Ethiopia Bensa Shantawene Natural
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 extremely 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.
This is where the coffees delivered to the Abore site really shine. Although this mill has a fairly large capacity, in the last few years, they've honed in on quality. The naturally processed coffees start out with a float, separating the cherries that visually look fully formed, but otherwise have a different density due to lack of structure in the seed. After this first quality check, the cherries are drained on mesh screens for a few hours, making sure to return the cherries back to their normal moisture level. These high-quality naturals take a LONG time to dry, requiring rigorous turning and hand sorting as more imperfections are revealed through the drying process. The drying beds at Abore are covered by a mesh, blocking out some of the intense sunlight that can cause coffees to dry quickly, breaking down cell structure as well as sacrificing complexity. The naturally processed coffees at the Abore site take 22-24 days to dry, yielding complexity, refined sweetness, and perfumed florals in the cup.
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.
THE COFFEE CHERRY JOURNEY
With the liberation of the coffee sector in the 2016/2017 season and the organization of the member group at the Bombe site Abore Washing Station, coffee producers no longer had to sell cherries at the local market. This has a number of direct benefits to the coffee producers. First, the coffee brokerage has effectively been outlawed in Ethiopia. Strange as it might seem, the coffee brokerage had become a common practice throughout Ethiopia. Unintended by lawmakers, it was a natural economic reaction when the ECX was established, and many restrictions on buying and selling coffee cherries were enacted.
Brokers would establish themselves as middle-people between producers and washing stations. Because producers could only sell their cherries at the Primary Market level, washing station owners were unable to work with them directly. Inevitably, this model leads to corruption; premiums to incentivize red cherries from the washing station would go straight to the broker's pockets. With the legislature passed in the 2016/2017 season, producers can again sell coffee cherries directly to washing stations, and can directly receive premiums.
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
24.5g Coffee : 400g Water 205°F
~3:00 Drain Time
This year’s Shantawene Natural is less fruit-forward than last year, but still fruity and more complex. There is a lovely sweet cranberry note upfront with lasting honeylike sweetness. Lingering floral jasmine keeps the cup from being too sweet and adds a nice complexity. We liked the V60 for bringing out the brightness and florality. Less body made the flavors pop and was a truly enjoyable cup. If under-extracted, this coffee tasted like tart cranberry juice. If over-extracted, you lose flavor much and develop a drying bitter aftertaste.
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
19.5g in : ~45g out @ ~23s
Rich, fruity, and super sweet! This Natural processed coffee packs a huge body and fruitiness into a tiny cup. The cranberry carries through milk well, like cranberries and whipped cream. We preferred smaller milk drinks, but this espresso shines uniquely through larger milk drinks as well. It’s a great way to introduce traditional latte drinkers to try a Single Origin Espresso! Look for strong fruit and sweetness with florals coming through. If under-extracted, this was salty and tart, but still sweet. If over-extracted, there was a bitterness that enhanced the bitterness and drying of raw cranberry.
Ethiopia Bensa Shantawene Natural
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-three 60-kilo bags of this coffee for $4.90/lb. We cupped this at 87.5 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.