Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Aricha (Mixed Heirloom) Natural G1
Updated: Jul 22, 2019
Learn about Ethiopian Coffee from the Yirgacheffe region. One of the world's most flavorful coffee.
Ethiopia is widely considered the birthplace of coffee. Many experts say that Ethiopia is the only place that coffee grew natively and the apocryphal story of Kaldi is told over and over. Kaldi was a goat herder who discovered coffee after witnessing the vigor that his goats received from eating the cherries.
The coffee was grown by smallholder farmers living around the kabele (town) of Aricha in Gedeo County, Yirgacheffe region. Between 650 and 700 small coffee farmers produce this coffee in the Gedeo Zone in the Yirgacheffe district approximately 5 km West of Yirgacheffe town.
The Gedeo zone is named after the Gedeo people who are local to this area. These small coffee farmers deliver ripe cherries to Kebel Aricha mill where the cherries are then sorted and placed on drying beds. The cherries are turned every 2-3 hours in the first few days to avoid over fermentation and avoid mold growth. One month later the beans are dehulled and transported to Addis Ababa to be milled and bagged prior to export.
This Yirgacheffe Natural Aricha was exported through the ECX (Ethiopian Commodity exchange) system and was classified by the ECX Central Liquoring Unit as a Grade 1 natural coffee. Varieties of coffee grown here are traditionally referred to as ‘heirloom’ by exporters – a catchall terminology which often masks the wide assortment of varieties that may be present within various regions.
Most Yirgacheffe coffee is prepared using a traditional wet method (the skin and pulp removed before the beans are dried), which produces a clean, often floral- and citrus fruit- flavor in the cup. This Yirgacheffe, however, is a dry-processed version (also known as a “natural”), which means that the beans were dried while still inside the coffee cherry fruit. This processing method produces a more defined floral and fruit character. Like most Ethiopia coffees, this striking and unusual coffee is produced by villagers on small, garden plots inter-planted with food and other subsistence crops. Delicate and complex. Lightly sweet with mango, cherry, dark raisins, and dark chocolate. Very nice, silky smooth mouthfeel. Short, but very nice finish.
About the Yirgacheffe Region
Yirgacheffe is actually part of the region in southern Ethiopia, but its exquisite washed coffees are so well-known that is has been sub-divided into its own micro-region. This steep, green area is both fertile and high – much of the coffee grows at 2,000m and above.
At first glance Yirgacheffe’s hills look thickly forested - but in fact it is a heavily populated region and the hills are dotted with many dwellings and villages’ growing what is known as ‘garden coffee’. There are approximately 26 cooperatives in the region, representing some 43,794 farmers and around 62,004 hectares of garden coffee. The production is predominantly washed, although a smaller amount of sun dried coffees also come out of Yirgacheffe.
Around 85 percent of Ethiopians still live rurally and make a living from agriculture; each family usually lives in a modest home (often a single round mud hut) and farms their own plot of land, where they grow both cash crops and food for their own consumption. In Yirgacheffe, coffee is one of the main cash crops – covering from half a hectare to 1.5 hectares.
The Coffee and Farmers
Most contributing farmers own less than a hectare of land, and they grow coffee simply as a backyard cash crop. Coffee will usually be interspersed with other subsistence crops, such as sweet potato, mangoes and avocados, but there are no other primary cash crops grown in the region. Coffee is selectively hand-picked before being delivered to the mill collection points. Great care is taken upon delivery to separate out any overripe, underripe or damaged beans before consolidating with other lots for the road to the wet mill. At least once a day, the collected coffee cherry is delivered to the mill, where it is floated and then delivered to dry on raised beds. Here, it will be thinly spread and regularly turned over the course of several weeks, or until it reaches 12% humidity according to the moisture meter.
There are, on average, 4 passes made during the harvest period, and, in regions that produce both washed and naturals, the last pass is used for the natural coffee. Washed coffees are then generally pulped on the same day that they are picked (usually in the evening/night), sorted into three grades by weight (heavy, medium and floaters), fermented (times vary - usually between 16 and 48 hours), washed and then usually graded again in the washing channels. The beans are then dried on beds, where they are hand-sorted, usually by women.
Varieties of coffee grown here are traditionally referred to as ‘heirloom’ by exporters – a catchall terminology which often masks the wide assortment of varieties that may be present within various regions and even within farms. Many of these varieties will have been developed by Ethiopia’s Jimma Agricultural Research Centre (JARC), which, since the late 1960s, has worked to develop resistant and tasty varieties for the Ethiopian coffee industry and also to provide the agricultural extension training needed to cultivate them.
It is important to note that varieties in Ethiopia fall within two main groups – regional or local landraces (of which there are at least 130, 33 of which would hail from the Southern growing regions) or JARC varieties. It is still very hard to tell but it is highly likely that this lot contains a great percentage of JARC 740110 and 74112 varieties, developed in 1974 by the JARC, which are directly descended from local landraces indigenous to the Gedeo Region.