As typical with other coffees from this region, Yirgacheffe coffee and beans have distinctively fruity flavor profiles that accompany bright, floral aromas. Yirgacheffe coffee is praised over its high quality and distinctive flavor, full bodied yet mild with earthy flavors – it could be considered Ethiopia’s crown and glory.
In 850 AD, it is said that an Ethiopian goat herder discovered the wonders of coffee when his flock grew restless and wouldn’t go to sleep at night. Curious, he discovered that his flock had been eating the cherries of coffee trees, and decided to try this phenomenon for himself. A monk approached the goat caretaker and took the newly discovered cherries back to his monastery where he then roasted and brewed the beans to share with other monks. The monks were able to stay awake during long nights of prayer due to the unveiled stimulant drink.
This delightful discovery occurred in Yirgacheffe, a town nestled in the hills southern Ethiopia, approximately 6,000 feet above sea level. Yirgacheffe is one of three main regions where Ethiopia coffee cherries grow and beans originate, and produces an exquisitely and unique tasting coffee. As typical with other coffees from this region, Yirgacheffe coffee and beans have distinctively fruity flavor profiles that accompany bight, floral aromas. Because of the elevations in which the trees grow in and the unique climate of the Ethiopian hills, Yirgacheffe coffee is praised over its high quality and distinctive flavor, full bodied yet mild with earthy flavors – it could be considered Ethiopia’s crown and glory. You can thank the high elevations for the depth of flavors in the Yirgacheffe bean. The elevations qualify Yigacheffe as Strictly High Grown (SHG) and Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) coffees. The cherries grow slowly due to the altitude, allowing additional time for the tree to deliver nutrients to the coffee, which in turn translates to depths and layers of delicate and exciting flavors.
In order to transform the crimson coffee cherry to the raw green bean for roasting and then drinking, it must go through processing. Forget about all its negative connotations in the food world. Processing freshly picked coffee cherries references the necessary steps to take in order for you to get your daily pick-me-up. These steps include some degree of fermentation (yeasts and bacteria break down the sugars found in the mucilage to produce acids and fruit notes), and the removal of the three layers around the seed in order to prepare it for shipping, and later, roasting. The layers are first, the outer fruit or pulp, second, the sticky mucilage covering the seed, and third, the parchment, the thin layer covering the seed that is named for is resemblance to parchment paper when dry.
Processing is not all done the same way. Numerous and unique processing methods are used in different countries for various reasons such as weather, geographical location and scarcity of water, and each of these methods add certain characteristics to coffees. The fashion in which a batch of coffee cherries are processed after picking contributes largely to the flavor profile of the resulting roast.
Here at Small Town Coffee Roasters, we prefer the natural, or dry processing method when it comes to our Yirgacheffe coffee beans. Natural is the original method – or rather, nature’s method. The coffee cherries are picked and simply allowed to dry, often right up to the point at which they’re shipped as an export. The dry, or natural, process involves drying cherries on raised beds, with the skin of the cherry intact. As the cherries dry, they are periodically turned to ensure evenness. The skin is then removed, or hulled, and are then sorted and graded. Coffees that are naturally roasted are known to take on a yellowish appearance in their raw state. While natural processing increases the risk of mold and the chance of over-fermenting into boozy flavors, it can be done without the use of water, which benefits Ethiopia, and also allows for the fruit to influence the taste to a greater extent. Natural processed coffee can usually be identified by its complexity in sweetness, deeper flavors, and heavier bodies. Dry processed beans may exhibit slightly nutty or chocolaty qualities, but the Yirgacheffe bean tends to overshadow and compliment those flavor notes with robust fruitiness, depending on the roast level. When done right, naturally processed beans retain fruit flavor, and often carry a pleasant wine-like acidity. They have heavier bodies with a silky mouthfeel, like velvet, or a syrupy, honey-like texture. They have heft, spiciness, and taste more like they came from the Earth. Natural processing has always been the traditional means of processing coffee, and by far the most common.