Ethiopia Gesha Village Natural Special Selection
- May 2019
- Written by : Geoff Watts
Vice President of Coffee / Green Coffee Buyer
1. a mythical animal typically represented as a horse with a single straight horn projecting
from its forehead
2. Something that is highly desirable but difficult to taste or obtain; rare, unique
Gesha Village is a unicorn in the coffee industry. It is paradise on a coffee farm, built by design on a high plateau in the middle of an ancient forest within the remote zone considered to be the original home of the Arabica coffee species. It is both old and new at once: venerable heirloom cultivars from a bygone era growing under a towering canopy of native trees in an oasis of preserved natural forest, utilizing 21st-century knowledge about farming to produce exhilarating coffee in an ecologically sound, hyper-precise manner that maximizes quality while minimizing input. It also has the distinction of being the first farm to succeed in selling us a natural coffee in over 15 years. Not a small feat!
Our team here at Intelli could be described as purist when it comes to our aesthetic sensibility about intrinsic coffee flavor. We’ve spent the last 24 years obsessively studying and celebrating coffee flavor. A fanatical desire to better understand the mechanisms of coffee quality and uncover the true potential of the world’s most complex beverage has led us all over the world in search of answers and new knowledge.
Throughout this philosophical and organoleptic journey, we’ve tasted more than 25,000 coffees and experimented relentlessly together with our network of farmer partners in pursuit of extraordinary quality. Along the way we’ve traveled our share of dead-end streets, been on wild goose chases, entertained temporary fascinations, and had minor epiphanies. Our beliefs about what constitutes coffee quality—what it is and what it isn’t—along with our collective ability to measure and identify its nuances, have been revised and refined over the years in step with the growth in our cumulative experience and the broad perspective it has afforded us. Our taste in coffee has evolved as a function of our endlessly inquisitive and self-critical nature. The place where we find ourselves in today is much different—and much more exciting—then the one where we started, and the quality of the coffees we buy and sell is a reflection of that hard-earned knowledge. There are many aspects and character traits that define excellence for us in the realm of coffee flavor, and that definition leaves open a wide and nearly infinite range of pleasurable tastes, many of which we have yet to even encounter. Yet by its very nature every definition comes with some kind of boundaries, however hard or soft, that allow one to know when something does not fit.
For coffee quality, those boundaries have come into very clear focus and have a lot to do with the absence of distracting or bothersome tastes that interfere with our ability to draw maximum pleasure from each sip. In some ways, quality is as much about what is NOT there as it is about what IS there.
The Trouble with Naturals
There is good reason why we generally don’t buy natural-processed (unwashed) coffees. Compared with their washed cousins, they are extremely hard to produce well, and 99% of them, upon close inspection, will reveal bothersome flavor traits and inconsistencies that undermine the positive traits and diminish the quality of the cup. Chief among those are acetic acid (found in vinegar), butyric Acid (found in cheese), and differing levels of lactic acid that in outsized proportion can convey a cloying yogurt-like aspect to the sensory profile of a typical natural coffee. Many naturals give off aroma that at first reads like pungent berries or cherry but can quickly devolve in appeal as subtle notes of rotted fruit and artificial strawberry creep into the scene (think cheap bubble gum or convenience-store perfume). Most of us love ripe cherry, berries and wild honey. Many like strawberry bubble gum, some like black olives, and a smaller few also love stinky cheese. But imagine all that combined in a blender to make a wild Frankenstein smoothie. Very few of us would find much pleasure in that.
The Galloping Unicorn is Real
For a long while we’d felt somewhat convinced that a perfectly clean natural was an oxymoron. We’d never tasted one, and although we could imagine its existence, we weren’t sure we’d ever encounter one. Then came Gesha Village.
Last season, Adam and Rachel produced a few lots so perfectly crafted that these undesirable traits are non-existent. Their natural tasted like an amped up version of the best washed coffee we’d had from their farm, with all the same flavor attributes dialed up to 11 and a translucent fruity shimmer. It was glorious, and crystal clear. It fooled our panel of trained tasters who usually snap to attentive alarm at any whisper of pulpy or yeasty tastes. We joked that this coffee could show up at the washed coffee party and hang out for hours before anyone noticed there was an intruder. This year after exhaustive tasting of the 2018-2019 harvest, we found another one: a natural coffee so clean it would send Marie Kondo into joy overload. The 2019 Gesha 1931 natural-process varietal lot comes from the Oma section of Gesha Village Coffee Estate. It is a coffee masterpiece, a liquid manifestation of the mythical magical unicorn.