sunday paper.
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.
This week I did indeed try something different (aside from the coffees, of course). While I’m sticking with my newer roast method, (which you can find in my updated ‘Roasting on the Quest M3s’ article) I am using only 100g of coffee for this week’s analysis. I must say, this does afford a bit more control with heat application in the Quest M3s.
I approached this coffee similarly to recent coffees such as CJ1306 from Tanzania: I begin with maximum airflow as I charge the drum with coffee. At turning point, I kill the fan and open the back of the roaster to cut airflow entirely. For this coffee, I reintroduced airflow when the bean temperature read 278F. From this point, I ramped up airflow until I reached full fan speed at 2:55/303F, just a touch earlier than usual in order to draw out Maillard. I wanted to get as much of this coffee’s roast time in Maillard as possible in order to smooth out the fruity notes.
I began ramping heat down to 7.5A at 3:58/340F, and cut heat application entirely at 6:00/385F, a little before first crack, since this coffee had just enough momentum to move through first crack nicely. The last drop in heat application really depends on the coffee: some natural coffees like this one really don’t need much of a push, and other types of coffee need steady heat application for much longer. If you want some deeper reading on this, I would suggest Chris’ article on Density, specifically the ‘Qualitative Significance’ section.
The results on the cupping table were positive with this coffee, though it probably wouldn’t have hurt to spend a little more time in the drying stage; 35.4% of this roast was drying, and 44.9% was spent in Maillard. I had a hard time deciding whether this coffee was more like fruit salad or a chocolate milkshake. Por que no los dos? I’m happy either way, with the apricot, banana, milk chocolate, and maraschino cherry on top.
I haven’t had too many coffees from Uganda, and there doesn’t really seem to be lots of buzz about them. But this coffee should change all that. This coffee repeatedly stood out on the cupping table, so I was counting down the days until it would be time to brew it on the bar! For the sake of having easy reference points, I brewed this coffee on two of our stand-by flat-bottom brewers, the Kalita Wave and the Fellow Stagg X. Being a natural, I was hoping for lots of bright, fruity, juicy notes, so I used 205 degree water, just slightly on the hotter side of things.
The Kalita brew delivered about what I was expecting, which is to say amazing coffee. Up front I tasted that bright strawberry note that has become the calling card of many natural coffees from Africa. Notes of crips melon, citrus, honey, and dark chocolate all followed, and the coffee had a nice crisp finish. Super delicious.
The Stagg brew took things to a whole new level! It was like an intensified version of the first brew, but without risking clarity and balance. We tasted pink Starburst, peach, fig, cherry, raspberry, lemon, lime, mint, vanilla, nougat, and milk chocolate, and the finish went on for days! It was a real delight to taste such an outstanding coffee from a region that hasn’t been known for high quality specialty coffee in the past. If you’re looking for a standout coffee to add to your portfolio, or you’re just looking for a bright, juicy coffee to get you through the dog days of summer, you’re gonna want to grab some of this one!