Mission Arabica recently reached out to me through Twitter to send some coffee samples and the first of their coffees I’m reviewing is their Ethiopia Yirgacheffe. Mission Arabica is a company co-owned by several men who are united in a mission to improve living conditions in other parts of the world. The basic idea is that they are trying to help villages establish profitable coffee plantations, buy the coffee at a fair price and then roast and sell it. This is a noble pursuit and with the competitiveness of the coffee industry, probably a difficult one! You can purchase this coffee from Mission Arabica directly for $12.99/bag.
It’s always interesting to know about the mission behind a company, but in the end it’s still about the product or service being offered. I’m curious about why this group of guys decided on coffee, versus some other means of helping people improve their stations in life and what their backgrounds in the coffee industry may be. Unfortunately for me, I found Mission Arabica’s Yirgacheffe to be over-roasted. I hate to say that because I genuinely hate to give “negative” feedback and I know how hard it is to roast coffee, but people send me coffee to get my opinion, not to have me blow smoke up their rears, so here we go…
Update: I talked to the gents at Mission Arabica and they said that a couple of their larger accounts are grocery stores that request darker roasts and that’s why these coffees were so dark.
So, let’s talk about this coffee… Mission Arabica’s website doesn’t have much info about it, but it does say the coffee is heirloom variety Arabica coming from the Yirga Cheffe area and that it was grown in the 1800-2100masl altitude range. It’s a washed coffee and their tasting notes for this coffee are, “Smooth, floral, toffee.”
I have drunk a fair share of washed coffees from this region. My usual criticism, if I have one, of washed Ethiopian coffees is that they can be super light-bodied, very mild in flavor, and with the lemony acidity they usually have they often taste more like tea than coffee to me.
I was immediately struck by how dark the beans were when I opened the Mission Arabica bag. Most of the time I think roasters go very easy on the roast of washed Yirga Cheffes to further enhance the brightness and high acidity. These beans, however, were dark with lots of oils rising to the surface. I’ve roasted my fair share of washed Ethiopian coffees, so these definitely made it into and past second crack, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. But, that may not be the best thing for these particular coffee seeds.
I prepared my samples using my usual 15:1 Gino dripper method. I got lots of foam and lots of floating of the grounds on the surface of the pourover. Lighter roasts always end up settling to the bottom quickly. It makes for a prettier pourover this way, for sure! The aroma off this coffee is very sweet… dark sugars, toffee and chocolate. Unfortunately, all those promises from the aroma didn’t make it into the flavor of the coffee, which had a fairly bitter overall tone. The body was medium but I found the mouthfeel was chalky and had a very drying effect on my palate. I definitely didn’t mistake this coffee for black tea with a squeeze of lemon, though, so I appreciated that!
A darker roast can kill a lot of the acidity that can be found in these coffees. I could perceive some lemon in there still, but the brightness of the coffee was significantly muted. Sometimes there is a trade-off, however, with lots of sugar development in a darker roast, but that wasn’t the case here. This coffee came off as very flat and lacking dynamics on either the high or low end, for me. I didn’t get any outright defects or anything unpleasant, but there just wasn’t anything one either end that made me want to drink more of this.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not “third wave, the lighter the better, in fact, just let me chew on raw beans” snobbery! I am a big fan of the low notes in coffee and I love well-developed coffees (read my Mr. Espresso reviews for my current thoughts on what a well-developed coffee will taste like), but the trick of roasting is the tremendous number of variables… how fast the overall roast is, the amount of time spent at various stages in the roast, the speed of the transitions from one stage to another, etc. The difference of just a few seconds here or there in roasting can make or break a coffee.
In any case, this coffee wasn’t bad. As far as over-roasted (in my opinion, and it’s just that, so take it for what it is) coffees go, this is a long way from the abject grossness to be found on grocery store shelves around the country! This wasn’t offensive coffee in any way to me, but it did miss the dynamic range that I think makes these coffees shine. My two cents is for Mission Arabica to try some lighter roasting profiles on this coffee and see what effect they have. If they like the roast dark like this, no problem, because a lot of consumers do, too.