This week, we're shining a spotlight on one of our most unusual coffees, Ethiopia Queen City Harrar.
Almost all the coffees grown and sold in the world, whether Arabica or Robusta, are from domesticated, cultivated stock. We know of one exception, coffee from the Harrar region in Ethiopia.
Most coffee historians agree that coffee originated in Northern Africa. The story I like best goes like this:
An Ethiopian goatherd named Kaldi noticed that his goats were extra frisky when they came home after grazing on a hillside covered in red-fruited bushes. Being a curious boy, he tried the fruit, which was sweet but otherwise uninteresting, and for reasons we'll never know, decided to roast the seeds from the fruit, grind and brew them into a sort of tea. The brown, caffeinated brew was the very first coffee.
Kaldi's discovery swept the world and is now the most popular beverage after plain water. It's no surprise that coffee cultivation has spread across the tropics until coffee is grown today everywhere that has the combination of water, soil and altitude that the coffee bushes need to flourish.
Most of the world grows a handful of specific varieties of coffee like Bourbon and Caturra. The exception is Ethiopia, which grows “heirloom Ethiopian varieties.” They are still cultivated, though, in every region except Harrar. In Harrar, the coffee bushes still grow wild in an abundance of different types and sub-types. The farmers who produce Harrar go into the hills to harvest the cherries and then naturally process the fruit to end up with a coffee that is unlike any in the world.
Ethiopia Harrar is not for everyone. Here at Coffee by the Roast, we're equally divided between those who love Harrar and those who really don't. Our head roaster is in the pro-Harrar camp, which is a good thing because Ethiopia Harrar is a pain to roast. With most coffee beans, we look for consistency in bean size and density. Consistent green beans roast more evenly and result in nicer looking and often better tasting roasted coffee. Harrar is the opposite of consistent. Each roast of coffee contains a range of beans, different varieties, sizes and densities. Even with a coffee that is processed as carefully as this year's Ethiopia Queen City Harrar, the beans vary and the most careful roasting still results in different colored roasted beans, for a mottled overall appearance.
The flavor, though, is amazing. And it changes, pot to pot, sometimes even between cups of coffee from the same pot. When we cup a coffee from Harrar, we look for certain flavors, chocolate richness, berry sweetness and if we're lucky, a hint of herb and/or spice. Harrar is a coffee we brew and cup several times to come up with a description that will cover most of the coffee from a given year. Each pot, even each cup, though, will be unique. That's what some of us love about this wild coffee from Ethiopia.
We were very pleased when we cupped this year's Ethiopia Queen City Harrar. We love the coffee's silky smooth body and fudgy chocolate richness. The fruit sweetness reminds us of cherries and strawberries, dried just enough to concentrate their sweetness. What we like best, though, is the sweet spicy note. It reminded some of us of cardamon. Others thought it was more herbal. All of us loved it.
If you like your coffee to taste the same, year-to-year and season-to-season, please try one of our blends. We keep their flavor the same for those who count on enjoying the same coffee flavor in every cup they brew. If you enjoy an adventure, though, and don't mind surprises, consider trying a roast of the wild and wonderful Ethiopia Queen City Harrar.
Have you tried coffee from Harrar? How do you think it compares to other coffees of Ethiopia? If you have an opinion, please join the conversation and share it on the Facebook thread or in a comment on this blog. Or, if you'd like to share your thoughts with the wider world, leave us a coffee review on Google or on your favorite review site. Not only do we value your opinions, but reviews help more people find us. Help us connect coffee lovers to fresh, quality coffee!
~ Carrie, Paul and all of us at Coffee by the Roast