Intro by Charlie Habegger
The climb from the southern end of the Great Rift Valley, through Shashamene and past Awasa is gradual, and coffee trees slowly increase in frequency, large, lanky, and dusty by the roadside, many so tall they lean on the roofs of houses for support. Coffees here are earlier than in the far south, delicate, and citric. Sidama has one of the most robust cooperative unions in the country with 53 member cooperatives, as well as a thriving industry of independent washing stations. Testi Ayla is one such independent, owned by Testi Coffee PLC and operated by Faysel Yonis.
The Testi Ayla washing station is located in Shenta Wene, a small community in eastern Sidama, close to the Harenna Forest preserve. The 1000 farmers delivering cherry to Testi Ayla average two hectares each in this area and some of the highest elevations in the whole of Sidama. There are three collection sites responsible for managing cherry delivery throughout the catchment area.
Testi Ayla processes equal volumes of both fully washed and natural coffees, and, especially in this case, has had success with micro-processing select volumes, drawing from some of the best fermentation knowledge in the coffee world today. This lot is a natural process aided by a highly delicate winemaking technique known as “carbonic maceration”: a unique curing stage that locks whole coffee cherries in a sealed tank deprived of oxygen for a 24-hour period. Because the fruit is whole and its environment is without air circulation or oxygen, carbonic maceration is essentially a custom-curing of each coffee seed in an enclosed bath of fruit jam, without any of the dehydration that would normally slow osmosis between the fruit and the seed. Once cured, the softened coffee cherries are taken directly to dry on raised beds under shade for a very gradual drying process of almost three weeks.
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 wholly distinct flavors in the cup than those we’re used to. In this case, Testi Ayla has perfected a truly exemplary natural Sidama coffee with additional layers of fragrant juniper and fresh strawberry jam. The extra work here has paid off for sure, not to mention the investment in shelf life: the extended drying time and vacuum seal on the green will keep these layers locked in for months beyond expected.
One clear advantage to being a private processing team like Testi Ayla is the ability to invest in breakthrough techniques. However, it is no guarantee that your coffee will be improved by lengthy interventions to processing simply because they’ve succeeded a handful of times elsewhere in the world. By doing so a processor risks not only the volume of coffee used, but the trust of hardworking farmers whose livelihoods depend on a successful fermentation. Additionally, the expense of isolating multiple nanolots of green coffee through overland transport, dry milling, sampling, contracting, vacuum-packing, and shipment, requires constant attention and extra hands, especially in Ethiopia where this kind of small-scale exporting is almost never done. Royal’s investment in promoting these coffees is a shared mission with Testi Ayla—that historic coffees are worth it.
Green Analysis by Chris Kornman
Classically small in size and high in density, this oxygen-free-processed coffee has a fruity distinctive aroma to the green coffee and a slight rosy hue from fermentation. The coffee is well-dried and shipped in vacuum sealed bags from Addis to Oakland, so expect the shelflife of the green to be quite long.
Fermentation in coffee is a complex process still somewhat under-researched, but most folks agree that the active microbes tend to be a mix of lactic acid bacteria and yeast. Biochemical fermentation specifically — the transubstantiation of carbohydrates into energy — by definition happens in a zero-oxygen environment. However, much of the fermentation taking place in food and beverage systems is less strictly defined. In coffee, fermentation traditionally takes place in a fairly open environment. Thus, when a producer uses a term like “anaerobic” or “carbonic” it tends to indicate that they have altered something about the fermentation tank to create a sealed environment. In this case, the cherries fermented whole without pulping.
The cultivar designated here as 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.
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.
Despite uncommon processing, the coffee behaved pretty normally in the roaster with the exception of a late first crack in the Maillard +30 (red) profile. This resulted in a slightly bitter grapefruit peel finish in an otherwise juicy and fruity profile.
The other two roasts fared better. The short and fast roast (blue) offered up lots of jelly and jam notes of concord grape and strawberry. It, too, had a slightly bitter finish and was thin, but otherwise a pleasant and fruity cup.
Lastly, the longer, lower airflow profile was my favorite, achieving a nice balance of ripe fruit notes and jammy sugared fruits without verging too far into the pulpy/boozy realm.
This is a really nicely executed carbonically macerated coffee, one that highlights the distinctive flavor profiles possible through this style of fermentation and avoids the common pitfalls. It will delight those who revel in jammy, fruit-forward naturals but who also enjoy bright acidity and unusual twists on classic flavors from dry-processed Sidamas.
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
Roast Analysis by Alex Taylor
Three super fun coffees from Ethiopia in the Crown Jewel queue this week! It’s always exciting to see coffee’s arriving in vacuum packed bricks the size of a suitcase; you just know something good is gonna be in there!
Like the other coffees in this group, this one has high density and good looking prep, and BOY what an aroma on this green coffee! Yowza! To try to capture as much of this coffee’s intensity as I could, I started with a slightly higher charge, and set my initial gas setting a tick higher. I was fortunate to be roasting for analysis with a full 6lb batch on our Diedrich this week, so I wasn’t overly concerned about the coffees flying off the handle, the way some of my roasts last week did on the Probatino. That being said, the Diedrich tends to hold on to whatever heat you feed it and refuse to let go, so I knew I’d have to start stepping off the gas a little on the early side (I really wish I would’ve followed my own advice here). Nothing remarkable through the first half of this roast, but I wish I had seen the writing on the wall around color change: the roast was going a good bit quicker than I wanted it to, and the half measures I would take to slow things down ultimately would be too little too late. The RoR plateaued at around 370F, and it really took a good 20ish second after I turned off the burner around 390F for things to finally start slowing down. By that point, it was all I could do to eke out just 60 seconds (10%) of post-crack development, and even then, the roast finished at 406.5F. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it was a few degrees hotter than I wanted.
Despite my concerns over the way the second half of this roast went, I loved the way this coffee tasted on the cupping table! Immediately upon grinding, I knew it’d be a big ol’ fruit bomb, and it sure was. The aroma delivered notes of blueberry Fig Newtons, and my first few sips left me tasting blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, and concord grape. On the back end I found some dark chocolate and vanilla, with a jammy mouthfeel and lasting finish. A few hours after cupping, I brewed up a pretty delicious flash-chilled iced coffee with this, and found it super tasty! This is a super intense and fruity, but still clean, coffee that will surely please fans of fruity Ethiopias, and would be a great offering for those looking to explore a new processing method!
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.
Like the other natural coffee in this group, CJO1374, I wanted to approach the roast very gently. The propensity of natural coffees to ‘take off’ (read: have a tendency to keep their thermal momentum and end up getting burnt) led me to really back off the heat early on. This coffee didn’t have quite as wide of a screen size as CJO1374, so I knew I would definitely need to take it easy.
Using P5 (100% power) manual roast and high drum speed, I let this coffee roast unabated until 10:30. This was just a touch later than on CJO1374, but first crack happened at nearly the same moment in the roast, 11:00. Despite this coffee being a natural, there wasn’t nearly as much smoke in this coffee as there was for the others in its group. I still cracked the door open at 11:15 to abate heat and smoke, and stopped after exactly 1:00 development at 12:00.
The result was incredible, and classic. Huge berry and grape soda fragrances emanated from this coffee as soon as I ground it for cupping, and continued through into the tasting as well. This is the sort of coffee you can smell across the room. Flavor-wise, there was more berry yet. Blueberry jam, strawberry compote, and cherry pie all made appearances on my palate.
This coffee could favorably be compared to some of the better coffees I’ve had from Yemen due to its buttery texture as well. There’s something very classic about this coffee, and I think those of you out there who are looking for an ‘old school natural’ are really going to like this one. This is a meal in a cup, a feast for the senses. Not for the faint of heart!
Brew Analysis by Alex Taylor
Such fun coffees to brew this week! For both this coffee and CJO1374, I resurrected one of my old favorite brew experiments and varied the brew temperature by 20 degrees between brews, all other factors held constant. I brewed both on the Stagg brewer, and used a grind on the fine side of medium-fine. Both brews proceeded pretty typically; the cooler brew (at 185F) finished in 3:30 with a 1.54TDS and 21.71% extraction, and the hotter brew (at 205F) finished at 2:45 with a 1.51TDS and 21.20% extraction. This brew experiment always produces some fun results: nearly identical TDS and extractions here, despite the difference in brew temperature and a 45 second difference in brew time! The proof is in the pudding, though, as the cups had two different flavor profiles.
In the first cup (the cooler, 185F brew) I tasted blueberry, lemon, blackberry, black currant, maple syrup, and some really creamy milk chocolate, all with a gentle jasmine finish. The body on this cup was significant, but without being heavy, and it lingered for some time afterwards, allowing me to enjoy the complexities of the cup as long as I wanted before taking my next sip. In the second cup (the hotter (205F brew), I tasted lots of brighter red fruit, as well a good bit of tropical fruits! Raspberry, mango, cherry, pineapple, lime, honeysuckle, cinnamon, caramel, and cocoa powder swirled in the cup, with a crisp, light body and snappy finish that left me going back for another sip almost immediately! The two brew profiles here offer good examples of this coffee’s versatility. I would prefer the first brew (rich, creamy, blueberry, chocolate) on a lazy weekend morning with the dog, but if I needed my coffee to get me excited and pumped up for the day, the second brew would be the trick for me! Play around with your brew recipes with this coffee and see what works for you!