“Give me a pour-over that makes you go ‘ahhhhhh!,” a picky regular recently beckoned. The request made me think about a classic Seinfeld moment, but I knew exactly what this customer meant. The guest wanted a cup of coffee that elicits an exhale of breathy pleasure. And, the answer was easy—grind up some recently roasted Ethiopia Yirgacheffe and commence pour-over routine.
The job of a barista in a specialty coffee shop is to serve as liaison between the coffee and the customer. Some would say that the role is similar to a sommelier. (I would disagree; “sommelier” is a much more formalized and rigorous title to attain, but you get the idea). Most of the customers will be people who may like your fancy coffee, but might not know why, or can’t verbalize what specifics attributes they like. They also probably don’t know growing regions or varietals very well. In fact, most customers will base their purchases on the advice of the barista or the tasting notes on the bag (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that).
It’s pretty easy to fudge a description and simply say “bold” or “chocolate-y.” I dropped “bold” from my descriptor vocabulary long ago, and try to reserve chocolate for the extremely chocolate-y coffees. More often than not, dropping the “C-bomb” sways a customer a coffee even when it’s not your favorite bean. Likewise, be careful with abstract descriptors. Trust me, a lot of coffee drinkers don’t want to hear that a coffee tastes like lemonade or lingonberry even if it’s absolutely delicious. Convincing people to order a coffee or buy of bag of beans that may break their expectations of how coffee should taste is a difficult and delicate process (or you can just lie).
However, all is not lost! The description conundrum is why I love when Ethiopian coffees come into season every spring. Hopefully, you’ll come to appreciate these East African treasures as well.
The coffee plant is native to Ethiopia and the nation has maintained an elite status amongst coffee drinkers for centuries. Coffees from Ethiopia vary greatly according to region, specific harvest or “lot,” and most notably the processing method (the act of cleaning the fruit from the seed, more here). However, the really great Ethiopian coffees all share a couple of traits. A brilliant, stand-out flavor profiles and an deep, underlying sweetness make Ethiopian beans a perfect recommendation for those just beginning to explore coffee. Mind you the roasts may have fallen a little out of vogue in the coffee world, but natural process Ethiopian coffees provide an accessible and defined flavor, perfect for beginners. Personally, I first learned that coffee can be more than just jet-fuel after encountering the overwhelming blueberry aroma of the Ethiopian natural at my first coffee shop job. Even if somebody doesn’t want to parse acidity and profiles in a coffee, a bag of a good wet-processed Sidamo can be honey-sweet and crisp even when obscured with milk.
While working at Cherry Espresso in New Orleans, I’ve been pretty lucky to taste beans from a rotating cast of roasters from all over the country. Three Ethiopian offerings from Coava, Roseline, and Ruby Colorful really stood out this season.
Kilenso From Coava
Origin Sidamo Ethiopia
Brewed for Tasting: Espresso, Chemex
Price: $15 for 250 grams
Coava’s Kilenso proves that despite the aversion of some coffee roasters to natural process, they coffees can be absolutely stellar. Having the opportunity to work with it on bar at the cafe, espresso is where Kilenso shines. Pulled correctly, it will make you question, “Is this coffee or some kind of jam-juice?” Sweetness may overpower the complexity slightly as espresso, but you won’t care. The acidity is balanced and beautiful.
It is delicious as a pour over as well, but like a lot of natural coffees there is a slightly earthy finish. (As of late I’ve come back around to this flavor.) Coava is still remarkably clean for a natural; that might be because their lot of green beans are exclusively separated from a larger harvest. The coffee world needs to fall in love again with natural process coffees in the same way the wine world is loving natural wines.
Duromina from Roseline Coffee Roasters
Origin: Agaro, Jimma, Ethiopia
Brewed For Tasting: Chemex, Espresso
Price: $18.50 for 12 ounces
Okay, Roseline’s Duromina is another coffee from a Portland, Oregon roaster. (What can I say, as an Oregon-born boy, I’m biased.) You don’t have to be biased to love this bright as a shining jewel of a coffee. Tasting notes like “sparkling wine” make me suspicious but when I dialed in this coffee for espresso I can see why Roseline chose an effervescent comparison. The acidity almost leaves your tongue tingling, but not in a sour way. The coffee is like Carmen Miranda’s hat—full of tropical fruits. For a pour-over, it’s one of my favorite coffees I’ve tried in the last year. I’m not the biggest fan of iced-coffee of any kind, but in the sweltering south, even I enjoyed this when brewed as an iced pour over. To overdo the wine comparison, this is the coffee equivalent of your summer Rosé.
Reko by Ruby Colorful Coffees
Origin: Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia
Brewed for Tasting: Chemex, Espresso
Price: $18.25 for 12 ounces
“Ahhhh….” it’s a classic Yirgacheffe coffee. Yirgacheffe is in general my favorite coffee region in Ethiopia and maybe the world. I’m partial to the citrus and black tea flavors; the jasmine flower aroma; and the honey-on-your-tongue mouth feel so common from the good coffees from the region–and this fits that description perfectly. (Strange that my favorite coffees taste like tea when I find tea so boring? Anyway…). For fans of the region, Ruby’s Reko is like the classic rock station that keeps pumping out the hits. If you haven’t been experienced, it’s the song you that comes on the radio that you can’t believe you never heard