Intro by Charlie Habegger and Chris Kornman
A favorite here amongst the team at Royal returns to the Crown and Crown Jewels. Our Tasting Room baristas and customers both loved this coffee so much last year we featured it across multiple platforms, but nowhere did it impress us more than as an espresso.
The coffee’s most recent iteration is a welcome addition to our lineup, and has been met with great anticipation. We’ve got big plans for it here in Oakland, and if you’re looking for a balanced, fruity, and clean addition to your own menu for the fall, look no further than this juicy, grapey cup that brims over with sweetness and elegance. Once again, the coffee is a deft acrobat, offering distinct notes of melon and apricot, leaping gracefully to hints of berries and black grapes and plums, and sticking the landing with a lush, velvety structure.
Mount Elgon is a massive peak split nearly in two by the border of Uganda and Kenya. The “mountain” itself, now an extinct shield volcano, is more an enormous expanse of successive plateaus that float dramatically above the surrounding valley floor. It is also home to a dense patchwork of farming communities growing some of the best organic coffee in Africa. Sipi Falls, named after the mountain’s most famous waterfall just down the road, is a centralized wet mill located in the Kapchorwa district that buys and processes cherry from 8,000 organic and diversified farms across the northern part of the mountain.
The sheer volume of quality coffee produced by this single wet mill is a testament to the truly ideal conditions of elevation, biological wealth, and human experience that abound between the farmers and Sipi Falls’ management team. Not to mention the ingenious business model itself, which, more than 20 years after its founding, continues to be a leader in affordable, certified coffee of the highest quality on the continent.
The vast majority of coffee processed at Sipi Falls is fully washed but starting in 2016 the quality team at the mill started tinkering with honey and natural processed cherry. These coffees trickled out into the world at first with very little fanfare, in what could only be considered a side project for Sipi Falls; however, with a few years under their belt, there is now an annual portfolio of honey, natural, and custom washed coffees that masterfully showcase the full spectrum of Elgon’s high-elevation terroir. The naturals in particular can be some of the best in Africa, which, with Ethiopia nearby, is saying a lot.
Kaproron is one of the northernmost communities from which Sipi Falls collects. Cherries from Kaproron have been used in honey and natural processing since the beginning of the project, and in the natural process, are floated for density upon delivery and then sundried in a single layer in the flock of raised beds constructed on an unused patch of mill property, on a southwestern facing slope.
Sipi has a dedicated staff tending to the naturals, including their quality manager, who cups and approves every lot at least once just after drying, and again months later to check that the conditioning is stable.
These experimental lots are beloved at Sipi Falls, and (as with quality teams all over the world with a passion for the new and delicious) are by far the most deliberated. And thanks to the added uniqueness and cup quality, farmers selected for these microlot programs see the highest bonuses of anyone selling cherry to Sipi Falls.
Sipi Falls’ naturals are rich and concentrated, with sweetness profiles like strawberry syrup and balsamic vinegar. They tend to be intensely complex when fresh and increasingly more approachable as they rest. It is an incredible experience to see such a prime terroir be unlocked through quality processing, where just a matter of years ago it was often lost in transit.
Green Analysis by Nate Lumpkin
This natural-processed coffee from Uganda comes to us with average density, and slightly above average moisture content and water activity. Its screen size is very well sorted, with a majority of the coffee falling into screen sizes 16 and 17, and only small amounts falling outside of that. Its slightly elevated moisture content could lend itself to a longer drying phase in the roast, and its slightly elevated water activity may cause accelerated maillard reactions and sugar browning. These two characteristics might work against each other in surprising ways, so consider taking a look at Alex and Evan’s roast notes for some more ideas on how this coffee might behave.
The varieties that comprise this coffee are from the Bourbon family, the well-known variety selected from Yemen landraces that has spread across the world and particularly East Africa. The SL selections SL14 and SL28 are both selected by Scott Agricultural Laboratories in Kenya. SL14 was selected in the late 1930s from a single drought resistant tree, and is known for its drought and cold resistance. SL28 was selected and released as early as 1931, and even though it is somewhat lower yielding and less disease resistant than other varieties, it shows good sensory qualities. Blue Mountain is a relative of Typica, which like Bourbon was selected from Yemen landraces, and has in fact been shown to be genetically identical to Typica.
Ikawa Analysis by Nate Lumpkin
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.
I’m coming up to my one year anniversary here at the Crown, and this coffee was one of the first I had the pleasure of serving, both on espresso and on batch brew, so I was excited to revisit this coffee, this time on the Ikawa. It ended up behaving in some unexpected ways–for instance, each roast cracked just a little bit later than I’m used to–and when brewed, exhibited some very different flavor profiles across the board.
As usual, the first profile I used was our standard hot and fast roast. This cup was easy drinking: notes of raspberry, blueberry, and plum wine, with a hint of malt and a lightly bready note, like sourdough cake. This cup tasted a little on the darker side, though its body remained light. I liked this cup a lot, although I remember prefer this coffee without that cake-like finish.
Our second profile elongates Maillard phase, which I expected to roast out the raspberry and blueberry notes and leave me with a dark, heavy cup. I was surprised to find it bright and citric, with notes of grapefruit, caramelized blueberry candy, red plum, blue raspberry, sour cherry, and dark chocolate. I have to be honest: I didn’t love this cup. I prefer Sipi Falls when it has those darker fruit notes, though the caramelized candy flavors in this cup were unique to this style of roast. However, if you’re looking for a really bright and candy-like roast, this might be your route.
Our third low airflow roast ended up being my favorite. Its aroma was very sweet and floral, and its flavor profile was reminiscent of honeysuckle, fig, blueberry, raspberry, and milk chocolate. This cup was a little less heavy than the previous cup, with a little less of the malt and roasty note I experienced in the first roast, and none of that over-bright acidity of the longer Maillard roast. I liked this cup a lot, and drank the whole thing for my morning coffee. I expected a hotter, faster roast to work best for Sipi Falls, but this slower, more delicate roast suited it really well.
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
Probatino Analysis by Alex Taylor
Most everybody here at The Crown loved this coffee last year, so I was excited to get to taste it again! And it’s a special bonus that we’ll get to share this coffee with the public again this year; it will be hitting the espresso bar in the tasting room in about a week or two! I will say, though, that there was a lot of pressure roasting this coffee! I think if it doesn’t live up to our (definitely not inflated) hype, then it must be my roast, not the coffee! This coffee is infallible!
Lucky for me, the perks of working with one of these repeat coffees is that we’ve got a great starting point for analysis; I simply pulled up Candice’s analysis from last year, as well as info from our production roasts and felt like I had a decent grasp of what I wanted to do with this coffee for roast analysis. Obviously, the coffee is not exactly the same as last year’s, but it feels safe to hope that it would at least behave similarly in the roaster and perhaps require only some minor adjustments.
I decided to try to mimic Candice’s analysis roasts from last year; the two roasts had distinctly different profiles, which always makes for solid analysis because it offers a glimpse of how the coffee will behave under a variety of conditions. The plan wasn’t too crazy: the first roast would involve a low gas setting at the beginning of the roast, then turn up the gas high, and start stepping down after color change. That’s pretty much my default approach to a roast, unless I’ve got a reason to do things differently. The second roast would start with a medium-high gas setting, and pretty much ride that setting through the roast until it’s time to slow things down at the end. I’ve tasted some really tasty coffees with profiles like this one; but if that gas setting isn’t perfect, you might find yourself overcorrecting and undercorrecting during the roast, as you try to find that sweet spot.
Both profiles roasted according to plan… kinda. Both roasts started to lag (when compared to a generic reference curve) at around 250F-260F. No crashing, no stalling, just lagging. Rather than forcing this coffee to roast faster by slamming it with some intense heat application, I decided to see where the coffee took me. And while I would have liked to keep the duration shorter (these were two of my longest roasts ever on the Probatino) everything else about the roasts seemed fine. The coffee responded nicely as I stepped off the gas towards the end of the roast (not always the case with natural coffees), and although first crack came a little late, I was expecting that based on information I had from last year. The second roast did stall a bit towards the end, but that was my fault! So with all this in mind, I was very curious to see what the coffees would taste like on the cupping table. Especially because the two profiles, although both were long, were different from each other in exactly the way I was hoping. One shorter, faster, and a little bit hotter at the end; the other slow and steady, but keeping the end temperature lower.
The next day, as I cupped these roasts, my panic subsided: I had not ruined Sipi Falls! The coffee tasted much the way I remember it: lots of juicy cherry and grape up front, and all the sweetness you could ever hope for! The acidity in the first roast (the faster of the two) was a bit more complex, with notes of plum, blueberry, melon, and maraschino cherry, with a smooth, velvety sweetness driven by dried fig, cacao nibs, and fudge. The second roast was a little less nuanced up front (dare I say even a bit baked – oops), but I still found notes of blackberry, black cherry, and plum, followed by vanilla and just oodles of dark chocolate! The extended second phase of this roast definitely contributed to the intense sweetness, but was maybe a little too much. Chris and I both found the cup a little muted and roasty, but again those were the results of the roast, not the coffee! I really can’t wait to scale up, pop this coffee in the Loring and start dialing it in for espresso! This coffee is truly a treat, and the perfect way to start easing ourselves into fall!
Brew Analysis by Elise Becker
One of my coworkers has gone so far as to tell me that last season’s crop of this coffee literally “changed her life.” Therefore, you can imagine that this member of the Crown Jewel roster has been eagerly anticipated and I was very excited to brew this bad boy up! Armed with two Probatino roasts of Ugandan deliciousness, I set out to put the Sipi in my cup.
Last year, we featured Sipi Falls on a rotation throughout our whole menu, and it proved its versatility on the espresso bar, batch brew, and cold brew. As such, when I started brew analysis I was prepared to put it to the test with four different devices.
The first brew device I pulled out was the Aeropress. I love the Aeropress for its ability to make a great brew out of a tiny dose of coffee. I set up the Aeropress for the inversion method with a double filter. The resultant cup was rich and creamy, with milk chocolate, pecan, and darker fruits such as prune and purple grape boldly coming to the fore. Honey and apricot made an appearance, and a light and sweet vanilla peeked through.
For our drip methods, the Kalita was super sweet, and featured lighter fruits than the Aeropress. Kiwi, nectarine, and peach shone through and melted into the sticky goodness of a lemon bar cookie, the soft nuttiness of praline, and a lovely honey sweetness backed by floral vanilla and creamy milk chocolate. My brew with the C70 was a team favorite. It was juicy, with plenty of peach and pear, sticky-sweet bubblegum, floral cardamom and rose, and all the rich, fudgy goodness of a milk chocolate truffle.
Brewing with the hybrid device, the Clever dripper, I was rewarded with an exceedingly clean and delicate cup. Chamomile and honeydew melon gave way to lime, green grape, vanilla and white chocolate. Delicious!