October 2019 - Rare Ethiopia Harrar is discovered, renewing our love of malt with Secret Label
Date Posted:1 October 2019
“I've been searching for ways to heal myself, and I've found that kindness is the best way.” — Lady Gaga
We've been searching for what seems like forever......more than 5 years in fact.
Trying our best to source an Ethiopian Harrar reminiscent of the old-school, classic Harrar's of the distant past. But there's been little offered and mostly it displayed cups that were not within "spec" in the true sense.
Imagine our surprise when a new season lot surfaced unexpectedly a couple of months ago and we spotted the word "blueberry"........bingo !. You see, blueberry in Harrar's have been declared almost extinct for close to a decade.
But before we run too far ahead of ourselves and get your hopes built up too high, it's just a small amount of the mythical blueberry - but anything is better than nothing !.
That's right, we have grabbed a bunch of expensive new season Harrar because, well, we think it's perhaps one of the last chances to sample the original heirloom varietal from the spiritual birthplace of coffee.
This month we feature the best Harrar that's entered our shores in the last 4 or 5 years. It's an experience, but I won't compare it to a Grade 1 Yirgacheffe or Sidamo, that both have much cleaner cups. This is Harrar in it's original sense, it's got grunt and junk in the trunk, complexity and spice, all the attributes desired by espresso drinkers. It's also a bucket list coffee you should tick-off.
This month's Secret Label is a blend combining coffees from origins that are rarely mixed - it's a bit of a risk, it's different, but we have to keep moving the goal posts away from safe and boring. Malt is on the menu, but it's not the low-rent malt you get from the cheap and cheerful brigade. Mix in some lush caramel, apple acidity with a cookies and cream finish and you have a nicely textured coffee.
It's hard to believe we are already into the peak freight season already, we ask our customers to keep a cool head as freight congestion is an annual event in the run up to Xmas.
October Secret Label
Our October 2019 Secret Label is now available for a limited time in 1kg packs.
We have crafted another blend.........why ?, because there is just so much more fun you can have by playing around with ingredients.
In searching for something different, it gets harder each time to pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat, because quite frankly, literally everything in coffee has been done before, many times over.
So what we have tried to do this month is pair ingredients that would rarely ever be blended together - coffees from less popular origins, still with inherent and definable standalone qualities, difficult to source, scarcely available and hence more expensive and risky to use.
Of course, the easy way out would have been to grab tasty lots from the default go-to origins of Brazil, Colombia and any of the Central Americans.......but that's playing it too safe and doing what everyone else does - boring !.
So just like top-end chef's do in their pursuit of turning the ordinary into something extraordinary, we also feel the need to be challenged with a prospect of playing with coffees that are often left field or left alone by almost every other coffee company. Let them play with their $100 Geishas or 48hr fermented, macerated naturals and experimental processing lots.
We aimed for a refined cup this month with a hint of malt.
I've often been afraid of malt in a coffee as it's been the domain of the lower grade, cheaper lots......essentially malt is the only thing going for some coffees, but we have re-discovered the joy of past childhoods remembering the trip home from a day out at the beach with our parents buying us kids those old-fashioned malt milkshakes.
But there's a bit more going on here, we also wanted some juicy acidity and plenty of body with a mid-palate burst of flavors.
There's some lovely red apple acidity, syrupy caramel, malt and chocolate here with a cookies and cream finish.
Buy as much as you want - we will keep on roasting it every day until the lot runs out.
Please note, some of our Secret Label offers have often been sold out within two(2) weeks despite upping the allocation, so there is no guarantee the offer will remain open for the entire month.
AROMA - Cocoa
FLAVOUR - Malt, caramel, toffee, milk chocolate.
ACIDITY - Juicy, citrus, balanced.
BODY - Rich and full.
BALANCE - Excellent.
AFTERTASTE - Malt, cookies and cream, caramel.
OVERALL - Sweet cup with juicy acidity.
For a limited time only - ending when the allotment has run out which may occur before the end of the month.
*** SOLD OUT 23/10/2019
Is this our last chance to enjoy a diminishing coffee legend ?
If there is one coffee that has polarised the entire coffee industry for many centuries like no other, it's the revered Ethiopia Harrar - a coffee with a perilous future, with predictions it's most likely to disappear within the next decade.
Harrar is difficult to source and half-decent Harar is as rare as the proverbial rocking horse shite. It's also really bloody expensive in comparison to other alternatives, trading at a 50% premium due to it's short supply.
A dry processed coffee from a delicate heirloom varietal Harrar (or sometimes spelt Harar) shares a special place with Yemen as one of the oldest types and original species of coffee - with Yemen all but disappeared from our coffee spectrum, it's likely Harrar will soon follow.
Grown in East Africa at high altitude, the availability of Harrar continues to decline each year, some say it's from the impact of global warming, droughts and incredibly low yields on the sensitive varietal (sometimes less than 30%).
Some farmers don't see the viability in growing a varietal with such high risk of failure from abnormal weather conditions - all it takes is an unexpected storm, rains at the wrong time or extended dry period and the crop can be partially ruined with yields falling considerably.
Farmers are not silly......they will always think about using their lands for entirely different food crops by removing these historic heirloom coffee trees and planting for higher demand foods.
The last few years in particular have been extremely challenging - the quantities on offer were low and miniscule, whilst the qualities were....if we are honest.......sub-standard.
Add the higher prices demanded (because of low supply) - and importers soon drop Harrar from their line-up. We have certainly struggled to find viable lots for the last 4 years....or probably longer actually, it's always been a challenge for 11 years.
Many coffee roasters abandoned Harrar in their line-up long ago - too hard to source, too inconsistent to roast and more importantly too expensive for what you might get in the cup - there was always something with a cleaner cup from other Ethiopian naturals such as Sidamo or Yirgacheffe. What we mean by that is that Yirgacheffe and Sidamo naturals are comparable in price, but give a far cleaner and sweeter cup compared to Harrar's spicey notes.
But that's entirely missing the point......Harrar is one of the coffee world's most romantic and profound varietals. Let's not write-off Harrar just yet..........it's got so much going for it with distinctive and alluring characteristics that other varietals and regions simply cannot replicate.
Sometimes the most perfectly clean and sweet fruity cup is not going to be the most popular - a bit of diverse character goes a long way to endearing a coffee with it's drinker. There's an old saying in coffee - perfectly imperfect.
When I started roasting coffee long ago, a good Harrar was considered the "ducks nuts" in an espresso or mocha blend. Powerful and intoxicating aromatics, searing fruits, bold flavours, insane complexity and if you were really lucky there were small pockets of amazing Blueberry notes and rich chocolate that provided unforgettable highlights to a blend.
It's hard to describe the allure of blueberry in a coffee.....it's just one of those pairings that works.
As a standalone single origin, Harrar was one for the true believers. Winey, full bodied, earthy, fruity ferments, spicy complexity and broad citrus acidity. Every cup was like a Kinder surprise, something different to the last, something new to discover, something surprising to admire.
Roasting Harrar or using it in blends was only for the wily, skilled and experienced masters, or those with really thick skin that could take the feedback. You see, roasting Harrar was always a double-edged sword that easily slices through espresso and milk like a hot knife through butter, but there would sometimes be the occasional "hook" or "spice".....and it was that hook where the blending or roasting was not ideal that could amplify any powerful negatives.
It's for this reason I am hand-roasting every single batch of this coffee on my pimped Proaster platform for extreme precision.
There's no doubt Ethiopian naturals (dry processed) make for the best espresso - thick, syrupy, fruity, complex and balanced. We have tended to steer away from these naturals as the fruit in the cup can sometimes confuse our "core" customer, but for enthusiasts it's a godsend.
A good Harrar will deliver perhaps one of the most profound espresso experiences you may encounter.........but that was back when blueberry notes were more prevalent and the crops were more abundant. Today, blueberry is almost impossible to taste - though there are hints.
Just 2 months ago we were surprised by a recent arrival of Harrar - it marked the return of some decent qualities after 4 years of arid supply.
We snapped up a big bunch because quite frankly it's a coffee that deserves to be showcased and savoured - who knows if we will ever get the chance to do it again. Bugger the ridiculously high price, we just had to do it........else it might be another 4 years wait or maybe it might disappear like Yemen.
So this month we have something special.......yep, it's the hands-down best lot of Harrar that has entered our shores in a few years. For those of you that are yet to experience a Harrar, here's your chance to tick it off your coffee bucket list.
It's not going to beat a Grade 1 Yirgy or Sidamo natural, it's certainly not as clean in the cup, but the spicey, chewy and juicy acidity is something that's different.
Sweet fragrant grinds make a juicy cup with blueberry, orange and medicinal notes.
Clean caramel finish.
Lovers of black coffee with powerful aromatics and complex flavours will enjoy this special lot.
Don't miss this chance to taste the very best Harrar on offer from Ethiopia.
1kg Whole bean packs only. Sorry, no 500g and no ground packs.
Grab it here - Ethiopia Harrar East