There are countless variables that contribute to the complex flavors of your favorite coffee before it even reaches your cup. Many people know that the country of origin, coffee tree varietal, and roast color have an immediate impact, but fewer people know about the on-the-farm processing methods that also play a huge role in the flavor profile of the finished product.
The ripe cherries are picked and immediately put on the drying patio in the sun to dry. The skin and pulp remain attached. The skin shrinks, locking the fruit sugars in. The cherry raisins up and drys hard around the seeds. The mass, when hard and dry, is milled (like white rice) to remove the hardened pulp and skin.
The taste produced is sort of like blueberries or strawberries as the fruity flavors penetrate the porous seeds within. A mix of sweet and sour fruit. The acidity is softer and mellower.
When the cherries are ripe they are picked, the skins and pulp removed mechanically, and the seeds are wet and slippery, gooey with a honey-like outer taste. They are allowed to sit, slightly fermenting in the heat of a day/night rest in contact with each other. They are then soaked for 12-36 hours in a water bath, washed, and removed to drying patios where they will dry down to about 11-12% moisture over a 2-4 day period.
The wet process produces a citric-like acidity or brightness with a slightly lemony flavor. In the extremes like coffees from Guatemala and Ethiopia and Kenya, the brightness is palatable. However, wet process coffees produce a softer plum-like acidity as well. Wet process coffees are more forward on the palate than their brothers and sisters of the Dry Process.
We produce two blends that combine these processes into one flavor profile: Mocha Java Blend and Paul’s Blend. However, these Ethiopian coffees presented to you today are the most clarifying examples of two on-the-farm processes. These distinctive flavor profiles are not caused by varietal differences, country of origin or agricultural practices.
In this offering, we give you the opportunity to actually taste the words on this page. Try them straight at first and then see how they taste as a 50/50 blend or any combination. I prefer my coffee a bit on the fruity/ jammy side so I use a 70/30 blend with the Dry Process in the majority. But the reverse will do quite well for those who prefer a bright and lively acidity on the citric side but want a bit more body and fruit. Enjoy!
We would like to acknowledge Hasbean Coffee in the UK for their excellent videos about coffee processing.
In a world getting short on water, coffee lovers should begin to get their palates ready to recognize “Dry Processed” or “Naturals” when they buy coffee.
Naturals are processed from cherry to green bean without the customary water de-pulping and subsequent water bath. In the dry process, coffee cherries are dried with their skins and pulp intact.
The cherries are placed in the sun on concrete patios or raised drying beds. The skins tighten as they dry and the pulp juices move inward into the two seed in the cherry’s interior. When the mass is totally dry and crisp, and hard as a rock, they are milled like rice, cleaned and sorted and sacked.
This process produces quite a different flavor profile from wet processed “washed coffee.” The coffees take on the hints of the fruit and at their best, notes of blueberry and strawberry prevail. There is a jammy sensitivity to the brew, lots of body and fruit aromas.
Of course, these great flavors disappear in the darker roasts. We roast naturals, both light and medium, depending on the initial intensity of the fruit flavors.
This month we are featuring two “naturals.” One is from Ethiopia and received a 91 rating from Coffee Review. The other is from one of our favorite coffee farmers in Nicaragua, Byron Corrales, and received a 94 rating.
Byron began experimenting with naturals about 6 years ago. He was the first to master the art in Nicaragua and his naturals are a tad more balanced and a bit less fruity than the Ethiopians, but the jam is there as are the sweet berry flavors.
One of my favorite blending concepts is to blend naturals with washed coffees. In fact, Paul’s Blend is just that.
– Paul Katzeff Roastmaster Emeritus Thanksgiving Coffee
Many of the decaf coffees available in the supermarket are sourced from “past crop” coffees, which is why so many people think of decafs as tasting “a bit off” or “stale.”
We care deeply about the flavor of our decaf coffees. We send new coffee crop green beans directly to our Certified Organic decaffeination facility.
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We have found a cooperative in Veracruz, Mexico that is a stone’s throw from the best decaffeinating plant in North America, which uses the Mountain Water Process. The green coffee beans are immersed in mountain glacial water to extract the coffee oils and caffeine.
The water/coffee oils/caffeine solution is then passed through a special filter to remove the caffeine. The flavor rich, but caffeine-free coffee solution is then returned to the coffee beans under pressure, to re-infuse them with their original oils. The decaffeinated beans are then thoroughly dried and tested for quality to maintain the flavor profile of the original coffee.
A note from our co-founder, Paul Katzeff, about decaf coffee…
I have always loved my after-dinner coffee with a dessert. The next three hours were bright and awake for me, perfect for reading a book without dozing, or watching a ball game. But, my body stopped metabolizing the caffeine as fast as when I was younger, and the coffee had to go if I wanted some good sleep.
Then the decaf revolution began to speed up, and decaf became tolerable for me. I accepted less flavor in favor of good sleep but I also knew there was a better train a-comin’ and I wanted to ride it, even be it’s conductor.
Thanksgiving Coffee is a small decaf railroad engine and we have done what I had hoped we could do. We have found a way to make decaf indistinguishable from caffeinated coffee flavor. There is a quality in the cup you will find as satisfying as any coffee you ever loved, and wanted more of.
As a coffee lover, I invite you to join me in a good night’s sleep after a great cup or three of our decaf, roasted to the exact flavor profile you love. I know you will be amazed, and hope you will feed me back your tasting comments below!
Sincerely, Paul Katzeff CEO & Roastmaster Emeritus
Great coffee is the result of incredible care taken at every step along the way. Finding, sampling, selecting, shipping, roasting, packaging and selling coffees from Africa, Indonesia, Central and South America is what we do – but there is so much more involved in an excellent cup of coffee. We created this poster to tell the story of the journey of our coffee from the farm to your cup.
Steps 1-4 Farmers grow coffee trees, which take about 5 years to fully mature. They nurture the trees, which flower and produce cherries, which are harvested by hand as they ripen over several months.
Steps 5-8 In the wet process, the sweet, red fruit is removed from the coffee bean and the beans are washed, dried in the sun and hand sorted for defects.
Steps 9-12 After aging, the outer “parchment” is removed, and the green beans are put into sacks for export and shipped from origin to the port of Oakland. A truck carries them to our warehouse in Fort Bragg where we roast and craft our many blends.
Steps 13-16 We cup our coffees a final time before filling 12 ounce bags for grocery stores and our online customers, and the 5 pound bags we send to cafes, restaurants and bulk bins at grocery stores. The last 2 steps are crucial. It’s up to you to let the magic out of your bag of coffee and enjoy it.
As you sip your coffee, think about all of the people and hard work it took to bring this precious drink from the farm to your cup. For tips on letting the magic out of a fresh bag of coffee, check out our Brewing Guide.
This past Wednesday, we received this year’s shipment of our Sidama Natural coffee after a long journey from Ethiopia (considered by many as the birthplace of coffee). This is a perennial favorite of ours and we were all thrilled to cup it and marvel at another beautiful harvest from the Hache Primary Society. This coffee is natural processed, juxtaposed with the more typical washed or wet process methods. In the Bensa region of Ethiopia, the 2,000 farmers of the Hache cooperative pick their ripe cherries and leave them to dry in the sun like a raisin with the fruit still clinging to the beans inside. All of the sugars and fruit juice are absorbed giving this coffee a wondrous jammy, berry, fruity, even port-like sweetness. And these notes of fruit are supported by a full flavored foundation that can best be described as robust yet refined. There is something special about this coffee and you’ll know it when you taste it. Blueberries? A hint of strawberry jam? Yum.
As it is with all great seasonally produced foods, sometimes not being able to have the foods we love most every day makes the anticipation and their return all that much more special. Our Sidama Natural is our featured coffee right now, usher in the fall by treating yourself or someone you love to this exceptional coffee.
Late last week we had a chance to cup the first roast of the recently arrived “Sidama Natural”, our fruit-laden wildly characteristic single-origin Ethiopian. This is the last of our new crop coffees to arrive, and it’s been the most difficult. Yes, it is late, for starters. But it’s actually one of the first Ethiopian coffees to arrive in the US. When I look a lot of the green brokers offering sheets I see that they don’t have a single Ethiopian container scheduled to land for at least another two weeks. This is a testament to the hard work of Menno Simmons, our exporter, and partner with the Sidama Farmers Cooperative Union (SFCU), the producer of this fine coffee.
Also, everything in Ethiopia is a little up in the air this year. The government let out a lot of line in the past five years, and allowed for a good deal of liberalization in the coffee market. The opening this created made way for a lot of exciting coffees. This year, the government reeled it back in. It seems as if we are watching the growing pains of a 30-year marxist-inspired regime coming to terms with reality. The bummer is that a lot of great coffees are lost, and those that we can get out are held back by a lot of the strong-arm tactics of the government. The Misty Valley, for example, that turned a lot of heads last year is simply not available. The legendary Bagresh family that produced it is along with all other coffee producers and exporters mandated to sell their coffee into a new government run auction. There, coffees will be graded (by region, and then by quality) and 70 bag lots will be created by blending coffees graded by the same region and quality. It’s kind of like California telling Anderson Valley that they can’t grow grapes and then make wine out of them. You can grow grapes, but then you’ve got to sell them into the state-wide auction. Pinot Noir will be graded by quality by a government taster, and then lots will be created by blending the grapes with Pinot from around the state. The winery can then buy grapes out of the auction and make wine. Bummer if you’re Navarro or Lazy Creek or Goldeneye (a few of our many great local wineries). All that work you did to produce those distinctive grapes with exactly that character you’re looking for is all for naught….
Also, because there is no way to trace a bag of coffee through the auction, there is no way to keep the trail that’s required for organic or fair trade certification. Bummer again.
Luckily for us, there are three cooperatives who were able to get a “second window” exception that allows them to export directly what they produce. And even more luckily, Hache, the producer of our “Sidama Natural” is one of them. So though it’s been a roller coaster of a ride, we were able to maintain one of the few channels available for the procurement of Organic and Fair Trade coffee.
By now you’re probably ready for a cup of coffee, so I’ll get straight to it.
I was hopeful when I first cupped the pre-shipment sample in April. Though the coffee might have suffered at the hands of the many obstacles lining its way to us, it was still shining. Lots of honey, sweet pithy citrus, and hints of fruit—not as intensely strawberry-toned as before, but more filled out in other ways. The shots I pulled really registered—while they weren’t winey like last year’s Hache, but they were really, really sweet and caramelly, with really good depth, dimension, and crema. Not precisely a repeat performance but an impressive performance nonetheless. Then I made a decision that is probably fairly rare in the coffee world. Instead of looking at a coffee that had changed, and pushing aside in search of something more like the previous year’s, I booked another container of coffee from the farmers of the Hache cooperative.
After considering the options I decided that this was a time for us to stick with the farmers. Their coffee had showed us its potential, and though I was hoping for even better than last year, it’s still really good. If this is what an off year looks like, then this is a good place to be. If I’ve learned anything from watching Paul and tasting coffee alongside him it’s that when it comes to coffee, you’ve got to focus on people and the long term—when you find potential and invest in it, and keep your commitments, the good that comes later on down the road is well worth the wait.
All that said, I’m looking forward to sharing this coffee with you. We’re up and running in production, and if you order a package right now you’ll probably have it by the end of the week. At the end of the day, the Ethiopian government can do whatever it wants and we’ll keep coming back. The small-scale farmers of Ethiopia grow the world’s most unique coffees. This year is bright, deeply sweet, and full of nuance and character ranging from grapefruit to honeycomb. It’s heavy bodied, round, and smooth. Their coffee is simply too good to live without.
I’ll be working hard to get back to the quality of last year, maybe even surpass it. For now, we’ve got something really nice. I was talking with a friend yesterday who’s a winemaker in the Anderson Valley and she was lamenting the smoke damage caused by last summer’s wildfires. I asked her how this would affect her sales. She told me simply that the she would do everything she could do make the best wine possible. And that she expected that her customers would understand. She said that the real thrill is in riding out the hard times, making the best wine possible, and making it to those magical years when everything comes together, and each sip is almost magical. I nodded, and told her that I understood.
Thanks for reading, for supporting our search for the great coffees of the world, and for supporting us and our commitments to the farmers far away in the mountains of the coffeelands.
2 zakies of great coffee, carefully protected by secret coffeeman code.
We got a long-awaited package in the mail a few days ago, from Amsterdam. Labeled â€œ2 zakies groene koffie bonenâ€ (and although I don’t speak dutch) this was no mystery: this was the much anticipated, occasionally fretted over, often nagged at pre-shipment sample of this year’s Sidama Natural from the Hache Cooperative, part of the Sidama Farmers Cooperative Union.
This is a coffee I fell in love with last year during my first trip to Ethiopia. I actually fell in love with it from across the room at first (smell) sight. I was cupping a selection of the best washed coffees of the year and the next table over samples of the washed sun-dried naturals were being preparedâ€¦suddenly, deep in my cuppers trance, I smelled sweet sweet strawberry. I stopped, interrupted everyone else, and made a fool of myself hopping around on my two overcaffeinated feet asking about that sweet smelling coffee that had just been ground. Later, after I’d settled down, had an amazing lunch of Injera and Doro Wat (Ethiopian food is as great as their coffee, if you ask me), I found the same coffee, this time hidden as sample number 17 or whatever it was.
We bought a whole container of it, and over the past year it’s become a stand-out favorite among staff, long-time customers, and new friends alike. It’s the backbone of our espresso, and a couple other signature blends. Its jammy sweetness, deep heavy body, and sweet berry aroma are unique. These flavors are the result of a graceful coincidence of dozens of critical variables, and hundreds of other weighty factors as well. Ripe, sweet cherries produced by antique coffee varietals, slowly ripened thanks to high altitude, the gentle stress of good contrasting diurnal temperatures, just the right amount of rain to encourage the coffee to blossom and then a dry period long enough to encourage good pollination, followed by enough rain to allow the coffee trees to produce full, juicy fruitâ€¦and that’s all before the coffee has even been picked!
After that it’s selection, and careful drying on raised bends with plenty of airflow and a drying period long enough to allow for some sweet wine-like flavors to emerge through light fermentation, but not so long that sour or dry flavors develop. There is certainly a lot of science going on here, but its at least as much if not more artâ€¦and the result last year was thrilling. This year it is too!
The pre-shipment sample shows that same unique jammy strawberry character. It’s becoming clear that this is the hallmark of natural coffees from Sidama, as contrasted with the distinctive blueberry sweetness of natural coffees from Harrar. Only in Ethiopia, with such elegant and intense coffees, could we get away with waxing this poetic on coffee from specific micro-climates and appellations. But it’s there, in the cup, I’m sure a lot of you have tasted these flavors yourselves. In addition to that syrupy strawberry, there are a host of flavors in this year’s Hache much more characteristic of the washed coffees from Sidama: sweet citrus pith, and heavy jasmine blossom perfume-like elegance. At a darker roast, these flavors will hold and convert to heavy chocolate notes. At a lighter roast, the acidity will shed light on the full dimension of this coffee’s character.
What changed this year is a question burning a small hole in my head at the moment. I’ve already sent out a blitzkrieg of emails, and started comparing plane tickets on Ethiopian Airlines versus KLM. I’m thrilled, and pleasantly surprised. The farmers are happy. And I can’t wait to share this coffee with you. Last year’s Hache is still standing up nicely; if you want to get a final taste of it order soon. And stay tuned for notice of this coffees arrival sometime towards the end of June.