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Intro

Intro by Charlie Habegger

It’s hard to convey the sense of sublime remoteness unique to the forests of Guji. The sheer natural immensity of the canopy, the heavy quiet of the forest floor, the treetop civilizations of colobus monkeys and thick-billed ravens chatting about overhead. This is part natural artifact, part testament to human perseverance. The Guji people have long waged all the weapons of custom, legislation, and outright social unrest in the name of preservation. Just recently, the communities in the Odo Shakiso woreda, home to the three farmers whose coffee comprises this Crown Jewel, successfully protested and blocked the renewal of one of Ethiopia’s most lucrative gold mines, citing equal damage to the land and public health and forcing a national conversation about the impact of the billionaire-run company.

The Guji peoples’ value for natural heritage expresses well in its agriculture management, too. To win a permit for building a coffee estate, it’s not enough to be organic; the business plan needs to include forest preservation and community investment as well. These days, coffee production in Guji zone—a section of the vast Oromia Region that juts south and east from the coffee-famous landscape of Gedeb—is developing fast. Particularly in the form of coffee estates, which, though not unprecedented in Ethiopia’s history, are putting modern roots here and changing the prospects not only for Guji as a name in the global market, but for the hundreds of thousands of remote smallholders here, many of whom for decades have lacked equitable cherry marketplaces in their home communities. Guji Highlands is one such business, begun in 2012 and currently one of the more diversified coffee teams in all of Ethiopia.

The Guji Highlands estate is a sprawling 250-hectare property of blended coffee cultivation and old-growth forest. As an estate they are planted in virgin soil, and their coffee trees are adorably juvenile compared to the long-established coffee zones elsewhere in Ethiopia. Not to be overlooked, however, is the estate-as-local-resource-pipeline effect for existing smallholder farmers. Processing, drying, storage, transport, milling, marketing and exporting are immense undertakings requiring vast resources and scale, so having a local partner to provide this chain of services is a godsend for remote farmers with quality potential.

Which brings us to the coffee’s name, Gatame Muka. This particular Crown Jewel is the combined product of three farmers from the Gatame Muka community in Shakiso, who have partnered with Guji Highlands as a processor and exporter. Jilo Barko, Jarso Muda, and Teklu Miju cultivate a total of 31 hectares of coffee combined across their family farms, along with subsistence crops and local market produce. Even properties this “small” in the scope of global coffee production require a staff of 30 or more employees each just to pull off a successful harvest—and that is not including processing, storage, or the rest of it, of course.

And the coffee? It’s all the better: evolving cup profiles from this area have converted sworn Yirgacheffe lovers by combining the seductive aromatics of Gedeo zone with candylike cup structures, tangy lactic acidity, and, in the case of the best sundried coffees, mouthwatering tropical fruit. This particular lot from the Gatame Muka farmers shows a range of syrupy textures and fruit flavors. It’s also one of the year’s very first Grade 1 natural arrivals from Ethiopia; itself always a kind of holiday, but this year in particular despite COVID-19 delays in transportation, and flash flooding in the transit line for southern coffees, is a particular moment of relief and symbol of resilience.

The top qualities we see in Guji across the board are understandable given the landscape: if you embed expert processing in the heart of production, establish clear standards for interested growers, and pay well for the privilege of doing so, you’re bound to capture the best the land has to offer. Around the Guji Highland Estate where farms reach to 1900 meters and a single pesticide has never been used, that “best” is truly, truly something.

Against the civilization-old coffee culture of the Oromo people and region, Guji now looks like a lightning bolt of industrialization. Albeit, in their own, exemplary way.

Green

Green Analysis by Nate Lumpkin

This organic, natural-processed coffee from Ethiopia comes to us with well above average density, below average water activity, and somewhat below average moisture content. It has a tight screen size distribution, with 85% of the coffee falling into screen size 14-16. Its very high density may resist heat, especially early in the roast, so consider using a high charge temperature for best results.

As coffee is Ethiopia’s genetic birthplace and home to a wide diversity of wild Arabica, most of the coffees grown there are indigenous landraces, which may have been shared among farmers. Coffees known as indigenous landraces can in fact refer to a wide variety of cultivars or hybrids, many of which are tracked and catalogued by the Jimma Agricultural Research Center and the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute.

Taste

Ikawa

Ikawa Analysis by Chris Kornman

We’ve updated our V2 Ikawa Pro machines with the latest Firmware version (24) and run on “closed loop” setting. Our roasters underwent full service in October of 2018 which included replacement heating elements and an updated PT 1000 temperature sensor, and were recalibrated in September 2019.

This early-landing natural Ethiopia from producers Jilo Barko, Jarso Muda, and Teklu Miju is an aromatic symphony. Even the green is lush and fragrant, and you’ll find an immense and ephemeral pleasure gently inhaling the grounds right before you brew. Fresh blackberry and ripe melon compliment lilacs and violet floral notes.

Roasting this coffee should prove fairly straightforward as far as it goes for Natural Ethiopian coffees. Expect a little chaffiness, but otherwise I’d recommend a smooth ride through color change (don’t be afraid to drag your feet here a bit) and a brisque first crack. As Evan noticed on the Behmor, higher airflow for this Guji will bring out its best qualities and help avoid smokey overtones that can mute the floral and fruit notes you’ll want to highlight.

Also – the coffee presents as a little grassy and fresh right out of the roaster. Don’t be afraid to give it a few days to degas before you break out your brew equipment, it’ll benefit from a little extra rest. If I had to guess, based on the usual solid green metrics and this volatile post-roast gassiness, the green should age very well for long periods, as long as storage conditions are good.

So, all that being said, I took the coffee for a spin on the usual suspects, to predictable results. The low airflow profile (yellow) offered lots of body and darker fruit flavors but muted the acidity and fragrance. Some juicy black grape and perfumy notes were unique to this roast.

The short sample roast profile (blue) was a solid option, and one that focused the attention on acidity more than anything else. Tart cranberry and pineapple unexpectedly jumped from the cups, surely a direct result of the abbreviated first crack (just 40 seconds, a mere 11% of the total roast). The grassiness was most apparent in this profile, and it was likely a little underdeveloped.

The clear victor was the high airflow profile that spent an extra 30 seconds in Maillard phase (red). Lush aromatics paired with plum, starfruit, and peachy notes and a distinct wine-like finish. A well balanced cup with all the sweetness you could ask for and a jammy finish.

You can download the profile to your Ikawa Pro app here:
Roast 1: Crown Standard SR 1.0
Roast 2: Crown Maillard +30 SR 1.0
Roast 3: Crown 7m SR Low AF

Behmor

Behmor Analysis by Evan Gilman

Unless otherwise noted, I follow a set standard of operations for all my Behmor roasts. Generally, I’ll use the 1lb setting, manual mode (P5), full power, and high drum speed until crack. Read my original post and stats here. 

The second Ethiopian coffee of the season, and we’re already into natural process arrivals! I usually expect these coffees later in the summer, perhaps around late July. Having a bright and fruity coffee like this one arrive in such a timely manner is a good sign..

An even better sign was the delicious smell that came out of the package containing this coffee as I opened it up. The fresh fruit smells were very pervasive, and even before seeing the label I knew this would be a natural. The prep on this coffee is excellent, but I knew from the small bean size that it would take on heat quite easily. What I really wanted to express through this roast was the deep fruit flavor I knew would be there – if you’ve got it, flaunt it, as they say.

I started with my usual high heat application and high drum speed to start, and waited until 10:15 to turn down the heat application to P4 (75%). The telltale poofs just before first crack were my signal, and first crack in proper began at 10:25. I really wanted to keep this coffee as clean as possible, and the relative chaffiness led to more smoke than usual, so I propped the door open about 2 inches for 40 seconds just after first crack. After 1:10 of development, I engaged “COOL” and stopped the roast at 11:35.

This coffee positively filled my kitchen with a smell like strawberry shortcake, so I was surprised when my first tasting of it didn’t really display this note! I got plenty of dark berries like blackberry and boysenberry, but not that distinct strawberry smell. I did get a note of smoke during my cupping, so I’d definitely suggest giving this coffee as much airflow as possible.

If I were to do anything differently, I might have kept heat application on high and opened the door a touch, from just before first crack all the way until the end of the roast. The more smoke you can abate, the better. This coffee was delicious regardless, and especially so after resting a few days off roast. Take a look below for more brew notes!

Brew

Brew Analysis by Evan Gilman

Excitedly, I stepped up to the Chemex again to make what I hoped was the most vivaciously fruity coffee of this year so far. I was not disappointed! While I wasn’t able to capture the strawberry smell I got during roasting, the cups I brewed below were still delicious renditions of a coffee with ample fruit and smooth mouthfeel.

Playing primarily with grind size, I was able to achieve some very different flavors from this coffee. My first brew was rather standard; with a 22 grind on the Baratza Virtuoso, I brewed at a 1:16 ratio by pouring concentric circles in the bed of grounds with pulses of 150g until my final weight of 640g. For an Ethiopian coffee, this one poured through at a reasonable clip, and the brew finished at 4:25. This cup was eminently chuggable, and displayed heavy berry, deep chocolate, and fresh limeade flavors.

I wanted to see what I could do to bring out both the acidic and the sugary side of this coffee, so I tried something a little different for my next brews. My next brew was ground coarser, at 24 on the Virtuoso. I performed nearly the same pour schedule, but added agitation during preinfusion and draw-down. This brew took much longer to pour through (5:30), which I’d attribute to fines settling at the bottom of the brew bed after agitation. I got what I wanted despite a lower extraction percentage: huge black cherry, plum, and creamy fudgecicle sweetness came through on this brew, and the acidity was elegant and juicy. This was my favorite brew.

For my last brew, I wanted to get as much out of this coffee as possible, and make a truly thick cup. To that end, I ground the coffee at 20 on the Virtuoso and performed the same pour schedule without agitation. The result was tart lime acidity, with a solid dark chocolate backing. On cooling, tart cherry came through on top of the lime, and tannic black tea like Darjeeling lingered nicely on the finish. I pulled pretty much everything out here, and got 21.32% extraction, which I was happy with. But I preferred the previous brew.

From the perspective of yours truly, I would recommend a slightly coarser grind while brewing this coffee. Some of those juicy fruit notes can get a bit lost in the midst of all the thick sugars this coffee has to offer. If you’re working with a light roast, it’s possible you’ll get even higher extraction numbers than you see here. This is a clear winner for the single origin drip category, but I could see it working as a full immersion brew as well. It will be hard to make a less-than-pleasing cup with this coffee!

Origin Information

Grower
Jilo Barko, Jarso Muda, and Teklu Miju
Variety
Indigenous Landraces & Selections
Region
Shakiso, Guji Zone, Oromia Region, Ethiopia
Harvest
November 2019 - February 2020
Altitude
1600 - 1900 masl
Soil
Vertisol
Process
"Natural" dried in the fruit on raised beds in the sun
Certifications
Organic, Staff Picks

Background Details

Every year, more and more coffees sourced from the Guji zone have captured the attention of coffee experts and at Royal we have come to expect spectacular coffees from Guji. This organic Guji natural processed lot was sourced from 3 farms (collectively 75 acres) around the community of Gatame Muka in the coveted Shakiso district. The farmers (Jilo Barko, Jarso Muda, Teklu Miju), deliver ripe cherries to the station in Shakiso, which is owned and operated by Guji Highland Coffee Plantation. Ripe cherries are carefully sorted and then placed on raised drying beds in thin layers to dry for 15 to 20 days and turned regularly to avoid over-fermentation and mold.  Raised beds are carefully constructed to ensure proper air circulation and temperature control, for optimal drying. Once the cherries are gently dried to 11 percent moisture, they are transported to the Guji Highland Coffee Plantation dry-mill where the same focus on sorting and quality control is executed through to the final export stage.