So far, OQ Coffee from New Jersey has been impressing the heck out of me with their roasts. Today I’m looking at a special Ethiopian natural whose origin is more traceable. I packed up 20+ coffees to share with another coffee geek last week and this one had the most amazing dry fragrance of them all, so I have high hopes at least some of that makes it into the cup! As usual, important links are below and then let’s taste some coffee!
OQ COFFEE CO. NIGUSIE ESTATE
Not to bother you with politics, finance and trade, I still have to quickly review how coffee is sold in Ethiopia in order to fully understand why this coffee is unique. Most farms in Ethiopia are smallholder plots. These small farms don’t have the production or resources to sell big enough lots to foreign markets. So, farmers are typically members of a cooperative. Each co-op has a mill and processing station and during harvest the smallholder farmers pool their coffee at the co-op mill where it is sorted into lots and processed. These coffees then go to the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange or ECX. The ECX makes some information available like the general region and co-op a lot has come from, but it’s relatively anonymous and a lot of traceability is lacking. In 2010 the ECX developed the Direct Specialty Trading (DST) platform in order to sell lots of specialty coffee in a more transparent way. No decommissioned, the DST published online the name of the grower, buyer, exporter and final bean price and the farmers were guaranteed 80% of that final price.
While the DST is a thing of the past, unfortunately, the relationships importers made during those days are not. In this case, OQ’s importer still has a tight bond with the family who runs Nigusie Estate in the Limmu region of Ethiopia, not terribly far from Sidamo and other familiar names to Ethiopian coffeeficionados. The farm sits at 1850-2000masl, one of the highest in the region, and it has several undocumented heirloom varietals growing there, too (although, in a country where thousands of heirloom varietals grow, this is to be expected!). This lot of coffee comes directly from Nigusie Estate, bypassing both the co-op model and the ECX, and you don’t see a lot of those in the USA!
OQ Coffee tells us this natural process coffee has a lot of strawberry, blueberry, mango and papaya. They also say it is clean and minimally fermenty (although I like a degree of ferment in naturals, personally). They also tell us to expect some black pepper flavor and a lemony acidity with a finish of cocoa, basil and stone fruit. Whoa! They say it makes a great single origin espresso, so hopefully I have enough left to try that out and get dialed in.
I used my go-to pourover method for this coffee, 1:16 ratio (28g of coffee, 450g water, 3:30 total brew time) in a notNeutral Gino with white Kalita 185 filters. The dry fragrance on these beans was insane! Fruity Pebbles cereal and dried berries for days! The aroma from the cup had good florals and berries and more of that dried berry smell. So good! In the sip there is a surprisingly forward lemon acidity that’s absolutely delicious, although I did find that mellowed out a little bit as the coffee cooled down.
This coffee does have a good amount of strawberry but I didn’t find myself picking up much in the way of blueberry. I am still trying to recapture the glory days from a handful of years ago when Ethiopian naturals meant getting clobbered with a giant blueberry flavor! Someday, maybe, we’ll return to that! Most of the fruitiness I was picking up was a very fresh strawberry (think just ripe… not the more fermenty, slightly overripe flavor I pick up in most Ethiopian naturals) along with some tropical fruits. To my palate the tropical notes are sweet as well as a bit tart. It was close to straight pineapple in this cup, but not quite. There is a tiny bit of ferment, but I would agree with OQ that this is a pretty clean example of an Ethiopian natural. It has a nice solidly medium body with a smooth, almost slick mouthfeel and the finish is a little peppery with notes reminding me of apricot, again both very sweet but also a bit tart.
Overall this is a really bright and vivacious coffee that is downright refreshing. It’s sweet, but has a lot of fruity tartness, too. Revisiting this coffee as I write this 26 days later, it’s holding up amazingly well and I don’t think there was much, if any, drop-off in flavor. I haven’t had a ton of Ethiopian naturals in the last year, but this one is way, WAY up there as a favorite. The price is right and this is a stunner. Tomorrow we’ll see the same coffee conditioned in a rum barrel, so stay tuned for that, too!