Meta — Doings and Goings-on

Not just ontological beer....

Just a quick post to update y'all on what I am up to in the next few weeks:

* I have a new bi-weekly coffee column coming out in about a week on a different website (one with a few more readers than this one!) Supposedly it is based on this blog, but I believe I will be writing fresh pieces for it more often than not. This blog gets a little technical sometimes. Instead of double-posting. I will just put up a notice when there's a new piece at this other site.

* I know I have threatened this many times before, but this blog is finally moving to a better host: typepad. This will happen within the week. The content and format and everything else is remaining the same, only it will look better and won't make me want to kill it. Or I suppose it will, but in fresh and excitingly non-LiveJournal ways that I can't yet predict.

* Cuppings are forthcoming for the month of April. I promise. There will be at least one NYCS meeting, and at least one promotional cupping for Ethiopia Limited.

* Food-pairing events are also forthcoming, but these will likely be in May and June. Also trips to California and Seattle with possible events in those locations if I can swing it.

* I am not going to Ithaca for the NERBC, unfortunately.

* I am going to Minneapolis for SCAA, to help run the Ethiopia booth. For everyone who's reading this and plans on being at that show, you will definitely want to stop by the Ethiopia booth... there's going to be cupping of some amazing, unique coffees.

* I have fully prepared my long-incubated non-coffee website, and it will be launching at the same time as the new coffee blog. I will probably only announce the URL once in a blue moon, since it really has nothing at all to do with coffee, so if you are interested in this new site, be sure to click over when you see the link cause I won't be harping on it again soon.

* Assorted other pranks and gags also forthcoming, as per usual.

Photo dump

Happy Easter!

It was really great to Andrew Barnett in NYC a couple days ago. I went with Mary Ellen Amato to Café Grumpy because I hadn't been there in so long and I wanted to see what they had for espresso. In addition to some good old friends working behind the counter (they were BUSY!), I saw Danger Dan Griffin, Liz Clayton, Andrew himself, and Jenny Brant. What's more, Grumpy had Andrew's Ecco Reserve espresso in the Robur, and I got to have two shots of it. Perfectly pulled and quite delicious! It's my favorite espresso in the world... so it was good to drink.

Other NYC projects to talk about, but I'm still catching up from Ethiopia... Here are some more photo highlights. Check out the full batch (now completely up) over at flickr.

In Harar
Willem took this picture of this astonishing little girl in Harar.

Aleta Wondo
These kids live at Borse Borchere's farm in Aleta Wondo. I couldn't decide who was more fascinated with whom: they with me, or me with them. Not a lot of faranji come through this area.

Sorting green for cupping
We did a spot-cupping in Aleta Wondo of coffees that scored highly in the competition in Addis. This meant taking arrival coffee, unsorted. I got stuck with sorting the cupping samples... which actually was quite pleasant, sitting there in the sunlight in a breezy lab in a small town.

The Road to Dire Dawa
Snapped this photo out the microbus window on the road from Harar to Dire Dawa.

Pulp-natural is messy
On Zege Peninsula you can see a rare sight: Pulped natural (or "semi-washed") coffee in Ethiopia. Surendra Kotecha let us check out his project there. This photo only hints at the true nature of the stickiness of this stuff. You could scale skyscrapers with this stuff on your hands.

Coffee Ceremony, Bonga
One of my favorite photos. This woman prepared the traditional coffee ceremony for us at Ato Giday's farm in Limu.

Stings your eyes
On the road back from Bonga to Jimma we paused the bus for a while before deciding to just charge through the section of road that was abutting some burning fields. This was the longest bus ride of my life. Good God.

Roadside, Wush-wush The road southwest to Wush-wush. The countryside is decidedly greener the further south you go. Not pictured: baboons and colobus monkeys that were everywhere.

Coffee sorter, Dire Dawa
One of the prettiest girls in a country full of them. She was a sorter at Mawi Coffee Export in Dire Dawa.

...more photos.

Ethiopia Videos

So, obviously, I am back in the USA. I am still in the lengthy process of organizing all the photos and information from my trip. This wasn't a vacation; I was working dawn to dusk every single day except for that one Saturday that we took six hours off. There's a lot of data and stuff to sort through.

Some of my pictures are already available on my flickr page. And in the meantime, here are a couple of videos:

Me and Dante and Getachew in the bed of a pick-up truck. We were outrunning the tour bus all the way up this country road to a farm site... in this video we are waiting for the bus to catch up and then zooming off again.

In the next video you see the export mill floor of Ogsedey Coffee exporters (purveyors of the famous MAO Horse brand) in Dire Dawa, the hub for all Harar coffee. These women sort coffee all day. I tried to sit and join them for a while, but my clumsy hands were essentially making things harder for them, so I just recorded it instead...

Photos and stories to come soon...

In case you hadn't heard....

From the Wall Street Journal:

Starbucks has bought Clover! (aka Coffee Equipment Company). Congratulations to Zander, David, Anastasia, and everyone else! Should be very interesting to see how this plays out:

"To create a new tier of upscale coffees, Starbucks is buying Coffee Equipment Co., the closely held manufacturer of a machine called the Clover. Starbucks didn't disclose the purchase price or annual sales of the company, which is also based in Seattle, but said it has 11 employees.

"The Clover uses a combination of French press and vacuum brewing technologies to create a more flavorful cup of brewed coffee. Starbucks said it will be able to regularly offer customers higher-end coffees such as Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and Guatemala Casi Cielo because the machine brews in single-cup batches. Brewing these coffees in large batches wasn't always cost-effective for Starbucks."

website statistics

But of course coffee people NEVER do this...

From the Internet's best rationalist blog, Overcoming Bias:

How do you tell whether something is good or bad? Human judgment is surprisingly swayed by contextual cues, rather than by the actual attributes of the thing being judged. As a recent Boston Globe article pointed out:

SCIENTISTS AT CALTECH and Stanford recently published the results of a peculiar wine tasting. They provided people with cabernet sauvignons at various price points, with bottles ranging from $5 to $90. Although the tasters were told that all the wines were different, the scientists were in fact presenting the same wines at different prices. The subjects consistently reported that the more expensive wines tasted better, even when they were actually identical to cheaper wines.

The experiment was even more unusual because it was conducted inside a scanner - the drinks were sipped via a network of plastic tubes - that allowed the scientists to see how the subjects' brains responded to each wine. When subjects were told they were getting a more expensive wine, they observed more activity in a part of the brain known to be involved in our experience of pleasure.

What they saw was the power of expectations. People expect expensive wines to taste better, and then their brains literally make it so. Wine lovers shouldn't feel singled out: Antonio Rangel, the Caltech neuroeconomist who led the study, insists that he could have used a variety of items to get similar results, from bottled water to modern art. ...
Shiv cites research showing that cars made in the same factory, with the same parts, but sold under different brand names (such as Toyota and Geo) receive markedly different reliability ratings from consumers. When we drive a car with a less exalted brand name, we are more likely to notice minor mechanical problems. more here

Sidamo Vice

Still in Ethiopia. I've been asked to stay on a few days to do some coffee detective work. I am posting this from the internet-bet in Aleta Wondo, in the Sidamo region.

Daniel Mulu and I have come here to take some samples of winning coffees and make sure all the lots are still properly stored and separated. There was a high proportion of coffees from this area represented in the final round of the competition. Generally these producers are not represented by a big Addis exporter, and so explaining the rules of the competition and checking compliance takes a little extra effort.

We're visiting five different producers in this region and taking parchment or dry cherry samples (depending on the process used, obviously). Tomorrow morning we will use the eCafé training center here in Wondo to roast and cup the samples. We don't necessarily suspect anyone of trying to pull a bait and switch with these coffees, but it's plausible and it's happened in the past. Considering the kinds of prices these lots are likely to fetch in the auction, it's worth our time to come here and do a little sniffing around.

All the other competition judges (except for Amare Tesfaye who is busy at ECEA) have gone home, including Willem Boot. This left only Daniel and me to tell the difference between the winning lots and some other stuff.

In any case, it made for a fun drive down with Daniel and with Girma Edema from Guji Coffee Export. The road south to the Kenyan border is quite good, though it's long and the offshoots leading to the small towns are rocky and rough. The scenery gradually gets greener. South of Addis, we saw field after field of giant termite mounds. Around Yirgacheffe, things get very lush and lime green. We stopped in the actual town of Yirgacheffe (quite small considering its reputation) and had a cup of local coffee. That may have been the highlight of this entire trip: drinking that amazing, bright, delicate, lemony coffee while looking out over the mountainside covered with coffee trees.

I'm coming back to New York over the weeked. For real this time.

In the meantime... here are the results from the competition! I almost forgot to post them! All scores are the average of all judge scores minus the high and low outliers. In my opinion a couple more of the naturals were 90+. But here's the official tally:

Rank Code Coffee Mean Score


1 116 Lensemo Lamisso Naramo: Gasema/Agara; Aleta Wondo 91.3
2 105 Ethio-Agri CEFT Best Quality Washed Gemadro Gr. 2 87.7
3 107 Mahtebe Borse Borchere: Homecho Wacho 87.3
4 104 Moredocafé Washed Sidamo 2 87.2
5 101 Wonberta Coffee Export Enterprise 87.1
6-tie 112 Adam Bedane: Lot #085 85.8
6-tie 108 Kemal Abdella Limu: KAI 187/2000 85.8
8 103 DTC Yirgacheffe Gr. 1: Lot #002 85.5
9-tie 102 Mullege PLC: Sigiga 85.4
9-tie 109 Adam Bedane: Lot #086 85.4
9-tie 106 Habeja 2 85.4
12 111 Futena Debela Guraro: Titira 85.3
13 115 Habeja 1 85


1 GG SMS PLC Korate Sidamo Gr. 3: 290/08 91.9
2 FF S.A. Bagersh Biloya Gr. 1 90.5
3 NN Guji Coffee Export PLC 89.6
4 AA S.A. Bagersh Idido Gr. 1 89.5
5 HH IPS Dale: Lot 2 88.5
6 OO Mullugeta Dukemo: Mesalemia 88.3
7 BB DTC Holding PLC Yirgacheffe Gr. 1: Lot 003 88
8 II Moredocafe Special Prep Sidamo 4 87.1
9 JJ SMS PLC Kumato Sidamo Gr. 3: 291/08 86.7
10 KK Adam Bedane Sidamo Gr. 1 86.6
11 MM SMS PLC Koke Yirgacheffe Gr. 3: 292/08 85.7
12 CC SCFCU FTO Sidamo 84.8
13 EE Nardos Coffee Export Borena Gr. 4 - Kilinso 82.5
14 DD Ethio-Agri CEFT Gemadro Natural 80.6
15 LL IPS Derba: Lot 1 74.5

The Competition

Cupping is in full swing here in Addis Ababa. We've found a few gems on the table already, though the overall number of samples is not what we had hoped it would be. Up to this point, we have been cupping only fully washed coffees. Later today begins the round of sundried natural coffees.

I've given out just two 90+ scores so far, though the rest of the coffees are more often in the 85-87 range rather than say, 79-80. So the overall quality is quite excellent, though we are still waiting to be completely blown away by something. Many of the coffees from some regions are still very green, and they seem like they will improve with a little more rest.

Because of my position in this project, I have had an interesting experience. There are four main organizers of the cupping: Amare from the Ethiopian Coffee Exporters Alliance; Daniel Mulu from Boot Coffee; Willem Boot; and myself. (There are many, many others involved in all the other stages of putting this together, but I speak here of only the cupping sessions per se.) Of these four people, two are Ethiopians and are thus disqualified from knowing which coffee is which to avoid any possible conflict of interest. Willem Boot is acting as head judge and is likewise kept in the dark. I have been left with the task of secretly coding all the coffees for blind cupping.

I have done my best to really mix up the various offerings, both to separate lots submitted by the same exporters or washing stations, and to trick myself into forgetting which is which. So the cupping for me is semi-blind. This whole process I fear keeps me from making a 100% blind assessment of each sample. By the end of the day I had forgotten which was which. But in the first round, for example, I knew for certain two of the coffees on the table were from a particular operation with an excellent reputation for top quality. How much did this knowledge influence my scores? I cannot say. Thankfully, I have found my scores to be within range of the other totally blind cuppers. Mental gymnastics of a sort, I suppose.

What I haven't mentioned so far is our trip to Bahir Dar. We visited a very interesting operation on the Zege peninsula (this in the northern Amhara region of the country). But the absolute highlight had to be our trip to a 700 year-old Orthodox Christian monastery on an island in the middle of Lake Tana where the monks grow coffee.

This story I will save for its own post once I return to New York next week and can devote the time (and photos) it deserves. But as Willem put it as we were headed back from the island mountaintop to the boat, "Any coffee plantation, no matter the location and no matter the backstory, will be just another coffee plantation after seeing this."

For now, it's back to the cupping table.

long and low and clean, sun-beaten and busy

We have just returned from Harage region, spending one night in Dire Dawa and one in Harar city. It's a lot dryer and warmer than in the capitol or the southwest.

Monday it was up at 4 a.m. to head to the airport for the 55 minute flight to Dire Dawa. All the guidebooks I have seen tend to sniff derisively at Dire Dawa as a travel destination. But I loved it. I think perhaps it's the difference between seeing a place as something to be enjoyed and then left behind versus seeing it as an integrated part of your life.

Anyway, self-important travel philosophy aside, I found Dire Dawa to be vibrant, colorful and alive with activity. It's the second largest city in Ethiopia, and much warmer and more Arabian-feeling than Addis (if I may phrase it that way). The streets are long and low and clean, sun-beaten and busy. Walls are painted bright blue and turquoise and sometimes bright pink. Dire Dawa doesn't seem to bother justifying itself with cultural or historical claims; instead it teems and moves and bustles of its own accord.

Dire Dawa, not Harar, is the center of the coffee trade in Hararge region. We visited the exporting mills of Ogsedey (home of the famous "MAO Horse" coffee), of the equally famous Bagersh, of Mawi Coffee, and of Abadir Coffee. We saw rows of women, old and quite young, hand-sorting the coffee as it came spitting out of the mechanical sorter onto long rubber conveyers. We attended the commercial auction (you saw the Addis version in the movie "Black Gold"), and we cupped with the Coffee Liquoring Unit cuppers there at the auction site.

In Harar city, the next day, we visited the former home of Arthur Rimbaud... I kind of didn't want to leave. It was so beautiful and strangely peaceful despite the voices and animals on the streets below and the call to prayer echoing from minarets on all sides.

A clever boy named Anwer, with excellent English (and Oromo, Tigrai, Spanish, French and a bit of Italian to go with his native Amarigna) and who seemed to know every street vendor, led us through the winding streets of the old city. I have never seen irridescent colors like I did on the whitewashed walls reflecting the crystal blue sky and the turquoise trim on the mosques. Scouting groups of small laughing children followed us at a distance, ducking behind this or that stone or doorway shouting "Faranjo! Faranjo!" (foreigner), or sometimes "I love you!"

Unlike in Jimma, the coffee we drank in Harar was reliably terrible. Perhaps I just need to spend some more time there to find the right places to go.

I am in Addis now, and for the foreseeable remainder of my trip, though there is a possibility of more cupping at Amaro Gayo at the end. The Ethiopia Limited cupping begins tomorrow, though this afternoon we are warming up with a couple dozen coffees at the facility of our friends Teklu and Getachew at IPS Exporters.