Ethiopia Bensa Shantawene
This is our third year working with Catalyst, as well as buying from the Abore site. Each harvest of coffee has been marked by a perfume-like fragrance that is immediately apparent upon grinding. The aromatics, combined with the sweetness of the coffees, as well as the staggering amount of transparency they provide in regards to what it truly takes to import coffee, makes this coffee from Catalyst Trade one of our favorite releases of the year. Emily and Michael McIntyre, as well as their partner Zele, are three people who are incredibly passionate and dedicated to these coffees. And year after year, this dedication shows. Last year, producers from the Bensa area delivered their best cherries to the Bombe site, where they are then separated and processed. This dedication to producing amazing coffee has led Catalyst to source the entire production (2.5 million kgs of cherries) from the Bombe Abore site. They are incredibly involved in the processing and production of these lots. This natural is a screen isolation 13/14, which yields a tighter profile of fruit in the cup, leaning more towards tropical and yellow fruits.
SHANTAWENE RELATIONSHIP by Catalyst Trade
We have worked for several years now with the producers of Shantawene, our first season beginning in 2015. Shantawene village is situated between the village of Bombe and the Bombe mountain. The producers are part of a member organization consisting of 667 producers in various parts of the mountain range, which also includes producers from Bombe and Keramo. We've worked with this group since before it was officially founded (more on that below). For the last two years, these member producers deliver their coffee cherries to the Bombe site Abore Washing Station for processing to our specifications. We always anticipate every lot from Shantawene each year, as they are to us the quintessential Ethiopian coffee - full of dynamic herbals and sparkling acidity, with articulate fruits. This coffee continues to stand out as a team favorite on the cupping table. Like Keramo, it is a dense coffee, with heaviest concentrations comprised of the smaller screen sizes (the majority of the coffee screen sizes at 14 and 15). The larger screen sizes are a treat for the very few roasters who get them. In screens 16 and 17, we find heavy concentrations of fruit juice and lovely tea-like subtleties that the smaller screen sizes tend to hide with heavy-handed perfumes.
Before the 2017/18 harvest, this producing group delivered coffee cherries to a different washing station nearby, called Shantawene washing station, where we first encountered the coffees and purchased them as mixed lots. Up until the 2017/2018 harvest, all coffees from Bombe, Keramo, and Shantawene villages were processed together and sold under the name of Shantawene. We were noticing different cup dynamics from the cherries that came from different areas and eventually began to isolate coffees by village. This led to the move to Bombe site washing station and getting even more isolation in the lots. For the past couple of seasons, all producers we work with from Shantawene, Bombe, and Keramo all deliver cherries to the more centralized Bombe site Abore Washing Station.
The Bonara river plays a big part in the ability to accomplish clean, washed coffees at the Abore site. Water is filtered and stocked as a reserve to refresh the fermentation tanks a few times throughout the long fermentation process. After fermentation, the coffee is then washed through channels and agitated to work loose some of the sticky mucilage left over after the natural yeasts and microbes have broken it down. At this point, the parchment coffee is moved to raised mesh beds to drain and to begin the drying process, which lasts about twelve days on average. This process yields incredibly clean and floral coffees, which are delicate and razor-sharp in the taste profile. We aren't sure if it's wrong to pick favorites, but washed Ethiopian coffees are at the top of our list.
We have been purchased screen size separations from Catalyst since they began. Since coffee is an organic product, the seeds of the cherries tend to have a pretty wide variance in size (and shape), and a natural part of coffee production is separating coffee into screen sizes. Mills will separate the coffee to a size 15/16 screen for exporting, and others are either sold as a different grade or sold off for consumption outside of the specialty market. It is common practice to separate and market screen sizes as grades, rather than only by size. Alongside Catalyst's other strict quality standards and practices, we see screen separations nearly as separate coffees; these separations will have a wholly different taste profile.
SCREEN SIZE ISOLATION by Catalyst Trade
Though it is very common in other countries, we don't know anyone else in Ethiopia who isolates screen sizes. To do so, we must be very careful, or we will lose an enormous amount of coffee. Zele works with the export warehouse staff to calibrate the flow of coffee and ensure each size is clearly separate. The decision of whether or not to isolate screen sizes is also quite labor-intensive: we hand-screen- sort and then cup each screen size several times to determine the different qualities and characteristics. In general, smaller screen sizes tend to be more floral and herbal, while larger screen sizes tend to be more fruit-heavy and juicy.
PRODUCER PREMIUMS by Catalyst Trade
A benefit of the new legislation in Ethiopia allows us to share profits with producers directly; additionally, our premiums are reinforced by the 2017 CAFE Practices certification of the Bombe/Abore site. As part of the certification, a second payment is given to producers following the final sale and shipment of all coffees.
In partnering with Abore, Catalyst Trade sought to seize the opportunity to participate in this direct payment structure with producers, and we pay additional levels of premiums on all coffees we purchase. We pay a premium for high-quality cherry acquisition and for implementing float tanks; another for implementation of our processing protocols, which include meticulous sorting and specialized experiments; and an additional premium for coffees exceeding an expected minimum cupping score. In addition to these premiums, we pay daily premiums at the dry mill, when we are processing all of our lots. This amounts to tripling the daily wages of laborers while we are working together.
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).
FILTER - Hario V60
24g Coffee : 400g Water 205°F
~3:00 Drain Time
This is a floral, sweet, and delicate coffee. As it cools, that peach tea shines through. We liked the V60 because of its brightness. The overall sweetness balances the florality to make an approachable and complex cup. There is a lot of soluble material in this coffee, and it isn’t very easy 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.
ESPRESSO - Modbar EP
Brew Temp: 198°F, Line Pressure: ~3.5 bars, Max Pressure: 9 bars
Pressure Profile: 0 sec to 4 sec - line pressure, from 4 sec till done - 9 bars
19g in : ~40g out @ ~28s
It’s rare that a coffee’s flavor is so clear. Expect prominent peach tea, with lasting floral and sweet flavors. This washed Shantawene is very sweet and floral without being overly complicated; it remains approachable with its silky texture and long-lasting sweetness. If this coffee pulls too quickly, under-extracts, expect tart unripe peach and saltiness. If this coffee pulls too long, over-extracts, you’ll taste continuing black tea with an unpleasant dryness.
Ethiopia Bensa Shantawene Washed
This is a Relationship Coffee from our friends at Catalyst Trade. In January of this year, Jon and I (Dakota) were awake for about 36 hours while flying from Arkansas to Addis Ababa. We grabbed a taxi and went straight to the hotel, where Michael had set up a cupping of all the fresh crop offerings they had. Sleep deprivation aside, we ended up purchasing thirty-seven 60-kilo bags of this coffee for $4.90/lb. We cupped this at 87.25 points. They are incredible to work and travel with, each year we look forward to seeing them at various events across the country and in Ethiopia.
• The Coffee Commodity purchase price was $0.93/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 upfront 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.