bring me your tired, your destitute, your east african specialty harvests…

July 10, 2005 – 3:57 pm

these people sold gnarly brown paper made of coffee chaff. no kidding. felt like sheets of desert floor broken into placemat sizes. african ghetto, and all. they were also handy, crusty reminders of what you’d be drinking if you were stupid enough to persist with the folgers!

i’d heard about this place, but didn’t really know. another local coffee entree’ makes its serve, pulls in the easily deluded, blahblahblah. that’s what i thought. the likelihood of a breakthrough joint raising greenville to par with the likes of asheville or chapel hill wasn’t worth the energy to hope. not really. but the most startling and incongruous thing about the new place is easily visible on the home page. let’s see, you own a plantation in zimbabwe, won the country’s top coffee award with this year’s crop, rank well among africa-wide plantations, made the leap to the u.s., import your own stuff for roasting and selling, and you set up shop in travelers rest?!

let’s be clear. this is like finding a newborn in a bar. like turning up a three-day batch of specialty yirgacheffe in a tin of red man. travelers rest is by far the redneckiest suburb in greenville’s considerable metropolitan footprint. there is nothing here, coffee-wise, worth leaving the isomac for. and then mr. and mrs. east africa show up with their award-winning, direct-imported beanage?! a probat L12 roaster rumored to cost well into the five digits?? my shock could not merely be described in skin colors. though the hues were a definite component thereof.

to be sure, the single-estate sourcing of coffee can mean fluctuating crop qualities year to year. still, this year’s crop is a top one, according to the eastern african fine coffees association, and the place seems to be rather consistent in that ranking. besides that, it’s a shade-grown estate, supports 90 families, supposedly, and produces mostly “specialty” product, by the official trade definition. we’re talking affordable award-winning humanitarian tree-hugger specialty brew, for crying out loud. by setting up shop in ‘TR,’ as the locals call it, there is an instant conduit to estate coffee for unconscionable prices — the middle man being cut out, and what not. (note: the web site prices aren’t all there is. they offer different — cheaper — packaging options, and the cost of green is insanely affordable.)

nice couple. told them my folks live in chad, that i rank among the local nutsos, buy green coffee by the bushel, etc. etc. their shelves are stacked with indigenous artifacts of the mother turf. we talked of their options, i bought five pounds green of the estate aa+, which was rated something like an 86 by the EAFCA people, as i recall from our conversation. compared to the new aaa+ for sale over at sweet maria’s, that’s a tenth of a point higher! (obvious caveat: the ratings vary by cupper, of course, and the totals are not good barometers of how “good” a cup really is, acidity and body and all sorts of neither-good-nor-bad properties accounting for scoring components.) the proof is in the cup. roasted a batch friday evening. the swilling is on for tonight.

so. no claims of a new, failsafe godshot. nothing about seasoned roasters (these folks are new to the roasting game) or competition-tested baristi. BUT you talk about your for-real coffee conduit. there’s chatter already of local cuppings (again: in greenville?!), information-sharing, roast improvements, etc. in short, there’s a true pursuit of quality in the cup, and the connections and resources to make it happen. stunning, i’d say. now if only robert mugabe will play along…

UPDATE: initial shots of the two-day zim estate aa+ yield a very balanced cup. some woody characteristics. the wife says she got some dark chocolate hints. after an evening pounding the yirg and sulawesi (two extremely dissonant flava profiles there and both very distinctive for very different reasons) it was very hard to grab a dominant characteristic from the zim. buddy nate is gonna try a french press, and we may do an all-out cupping.