Malawo or Yellow Honey is a sensational Ethiopian coffee that marks a new era in the development of Speciality Coffee at Origin. We are taking lessons learnt in the New...
Malawo or Yellow Honey is a sensational Ethiopian coffee that marks a new era in the development of Speciality Coffee at Origin. We are taking lessons learnt in the New World and applying them to coffee production back in the birthplace of coffee! It is giving us a rush of spectacular flavour attributes: Florals that are as light as our Darjeeling Teas. Sweet Citrus Notes of Nectarine and Kumquat. Black Cherry, White Wine Tannins and a Deep Sweet Nougat Mouthfeel.
Whilst it still illegal to export coffee plants out of Ethiopia because of their integral importance to the culture and the economy, it is possible to import ideas. Especially ideas that can enhance the value of the crop. Many years ago now I was asked this crucial question by the leader of the Sidamo union of coffee farmers, Tadesse Maskele: How can we add value for my farmers? One word answer: Traceability!
Things have moved on in leaps and bounds since that conversation. We prevented the threat of bulking coffees together into regions at that time and started to drill down into names of washing stations. These wonderfully exotic and evocative words started appearing on our sacks along with the processing method, which was usually stated as: Natural or Washed. Now, for the first time, we have a new process stencilled on the sack: “Malawo” meaning Yellow Honey.
The Daya Bensa collective is made up of 563 farmers who are working in the Shantawene area of Sidamo, on the lush and productive East of the Rift Valley. They have decided to create these limited edition micro-lots of Malawo or Yellow Honey processed coffees and boy, are we glad they did! The segregation of the village lots, as the coffees are received at the washing station is critical. It is symptomatic of the extra attention to detail taken during the processing. Extra detail all along the chain adds extra value. It creates an awful lot of extra work. But the aim is clear. To focus on producing the highest quality coffee possible.
When the coffee cherries, “buna” arrive they are sorted by floating and picking out the ripe cherries. Coffee is pulped to remove the outer layer of the cherry then dried in the traditional way on African beds for 13-15 days. One person is assigned to each individual bed to rotate the cherries every 15 minutes. This ensures they are dried uniformly. Phew! You can see why traceability is so important to them at Daya Bensa. Their record-keeping books are assiduously kept up to date. They contain all the degrees of separation that are needed to ensure the right bonus payments go to the right farmers. It provides the extra incentive to segregate throughout the drying, processing, and storage stages. There are labels stating the delivery dates, the farm name, the lot number and any other specific details relating to a particular lot.
Daye Bensa is a particularly community oriented business. They deliver additional bonus payments to farmers based on the volume they contribute to these quality Micro-Lots. They have rewarded consistency year in and year out. This year they are also rewarding their workers. Particularly the ones standing in the sun for days on end at those drying beds. For they have played a crucial role in the drying process.
So, if you think this is unlike any other coffee you’ve ever tasted before, it’s probably because it is unlike any other coffee that’s been produced before! It’s applying the best of New World practices to the oldest coffee producing country in the world with all their wealth of tradition, unique varietals and perfect terroir.
Honey processed coffees from mainly Central American (and some Colombian and Brazilian producers) have been in vogue for a number of years now. They’ve been smash hits at all the coffee competitions for the past decade or so. We’ve had all the variations of Honey processing; White, Yellow, Red, through to Black, so there is plenty of experimentation awaiting those Ethiopian coffee producing communities brave enough to show up with their own take on it.
It is these hard-working Ethiopian farmers who are the Guardians of the Heirloom Varieties for us. If, as we are doing with some farms, we can start to identify the varietals as well, then our own labels will have a full dataset. These farmers will be the first to have the opportunity to project their named varietal coffees through the prism of process to highlight a whole new spectrum of flavour possibilities. What a mouth-watering prospect that is?!