Coffee review: Novo Coffee’s Ethiopians

by JulieCraves on November 20, 2006

Plainspoken Coffee. A Coffee Review for Ordinary People by Ordinary People, #11

Three Ethiopian selections from Novo Coffee.

In my post about Starbucks Black Apron Ethiopia Gemadro Estate, I suggested Denver’s Novo Coffee as a source for a great variety of Ethiopian coffees.  We tried three Novo Ethiopians, and here’s what we thought.

Hache — The Hache Coop is located in Sidamo. This was one of the lightest roasts we have tried, and certainly lighter than any African coffee we have seen.  We’d describe the color as on the light side of  medium-brown, yet a few showed tiny pinpricks of oil.  The beans were fairly small, and we tried this at 9 days past the roast date, so my guess is that the oil emerged post-roast.

The smell of the beans was far less fruity than we’d expected from an Ethiopian, with only a teasing hint of fruit that is usually so characteristic of this region. Two of us thought it had a woody smell — not woodsy, but like very pleasant fresh-cut lumber, juniper was suggested by one person.  Another pegged it as smelling nutty.  With that, another panelist commented, “I don’t smell enough nuts, dare I say.”

This was a wonderfully full-bodied coffee, velvety and smooth.  Most Ethiopians are very bold and have a lot going on.  This was a less complicated coffee, but still had a background of cherry cordial candies and, when it cooled, just a hint of citrus.  Novo describes flavors of caramel, lingenberry, walnut oil, and cocoa.  None of us had ever seen a lingenberry — maybe that was the “cherry cordial” taste we picked up, and the nutty aromas were the walnut oil.

It did not mention on the Novo site whether this is a dry (natural) or wet (washed) processed bean.  Other roasters have advertised natural beans from the Hache Coop.  We usually associate dry process with a much wilder and more pronounced fruity taste, so I don’t know what to attribute the quiet elegance of this coffee to — a different process, masterful roasting, or an exceptional crop. Whatever the reason, a solid winner, and the favorite Ethiopian any of us had ever tasted.  It would make an excellent choice for somebody’s first foray into the coffees of this country, as it is restrained but still possesses the unique character of Ethiopia. 4 motmots.

Abeba — A member of the Yirgacheffe Union, Adado Coop sits close to the town of Dilla, around 400 km south of the capital of Addis Ababa. As far as we know, this is a dry process coffee. This was the coffee with the most going on, first tried 7 days after the roast date.  Like the Hache, it was a pretty light roast, with small beans.  They had the distinctive berry aroma one expects from an Ethiopian — this was tart and tangy.  There was also a spicy or peppery smell, especially when brewed.  One taster said, “My nose is tingling.”

We did not get the very citrusy pizzazz that we expected from a Yirg (described by Novo as “brilliant tangerine citrus”). The flavor remained stable from hot to cool, was medium to full bodied, with a delicate citrus flavor as well as an interesting floral tone we liked very much and struggled to identify. Novo suggests jasmine, and we also thought perhaps bergamot (although we may have been mixing up our Chinese restaurant and Earl Gray teas!). There was a lingering aftertaste which Novo described as honeydew melon, and we could in fact pick up a little Jolly Rancher flavor there. It was pretty intriguing.

The Abeba had a distinct character and was subtly assertive while still being (if we can trot out this language) approachable. A good choice for an established Ethiopian fan or an adventurous beginner. 3 motmots.

Wild Forest Tega — Kaffa.  This is the birthplace of coffee. Novo states, “As far as we know, this is the first exemplary wild forest coffee available in the U.S.”

We tried this first 11 days after roasting, the last of the three as we expected this to be the most untamed and complex of our choices, and didn’t want to go from the mellow, simple coffees of Latin America that we’d been drinking to something well removed from their straightforwardness.

With some anticipation, we opened the bag. These were larger beans, and roasted slightly darker than the other two.  To our surprise, there was no bold aroma or big fruity smells.  When ground, these beans had a rather unusual golden-orange color which also translated into the cup. The ground beans gave off a sharp, piquant smell, a bit floral?  A couple people noted a chocolate smell. I kind of thought I smelled the forest in the beans.  Sounds hokey, but it was the image that flashed in my head when I smelled them.

This coffee totally surprised us.  It was clean and bright, with no aftertaste. It was exceptionally mild, boring actually.  We tried it stronger, both in the Cafe Solo and in a French press.  It remained consistent from batch to batch; we thought a wild coffee like this might vary from pot to pot. Disappointingly, the constant was unremarkable. It was thin-tasting, with little body (sort of like tea).  It wasn’t bad, just dull. Coffee Review tasted Paradise Roasters Tega and Tula farm forest coffee, and described flavors such as orange, lavender, and pipe tobacco, none of which were evident in this coffee, presumably from nearby.  However, the reviewers also noted another lot from same farm last year was not nearly as distinctive, so perhaps there is a lot of variability. 2.25 motmots.

Novo also sells espresso roasts of the three coffees above, as well as another selection, Addis Katema from Yirgacheffe.  Novo features another origin, Panama, with nine choices, more from this country than I’ve seen offered at any other single place.  Enjoy!

Revised on November 23, 2020

Posted in Africa,Coffee reviews

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