Flavor profile: Blueberry, peach cocoa, herbal.
West Arsi zone wraps around the northern border of Sidama, and while countless coffee buyers have traversed it on their way to Sidama and Yirgacheffe, it remains obscure to many of them as a producing area of any note. Border regions like these that are just outside of more famous coffee terroirs are often sold as their neighbor—a tradition not at all uncommon in the coffee world and which in Ethiopia used to affect not only West Arsi but also Guji, Illubabor, and Gelana Abaya, all of which were commonly sold under other names prior to developing their own reputation. West Arsi is mostly arid and transitional terrain that slopes from Ethiopia’s Rift Valley to the highland forest plateau of Sidama and Gedeo zones. Being Ethiopia, there are of course pockets of high-quality coffee to be found, naturals in particular.
Adem Haro Bararto’s coffee was a national jury selection at this year’s Cup of Excellence (COE) competition. Adem is 45 years old and with 10 children and 15 years of farming experience. Adem’s property is 6.5 hectares, planted entirely with coffee, considered quite large for Ethiopia. This natural process microlot was handpicked and dried on raised beds on Adem’s own property, carefully supervised and sorted specifically for the COE competition.
The world’s first Cup of Excellence competition took place in Brazil in 1999 and quickly became known as the world’s best discovery mechanism for quality. Each competition is origin-specific and involves multiple national selection rounds, a final competition with an international judging panel, and an online auction for the top 30 high-scoring submissions. All submissions are cupped blind throughout the entire competition, leaving judges only the cup quality to assess, and each submission is cupped up to five times. Winning producers are often fabulously rewarded with record-setting prices for their coffee, not to mention lifelong status for such an achievement. The competition has revealed countless innovative processing styles, rare cultivars, and obscure producing areas to the rest of the world for the first time.
Ethiopia is of course well-known for having an incredibly high status quo for quality. Ironically, due to lack of sponsorship and an established single-farmer marketplace, the COE has only been held here twice. Royal has been a longtime supporter of maximum traceability in Ethiopia via whatever tools are available. This year we are buying and importing the entire national selection round ourselves—that is, all 22 top-scoring submissions that did not go to international auction. The enthusiasm of Ethiopia’s gifted smallholders means there are a lot of excellent coffees to be appreciated beyond the competition’s top 30 that go to auction. In the COE format small growers typically submit fully processed and dried but un-milled lots of coffee, which are then centrally milled and stored during the auction’s multi-week procession. All national jury selects were purchased by Royal with a flat farmgate price of $4.50 per pound of green coffee directly to the farmers.