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Spotlight on...Ethiopia Harrar (and a Labor Day reminder)

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Spotlight on...Ethiopia Harrar (and a Labor Day reminder)

Carrie Masek

We just received a new shipment of coffees from Ethiopia, and our Spotlight is on a coffee that's arguably the original coffee variety, Ethiopia Harrar.

Most coffee historians agree that coffee originated in Northern Africa. The story I like best goes like this: One day, 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.

Almost all the coffees grown and sold in the world are from domesticated, cultivated varieties like Bourbon and Caturra. The exception is Ethiopia, which grows “heirloom Ethiopian varieties.” In Harrar, the coffee bushes still grow wild on the rocky hillsides, in an abundance of different types and sub-types. The farmers who produce Harrar go into the hills to harvest the cherries and often dry them on the roofs of their stone houses to end up with a naturally processed 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 usually the opposite of consistent, with each roast of coffee containing a range of beans, different varieties, sizes and densities. Our new Harrar is remarkable because it's processed carefully enough to earn a rating of “grade one.” To deserve such a high rating, the beans must be relatively large and flawless. The photo above gives a sense of how much work it takes to sort through the green coffee beans and remove any that are undersized or flawed. Though even “practically perfect” Ethiopia Harrar may roast a little unevenly, the more consistent bean size and quality gives us better roasting results and gives you an even better cup of coffee.

This season's Harrar is the best we've tasted in years. Even those in the con-Harrar camp love it. We enjoyed it's smooth body and silky mouth feel, but what really jumped out at us was the coffee's rich chocolate flavor and the sweet dried fruit notes that reminded us of figs. The sweet richness was balanced by a very lively spritz of lemon verbena and a lingering cocoa finish. Add a sweet, spicy note to the aroma, for a interesting coffee that's great black but even better with a dollop of cream.

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're up for an adventure, though, consider trying a roast of wild and wonderful Ethiopia 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!


Monday, September 2, is Labor Day. We’ll be closed for the three day weekend, so all orders we receive after noon on Friday, August 30, will be roasted and mailed on Tuesday. Have a great Labor Day weekend!

~ Carrie, Paul and all of us at Coffee by the Roast

To learn more about grade one Ethiopia Harrar, click here.