• Rating: [rating:4.5/5]

An extraordinary, and extraordinarily fruited, dry process Ethiopian Sidamo.

I’ll warn you right up front that this is one of those coffees that’s simply unavailable at any price. I’ll tell you why in a moment or two, but let’s talk about the coffee first, shall we?

This is a bean that I bid on and won (yes, that was me, anchored to my keyboard for hours on end) in the Ethiopian eCafe competition. This wasn’t the top-ranked coffee in the auction. It was, however, the coffee that saw the fiercest competition, and that commanded the highest price of the day. Which only goes to show that judges at competition have their standards, and coffee roasters and buyers have our own.

This is a natural process coffee from the Sidamo region of Ethiopia. Natural process means that the coffee cherry was allowed to dry on the coffee bean, and in this particular case, the coffee was dried on elevated screens constructed just for that purpose. Natural processing is experiencing something of a Renaissance in origins like Ethiopia, where washed coffees have been the order of the day since, I believe, the 1960s or so.

While a washed coffee makes for a very clean, elegant cup, a natural coffee — properly prepared — can make for an exceptional experience; the dried coffee cherry imparts lush, fruited flavors and sugars which carry over to the brewed cup. The process also leaves some part of the cherry’s fruit on the bean, which makes for a cup with an especially luxurious body.

This Sidamo’s got all that, and then some.

Just ground its fragrance is intense, and sweet, and offers notes of blueberries, raspberries and tones of apricot, with a wispy hint of violets.

Just ground its fragrance is intense, and sweet, and offers notes of blueberries, raspberries and tones of apricot, with a wispy hint of violets. Wetted, the grounds effuse more berry notes, with undertones of peach and caramel and a hint of coriander. In the cup its acidity is lively and sweet. Its flavor is astoundingly fruited with more berry and apricot, and its body is smooth and velvety. In the finish there are final notes of caramel and redcurrant, with a sensual, musky undercurrent. And for all that, it’s round, and supple and… wow. Yeah… it’s that good.

And now, as they say… the rest of the story.

The reason that this coffee is unavailable for purchase is that it’s from Green Mountain’s Special Reserve series. The 2006 vintage. It was roasted on April 11, 2006, and has been in my kitchen freezer since the day after it was roasted. I took it out of cold storage just this morning, and brewed it tonight.

I did this for a number of reasons. The first was simply that I had more of this exceptional coffee on hand than I could drink in a reasonable period of time. (What a quandary!) The second was that, just about this time last year, there was a lot of huff and puff from usually credible sources about the dos and don’ts of coffee — and freezing roasted coffee beans was at the top of the don’t list.

Now I’m aware of some highly regarded specialty coffee roasters who have a special process to freeze their green coffee beans. And I’m aware of at least one coffee roaster whom I hold in high regard who freezes some of his low-turnover beans, just after roasting, in a commercial deep-freeze. But I didn’t really have any data on what might happen if Joe Consumer might choose to freeze some coffee in a regular ol’ kitchen freezer.

If I compare my original tasting notes for this coffee more than 10 months ago to what I’ve noted here tonight, there are some subtle differences. I see no violets in the fragrance in last year’s notes. Nor do I note coriander — or any spice — in my tasting 10 months ago. And the finish? Now I taste redcurrant; then I tasted tart cherry. Any of these could be chalked up to how I’m tasting tonight, or how I tasted 10 months ago. I’d call these insignificant.

More telling, however, is that the intensity of this coffee isn’t quite the same. The aroma of last years coffee was utterly room-filling. Today it’s still quite fragrant… but not nearly so voluminous. That’s small change, and strictly-speaking, it’s a difference of two points; last year’s I rated 95, this cup a 93.

If you’ve got an especially nice coffee you’d like to put in cold storage, I’d offer these suggestions:

  • Freeze the coffee soon after roasting as you’re able.
  • Leave it intact in its packaging. In this case, the coffee was heat-sealed in a nitrogen-flushed, multi-layer foil bag with a one-way valve… standard packaging, really.
  • Wrap *that* package with an additional layer to protect it from moisture. I used a heavy-duty zippy freezer bag.
  • When you’re ready to take your coffee out of cold-storage, let it rest at room temperature before opening any of the packaging, so as not to introduce moisture through condensation.
  • Don’t re-freeze. Once the seal of the packaging is broken, or the beans have gone through a freeze / thaw cycle, all bets are off as to how they might fare in the freezer again.

Properly stored, and properly removed from storage, I think you’ll end up with a cup that’s remarkably like what you started with. One that brews and blooms and tastes very much like it’s just-roasted. And, for all the coffee knows, it is.

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