I wish there was a more visual way for me to map out the Slacker-esque way I ended up possessing these three Ethiopian coffees from 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters. It started with On the Road to Epiphany’s original posting on El Beit, which I eventually visited back in January of this year. There, I picked up a bag of El Beit’s repackaged 49th Parallel Ethiopia Rakasa, which I enjoyed thoroughly at home. The next thing I knew, 49th Parallel was sending along some other Ethiopian coffees. Knowing that 49th Parallel stocks so many Ethiopians, I couldn’t wait to see what arrived.
My delivery included the two Yergacheffes and one Sidamo you see pictured above. As I suspected, 49th Parallel didn’t send me their elite Beloya or Aricha coffees, but the three that came my way were still likely to be quite fine coffees indeed given 49th Parallels overall high bar and large selection of Ethiopian coffees in particular. I did note the distinctive absence of Sammy Piccolo’s WBC 2nd placing espresso blend which I had secretly hoped might be included, but I suppose any comments that even approach a complaint would be like kicking a gift horse in the mouth.
I decided to cup these three coffees blind, asking my lovely wife/assistant to randomly assign the bowls (note to self: try not to do this as wife is leaving the house in a rush). To make things interesting, I also threw in some, what was by then, older Yergacheffe from Mr. Espresso. While I’d like to brag that I correctly identified the Mr. Espresso Yergacheffe and the Sidamo, that would require pointing out that I didn’t correctly identify the other two Yergacheffes. In my defense, I didn’t know much about either of them. The prosecution might point out, however, that the Stumptown’s Wondo I tried previously possessed many of the same candy-like, juicy fruit notes I also attributed to this Wondo. Oh, well, you can’t win them all.
Overall, the three 49th Parallel coffees fared well with a relatively tight range of scores between them. While none of them impressed me as much as the Rakasa, that point is more or less moot since the Rakasa is no longer available for purchase! Fresh off the cupping table, I ranked the coffees as follows.
1. Wondo Worka
2. Sidamo & Mr. Espresso’s Yergacheffe
Over the week and a half or so of brewing that followed, however, the Sidamo came to supplant the Wondo Worka in what was almost a neck and neck finish. The bottom line is that you really can’t go wrong with any of these coffees and I would particularly recommend both the Sidamo and the Wondo.
Here’s the scoop on each.
While my least favorite, it was still quite good. Interestingly, this is the most expensive of the three at $18/12 oz bag. My tasting notes included cinnamon, brown sugar, a hint of chocolate, with a black tea-like body and crisp, red apple acidity. Although I never tried it iced, I imagine this coffee might be nice that way because of its cleaner, refreshing qualities. My preference for it was with the siphon which seemed to emphasize the bass-like tea notes along with red fruit, apple and watermelon. It worked well enough as a French Press but fell off sharply as espresso (understandably) or pour over.
The Worka was busy and complicated with watermelon, apricot, honey, lemon, milk chocolate and that distinctive juicy fruit gum flavor that mellowed into strawberries and blueberries over time. Its slightly viscous mouthfeel turned buttery when pulled as espresso even if it was otherwise too sourish as a SO shot. I preferred this coffee as a French Press which made the full range of fruity aromas shine. I surprisingly also found this coffee compelling as a pourover which muted much but which transformed the artificial juicy fruit into something more natural. For some reason this coffee as a siphon left me wanting.
The Sidamo struck me as surprisingly sweet, slightly syruppy, full of brighter, more intense dried fruit, molasses, a hint of verbena, mildly toasted toast, with a ever so slight vegetal presence like crisp garden lettuce that transformed into a long and lingering tobacco aftertaste. An odd combination, I know. That and the fact that it’s not a fruit-bomb sidamo threw me off for a while. The transformative moment was brewing this coffee in a siphon. You know that moment when siphon coffee hits the magical temperature and it opens up like a flower: that was when I figured out how nicely well-balanced this coffee is. The only real detractor was that tobacco aftertaste that occasionally came on too strong. While I didn’t like this coffee as an espresso – like the other two, it was too lightly roasted for this format – it worked equally well as French Press, siphon and pour over. Each produced an excellent although somewhat different cup.