Ethiopia Bensa Shantawene
This coffee is the first time we have ever purchased from the Shantawene Mill, and it comes by way of our friends at Catalyst Coffee. We have talked with Catalyst for many years about buying coffees, but we never had the pleasure of working together due to timing issues. This year we were able to meet up in Ethiopia, and we purchased both the washed and natural micro-lots from the Sidama, Bensa region. This coffee has a unique perfumed nature that is apparent upon grinding. And it was that aromatic nature that drew us to the coffee right away and solidified the contracts once we tasted it. A man named Getachew runs the Shantawene Mill, and by the extremely clean nature of the coffees, he runs a tight ship. I hope to continue the relationship with the mill for years to come and start a mutually beneficial project of bringing notoriety to the small mill and continuing to promote the hardworking chain of specialty coffee.
SIDAMA ZONE by Emily McIntyre (Catalyst Coffee Consulting):
One of the most-visited cities in Ethiopia is Awassa (or Hawassa), the capital of the SSNPR Region and a well-kept town full of resorts, restaurants, and lakeside celebrations. There are even a few stoplights! On the shores of Lake Awassa (one of the Great Rift Valley lakes), the town has blossomed lately and is one of our personal favorites in the world.
Sidama is much larger than Awassa, however, no matter how fun it is to watch hippos surface among the rushes. Driving a full day over increasingly rough roads to the town of Daye, through the well-known towns of Yirgalem and Aleta Wondo, you find yourself in a rugged and lovely countryside surrounded and sometimes chased by the smiling faces of the Sidama people.
Historically, they had many unique cultural attributes including a voluntary farm-sharing program and a butter-sharing program (the only legal item women could own was butter, so they would trade, share, and compound butter to aid women in need). Subjugation by the Abyssinian rule of Menelik II in 1898 was succeeded by the Communist regime in the early 1980's, and then eventually overthrown for the current leadership. Now, they continue to advocate for their rights as a unique culture to be observed (Note: calling the people group "Sidamo" is a derogatory practice begun by the invading troops of Menelik, hence our use of the term "Sidama")
As in many other areas of Ethiopia, subsistence farming is a way of life for the Sidama people, and in fact, their beautiful farms are notable for having more division between them (handmade fences of bamboo screens and other materials) and more evidence of year-round cultivation. Enset, or false banana (called "Weese" in Sidama) is the main food crop and is used in many applications, from water storage in case of drought, to feeding animals, to serving as mats to support food preparation. Other products grown in Sidama include wheat, oats, sugar cane, potatoes, and other vegetables. Every household plants food crops with trees, to the benefit of both--that is, until eucalyptus began to be planted in the area and spread its poisonous influence. The short-term economic potential of the eucalyptus threatens the long-term forestation and ecology of the area.
Livestock is also a significant mover in the economy, though that began to shift with a massive population explosion limiting pasture land and the "tse-tse" fly epidemic of the early 20th century. Goats and oxen are still seen everywhere, dotting the rolling hills and lazily being herded across the roads which, though paved in places, still have a haphazard air as if nobody really knows why they exist.
The Sidama people comprise roughly 20% of the overall population of Ethiopia and thus have many administrative needs which continue to be addressed. Coffee as a primary economic driver remains life-and-death important to the Sidama people, and to those of us who love the area and wish to continue supporting it, and them.
The washed process begins with coffee cherries delivered to the washing station, both from the primary market or farmers bringing coffee directly to the mill. The cherries are inspected, and an initial quick round of hand sorting separates some of the defective coffees before placing them into the hopper. They then funnel to the disc pulper to remove the fruit from the seeds (beans). Once pulled, the coffee is fermented under water for approximately 36 hours, with the water drained and refreshed once in that cycle. Then, the parchment is emptied into the washing channels, where it is agitated with rakes. During this step, the water is refreshed twice. Once the washing is complete, the coffee undergoes the traditional “double wash,” where it rests in the soaking tank for another 12 hours, before being taken to the raised drying tables for sun drying.
FILTER - Kalita Wave
24g Coffee : 400g Water 205°F
~2:50 Drain Time
This is a deceptively complex and delicious coffee. When passed around the office, the consensus was that we were sipping on a Gesha, with tons of creamy sugar, peach, and jasmine throughout. As it cooled, that kiwi shines through. We liked the Kalita because of its balance. The body helps to make the complexity more approachable and overall it’s a very impressive and delicious coffee. There is a lot of soluble material in this coffee and it’s very difficult to under extract. When dialing-in we found that over-extraction was still delicious, but muted the acidity and produced a slightly drying aftertaste as it cooled.
Wanna know more about how we brew? Then visit our brew methods page cause "this is how we brew it" (think Montell Jordan when reading that last part).
ESPRESSO - Modbar EP
Brew Temp: 198°F, Line Pressure: ~3.5 bars, Max Pressure: 9 bars,
Pressure Profile: T0: 4s, T1: 4s, T2: 42s, T3-6: 0s
19g in : ~ 53g out @ ~23 seconds
As an espresso, the washed Shantawene produces a kiwi floral bomb! We found the cream soda sweetness was less pronounced, but still very sweet and popping. This took some large adjustments finer to dial-in, but once it was on, it was ON! If under-extracted the acidity is very tart and unappealing. If over-extracted it was very drying and lacking the warmer peach fruitiness.
Ethiopia Bensa Shantawene
This is a Relationship Coffee from our friends Catalyst Coffee. Marshall and I (Jon) happened to be traveling through Kenya and Ethiopia at the same time Catalyst was sourcing coffee as well. The timing was impeccable, and they were gracious enough to set up a cupping of some mills and producers with whom they work. We ended up purchasing this coffee for $4.50/lb and bought fifty-four 30-kilo bags. We cupped this at an 89.5. They were incredible to work and travel with, and we hope this is the start of a long relationship. Not just because of the coffee but also because they share an affinity for science fiction/fantasy books.
- The Coffee Commodity purchase price was $1.18/lb when we purchased this coffee.
- The Fair Trade Coffee minimum price was $1.60/lb when we purchased this coffee.
We as a company believe transparency is unbelievably important. However, we decided only to list what is shown here because we don’t know where to stop. Do we list the amount of coffee lost in roasting due to moisture loss? Should we list our roaster Mark's salary? The warehouse rent? The utilities? The point of listing things above is not to justify what we charge or what we profit, but to give a realistic snapshot of the industry and how Specialty Coffee can be different than other commodity industries. If you have concerns feel free to email us and I’ll write you back when I’m available.
Relationship Coffee is an initiative we, at Onyx, have purposely created to describe our sourcing and buying practices and how we document them. Certifications like Direct Trade, Fair Trade, and others have impacted the coffee communities in mostly positive ways but also in some negative ways. We find that blanket terms and applying them to a multitude of business models no longer describes what we do.
In reality, every company is different, and we wanted to step out from the mold and create a new set of standards that exceeds in every department from quality to transparency to pricing. The growers, exporters, importers, associations, cooperatives, and other entities are always a set of relationships. To be honest, many are our friends as much as they are our producers and partners. We share information, family news, meals, housing, many faiths, and argue politics. Oh, and we love it. Relationship Coffee for Onyx is the mark of an honest exchange ethos that permeates our company, and we hope it encourages the growth of specialty coffee for the future.
We visited the farm or cupping lab and listened to the producer/agronomist or head cooperative/association to ascertain better knowledge about the culture and practices.
We cupped the coffee, and it scored to our industry-high standards.
We do not buy futures or multiple harvests to ensure that what we cupped for that year is what we serve.
We do not ask for exclusivity from producers, binding their options.
We pay what the coffee is worth. This always is at least double Fair Trade minimum due to the quality we buy, and many times is three to ten times the amount.
We do not finance any coffee. Cash flow is just as important as the final price. Coffee is paid in full upon delivery, and we pay a percentage up front upon contracting.
We are completely transparent from price to logistics to cupping score, to who we work with buying and shipping coffee.
We work to set premiums after a contracted price to incentivize quality and community building. This can be .10¢ - .25¢ extra per pound or community projects such as school supplies in the growing village, sports jerseys, vented chimneys for kitchen fires, etc.