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November 2012 Newsletter

Grading coffee isn't a subject that gets much attention, unless
you're actually in the coffee trade. Most people look at the
description, i.e. "Kenya AA" and think that if it's AA it must be
good. This isn't necessarily true, as what the AA designation means
is that the beans are a certain size, and the lot they come from
has a minimum number of faults.

Now, Kenyan coffee lots are also cupped at origin before being sold
via auction, so the AA label actually means something, having
actually been tasted prior to sale. For many other coffees, all it
means is that the beans are relatively large, or they have less
than a certain number of defects, defects being black beans, mouldy
beans, sticks, stones, lumps of dirt etc. Some are classified by
the altitude they're grown at, others by the way they are processed
after the coffee cherries are picked. There is simply no consistent
universal grading system to alert the coffee buyer to exactly what
they are getting.

In the USA the Coffee Exchange section of the New York Board of
Trade grades and cups the majority of Central and South American
coffees sold via the USA, but only in 15 tonne lots! This is the
"C" grading process used for the majority of the world's Arabicas,
and the "C" price is the baseline price for the whole world.

When it comes to Ethiopian coffees, the situation is even more
confusing. Ethiopia basically produces coffees as either washed
(that is, with the skin and pulp fermented off the beans in water,
then washed away) or dry processed, where the cherries are dried
out and the skin and stuff husked away. In general (but not always)
Sidamos and Yirgacheffes are washed coffees and Harars and Djimmas
are dry processed.

In Ethiopia coffees are taxed by the government according to their
grade, so washed coffees are normally classified as grade 2 or 3,
and dry processed coffees as grade 4 or 5. Note that the gradings
have nothing to do with how the coffees taste. Grade 5 coffees can
have better flavours than grade twos, and the only way to know is
to cup them.

In my 30-odd years in the business, I have never seen a Grade 1
Ethiopian coffee outside of a trade show. Except now I actually
have one.

Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
Grade 1

My first thought when I smelled the green coffee was
"Strawberries!" and sure enough the strawberry aroma and flavour
have carried through into the roasted coffee. Even more surprising
is that this is a dry processed Yirgacheffe. Wet processed Yirgs
tend to be famous for their lemon flower aromas and citrus tastes.
There is nothing at all lemony about this coffee.

It has immediate berry fruit aroma and flavour with sweet front
palate acidity and a medium body. The finish is long, with dark
chocolate notes in the back palate and a hint of Angostura bitters
in the aftertaste. A tiny bit of sugar added to the cup really
emphasises the strawberry character.

Our interstate customers planning on ordering this weekend are
reminded that Tuesday the 6th of November is a public holiday in
Victoria for the race that stops a nation, the Melbourne Cup.
Shipping will definitely be delayed, but we'll do our best to get
as many orders as possible out on the Monday. Good luck with your
horse in the sweep!

Until next month