Slate Coffee Ethiopia ArichaBuying from Ethiopia continues to be a challenge for roasters and importers.  More often than not, they are forced to purchase their lots through the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange—which is difficult if you require some traceability or back story with the coffees you want to purchase. You have to become a detective, scouring through pages and pages and pages of roaster and importer websites to find information about any given ECX coffee.

Well—not you, personally; that’s why you have me: Drew Moody—Coffee Detective.

What I do know is this coffee comes from a washing station in the Gedeo Zone, west of the town of Yirgacheffe in the Guji area. The mill is called Kerbal Aricha and is owned by Surafel Birhanu, and is supplied by around 650 to 750 smallholder farmers (mainly garden growers), who produce around five containers of specialty coffee per year, and around ten commercial grade.

The varietals are anyone’s guess, but seem to be mainly made up from Typica and various other Ethiopian heirloom varietals. This is what you get in Ethiopia: lots of small growers with lots of different mutations and variations of plants, and little interest in separating them and figuring out what they actually have on their hands.

Ripe cherries are delivered to the mill where they are graded, sorted, de-pulped, and then fermented underwater between 36-48 hours, depending on temperature, humidity, and other factors. Parchment is then sorted in washing channels and dried on raised beds. The drying period generally lasts for up to two to three weeks, until moisture level reaches 12% or lower. The beans are then transported in parchment to the ECX warehouse in Awassa, then dry-milled to remove the parchment prior to shipping.

Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping the Ethiopia Aricha, from Slate Coffee Roasters in Seattle, Washington, courtesy of Craft Coffee. Feel free to pull up a chair.

THE BASICS:

region: Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia
farm: Kerbal Aricha mill
producer: smallholder farmers
association: Ethiopia Commodity Exchange
elevation: 1800 – 2000 meters above sea level
cultivars: Ethiopia Heirloom
process: natural
certifications: standard

THE COFFEE:

The aroma of the Aricha is pretty standard for a natural Ethiopia, as a massive blueberry/strawberry bomb explodes in my kitchen immediately upon opening the bag. The aroma is bright and lively, but there’s a subtle sweetness of honey, graham crackers, vanilla, and brown sugar that these fruit scents float upon.

Oh, boy! Right out of the gate this coffee is a real treat in every sense of the word. The berry bomb in the aroma is still very much present as I take my first few sips and the scents that are filling my nostrils are simultaneously actively informing the flavors my taste buds are picking out. However, that berry bomb backs off as the cup progresses, which I really appreciate – a lot of natural Ethiopias feature that berry bomb that eventually turns into fermentation (which is one reason I’m hesitant to try naturals); this one doesn’t.

No, instead, as it cools off a lot of sweet and delicious sugary confection flavors come to the forefront and the strawberry (in particular) takes the back seat (though this coffee’s tremendous clarity doesn’t let my palate forget about the strawberry all together). The dominant flavors now are vanilla cream, honey, and confectioner’s sugar, which (combined with the light, marshmallowy “fluffiness” of the coffee’s texture) create a taste of angel food cake and Cap’n Crunch cereal while cocoa powder and hazelnut play out in the finish.

Light body; “fluffy” mouthfeel; berry acidity; clean finish.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

If I had to choose, I think my favorite thing about reviewing coffee is trying the same coffees over and over again, but from multiple roasters. It’s like finding the band that covers Bob Dylan best; all of these really talented roast masters doing their best to highlight a particular coffee’s best natural features while simultaneously stamping their own unique signatures on the roast – it’s actually a pretty special and sacred act when you really consider it.

I think this is the fourth or maybe even fifth different version of the Ethiopia Aricha that I’ve had, and I have to say – while it is consistently an amazing coffee, the Ethiopia Aricha from Slate Coffee Roasters is head and shoulders above the rest.

This particular cup was incredibly unique, and incredibly sweet to boot; the perfect treat for the coffee drinker with both a sweet tooth and an adventurous palate. This Aricha was very dessert-like with its sugary, confectionary qualities and it was bright and somewhat tart with juicy berry liveliness. I’m honestly very surprised by its profile, both in terms of flavor and clarity, considering it’s a natural Ethiopia – no fermentation, no mustiness, a berry bomb, sure, but one that quickly subsides and gives way to, borrow a phrase from friend of the Table, Nick Brown, of Daily Coffee News, “sugar confections/yum yums.”

Outstanding coffee. Just outstanding.

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