Ethiopian Naturals: Present and Future
By Miguel Meza
At their heart Ethiopian naturals - coffees dried inside the fruit rather than after the fruit has been removed - are the simplest, most traditional style of coffee. The coffees of Harrar or nearby Yemen give us some indication what the earliest forms of the beverage we know as coffee might have tasted like. In terms of processing, roasting and consumption, coffee in Ethiopia probably has changed very little over the last two or three hundred years. But some modern variations on this traditional style give us some hints of what coffees of the future in Ethiopia and abroad could be like.
Unfortunately this year examples of such coffees are very limited. Due to a number of factors, from low production and internal cooperative union disarray to the complexities of exporting coffees from Ethiopia, much of the natural process coffee from this country has only recently arrived and much still hasn't left Ethiopia yet. These coffees were harvested 6 - 10 months ago. Storing coffee in jute bags for months in the tropics is far from optimal and much of what has arrived seems distant and faded in the cup. It perhaps comes as no surprise then that the most vibrant freshest tasting coffees in this review were from a select few lots that were vacuum packaged and air-freighted much earlier in the year.
Natural process coffees are produced all across Ethiopia. Many of these coffees come from places most consumers and coffee buyers alike haven't heard of. Importers and roasters are starting to explore these other regions looking to fill the demand for natural process coffees. Expect much more diversity of regional coffees being offered in the near future. Names like Gololcha, Illubabor, Kaffa, Bale, Amaro, and Tepi may one day be as well known as those of Yirgacheffe, and Harrar. In many of these regions coffee still grows wild as it has for countless millennia. In these forests exists literally thousands of unexplored varietals, many which may offer flavor profiles unseen before in coffee. The Gesha (or Geisha) varietal from the forests of south-western Ethiopia has already demonstrated half-way across the world in Panama the possibility that exists within these exotic varieties. Ethiopia’s gift to the world, coffee still has many secrets left to be revealed hidden in its home country.