Our Guji coffee is a bright and sunny gem from Ethiopia, the birthplace of arabica coffee. We selected it for its clarity, its refined and complex brightness, and its lovely berry aroma. In our Amsterdam flagship store, we serve the Guji as pour-over as well as our special, alternate espresso.
I spent some time in Guji while doing projects for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and I’ll never forget the incredible lush green vegetation there, the fascinating people, and the amazing soil, so dark and rich in minerals that it is almost purple in color.
(The reason for my first visit there was actually to do a bit of “coffee police” work. We had two samples back in the capitol, Addis Ababa, both of which had the same lot number. It was a prize-winning coffee, and two different buyers who were eager to purchase it had both offered money for the same lot! Since we couldn’t get a clear answer over the phone about what was going on, my colleague and I packed up into a 4×4 truck, drove two days down into Oromia country to visit Guji, secure fresh samples directly from the lot in question, roast them at a rural lab and cup them using international standards. The resolution to this little crisis was… pretty interesting, but that’s another story for another day!)
Guji is located in the southern region of Ethiopia, in Oromia territory, the real beating heart of specialty coffee production in that “crown jewel” of coffee countries. Our coffee comes to us from the Mulish Washing Station, via our friends at Trabocca Coffee Importers.
Coffee exports are extremely important to the Ethiopian economy, as one might expect. The government organizes centralized tasting and scoring of every coffee export lot, and assigns it a grade for the ease of buyers. As a buyer, I very much appreciate the hard work that goes into this, but I’m also not satisfied just to take their word for it! To select our Guji coffee, we requested many samples from around the region. These coffees were lots that sounded good “on paper”. We knew we wanted something clean and bright, with a unique flavor, and yet something unmistakably Ethiopian.
When we go through this selection process, it’s so important to “cup it blind”, as we say in the industry. This means to sample and taste the coffee with no identifiers at all. Our roasting team (Shirley, Marieke, Bas and Daniel) took the green coffee samples from Ethiopia, roasted them to the exact same degree, and set up a blind cupping. All the coffees get exactly the same water, the same extraction time, the same grind, the same everything! We use our own specially created in-house cupping form to grade each sample and write down notes concerning the flavor, aroma, acidity, balance, mouthfeel, and more.
I even put a few “decoy” coffees on the table, coffees from other African countries like Kenya and Rwanda, just to make sure we were really being accurate with our evaluations. Once we’ve had 60-90 minutes to taste, make notes, and score the coffees, we reveal our choices to each other. One coffee stood out head and shoulders above the others. Cupping notes were words like “silky”, “lively”, “rasbperry”, “citrus”, and “very sweet.”
When we decoded our blind samples to discover which coffee we’d been raving about, I was pleased to discover it was the Guji washed sample from Mulish Washing Station, since that particular region of Ethiopia already had a special place in my heart!
We jumped at the opportunity to secure this coffee for our customers (and, if I must tell the truth, I also just wanted it around so I could drink it myself!).
Of course, selecting a beautiful green coffee like this one is just half the battle. You have to roast it just right if you want it to really sing. I can sit around all day knowing how good this coffee is, but it’s much more fun if I can roast it and share it with all of you!
East African coffees in general, and Ethiopian coffees specifically, tend to be very bright, fruity and acidic. I wanted our Guji to keep that quintessentially Ethiopian character. But I also didn’t want it to be an acid-bomb in your mouth! I’ve had way too many African coffees at boutique coffee roasters, where the coffee was sooooooo sour that it felt like I was squeezing lemon juice directly into my eyeballs.
I get it. We want a refreshing coffee, we want something fruity and bright and clean. But does it really have to be such an extreme, one-sided equation?
I bet you already know my answer is, “Nope!” In fact, it can be something so much better. We created a roast profile that brings out the delicate natural sweetness of this coffee, and especially that smooth, silky mouthfeel, which also giving those beautiful, raspberry, citrus, and milk chocolate flavors which make it so unique.
To do this, I followed a classic “S-curve” profile, with high initial heat (230 degrees air temperature in the roasting chamber) because this is a high-grown, washed coffee, meaning its extra-dense cell structure is resistant to the initial blast of heat. About six minutes into the roast, when the internal temperature of the beans themselves gets close to 180 degrees, we drop the air temperature dramatically to slam the brakes on the process. Then the roast proceeds nice and slow through the caramelization stage of Maillard reactions. Not only does this magnify the sweetness in the cup, but it allows for slow development of all those beautiful organic acids that give this Guji coffee a bright, complex, and refreshing quality.
We end the process right around 204-205 degrees and quickly cool down the coffee to halt the roasting process (it keeps “cooking” even after you remove the heat, just like a steak!). The whole process takes just under 13 minutes for each batch, but it’s done in a highly specific and controlled manner. Roasting the coffee in this style allows us to create something very versatile. That’s why we drink it as both espresso and as a filter coffee.
As a single-origin espresso, the Guji shines. Since the roast is medium-light (but not ultra-light!), you get plenty of acidity that’s well balanced with overall sweetness and that famous silky body. We pull our shots using 18 grams of ground coffee in a double-basket, with water at 91.5 degrees and a standard 9 bars or pressure. I do think the shots are nicer with a slightly shorter extraction… around 22-24 seconds for a 45 mililiter double-shot does the trick. This stops the extraction process before the most intense and bitter acids are extracted, but leaves plenty of time for pulling out the sweetness and fruit flavors first.
The result is a light and silky espresso with very noticeable brightness and raspberry aromas, that finishes sweet and smooth.
The Guji is delicate, but it’s pretty forgiving in my experience. Everyone’s home set-up is different, so playing around with your extraction profile is always fun. Generally speaking, if you find the coffee to be too intense, try a lower water temperature or a faster extraction time.
My absolute favorite way to drink this coffee, though, is as a pour-over filter. Very nice in a Chemex, and just beautiful in a Hario V60 (that’s how I drink it at home on my days away from the roastery). Medium grind, a 15:1 ratio of water to coffee, water around 94 degrees, and an extraction time of about 3:30 does the trick.
Look for complex acidity, lots of berry brightness (raspberries and blackberries) and some citrus tones layered over a soft, agreeable base of classic milk chocolate flavor. It should be bright and flavorful, but sweet and easy to drink.