It has been three years since the supply chain in Ethiopia was opened and traceability restored. The ECX system of categorising coffees by regional cup profiles still dominates, but we have long felt this system was not up to the task of capturing the broad and complex flavour potential of Ethiopia. Latelly we’re witnessing known regions producing some very uncharacteristic coffees, and lesser known coffee growing regions are emerging with profiles previously not found in the country. Ethiopia is only scratching the surface of its flavour potential.
Forget what you know and let us guide you through the new landscape of Ethiopian coffee profiles.
The old method of categorisation
Before the regulatory changes three years ago, the ECX categorised coffees by regions. Each region would have its own profile: Yirgacheffe was intensely jasmine and bergamot driven, Guji was stone fruit driven, Sidamo had high acidity and occasional herbal notes, while Limu would be stone fruit, orange citrus and chamomile driven. This old ECX system shunted coffees into limiting categories that were unhelpful for buyers and roasters alike.
The Nordic Approach system
Nordic Approach, our sister company, developed this flavour wheel in 2016, deep in the era of ECX control and when Ethiopian coffees were almost impossible to trace. Rather than rely on the ECX regional profiles mentioned above, which we found to be limiting and sometimes misleading, our Head of Buying and Procurement, Joanne Berry, created this guide to Ethiopian profiles. Ethiopias offered by Nordic Approach have these titles in the lot names to help customers know what profile to expect.
This system gives a good indication of the flavour potential of this extremely diverse origin, but lately we’re seeing even more varied profiles emerging.
New and previously obscure regions
With the privatisation of the coffee sector, coffees that were previously categorised in a broader region can now be traced to specific municipalities (micro-regions), and new coffee growing regions are emerging.
Uraga is a great example. This micro-region has seen huge investments and development the past three years. Occasionally floral and citric, Uraga is mostly recognisable by its papaya, melon and mango profile with high acidity and intensity.
Hambela Wamena is the new Yirgacheffe. It is a relatively new area for coffee with new trees, very fertile soil and slow maturation. Here we’re finding the notes we’ve been missing in Yirgacheffe coffees in recent years, like bergamot, black tea and jasmine.
Nensebo is located near the national park of Bale Mountain, and though it has existed for quite some time, we are seeing very interesting new profiles with notes of blackcurrant, blueberries and candied plums with a touch of violet. This profile is similar to an SL28 from Kenya.
Climate change has also had its impact on what we used to know as the classic profiles of Ethiopia. In recent years the rains have been longer and some regional profiles have started to cross over. You can now find stone fruit driven coffees in Yirgacheffe. You can find intensely floral coffees in Guji. You can find orange and chamomile driven coffees in Sidamo. There’s no real template and truth to what regional profiles should or should not be anymore.
New processing methods
The third reason the ECX categorisation no longer fit Ethiopia’s coffee profiles is that producers have started to introduce alternative processing methods such as anaerobic, dry fermentation, winey fermentation, honey and more. As a result, new and interesting but also misleading flavours appear on the cupping table, such as tropical fruit stew, peach yoghurt, papaya kombucha. Those are the positive attributes. Olive and fish are common if the coffee was poorly fermented.