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Saturday, January 12, 2008

The mighty Yirg

Today we cupped another Yirgacheffe WP. This is the most frustrating of coffees because here in the US, we seem to only get Gr2 and often large sub par 'FTO' lots. The lots are of oddly misshapen or broken beans, poorly screened with high defect rates and yet they still get a grade 2 marking. It's as if all the rejects from grade 1 are dumped into grade 2 and we just oblige.

The last Yirgacheffe we cupped was the Konga Coop lot a bunch of people have right now. It's faded and pales are abundant which screams of past crop. The defect rate is high and yet, if you cleaned it up AND it was still fresh, this might be a pretty good Yirg. The commercial roast we had was for espresso and not only simply dark, it had a pungent gassiness that yielded to a sharpness simply unpleasant as espresso. It only came out bearable as a tight ristretto but there was a grapefruit bitter in the cup that was obstructing the still present dried fruit aromas of apricot and jasmine.

The Yirg we sampled just before that was a FTO offering that just tasted only of jute bag. Nothing more, nothing less. Those are normal Yirg experiences for us.

The Yirgacheffe we cupped tonight though was a bit different and it reaffirmed a love for this origin. It still had a lot of issues needing cleaning up being Gr2 but also being fresh, it still had solid aromatic character. The attrition rate to clean it up is almost 50% if your are being absolute, but the cup was potently complex and showed us the simple fact that Yirgacheffe can still beat down most coffees on complexity of aroma. It was a rounded concord grape note with a dried fruit tea character, hint of ginger, and a popping floral, even in the grounds. The cup was toned with rounded fruit and soft sweetness, simply ripe. Of course, this was a Simon Hsieh production roast which seems to defy logic at times so it could be a bit of that played a role but in a lineup of 5 coffees, it floored us as one of the best cups I have had all year. The kind of aroma you taste in the back of your throat, it was that good.

The Yirgacheffe situation is strange for what may be one of the best but most misunderstood coffees around. It is a hard coffee to roast well. It burns easily and the aromas are quick to be baked out. As our North American culture is moving more and more towards the simplistic notes of fermented Sidamos and all variations of dry processed coffees, the washed Yirgs are lost on us.

I wonder if there are these great washed Yirgs that just get gobbled up by Europe or the Japanese alone! There must be smaller lots than the massive grade 2 lots we keep seeing stateside, right? It's complex and I don't profess to understand it but I love a good Yirg and yet I have only had two great experiences to shape that belief.

Should I then buy green of this Yirg which has many issues and try to live with it? Or should I simply avoid buying a coffee that has problems and focus on the Kenya AA and nice Rwanda lots available at higher prices? I don't have the ability to run it through the mill's electronic eye and remove all the broken bits, molds, bug bites, pales, etc... so I'm lost on exactly what I would do with it if I did buy it, but I love the washed Yirg's and know what the coffee could be if cleaned up and roasted well so I'm in a dilemma...