Good cheap coffee comes, for simplicity, consistently from two countries, Brazil and Ethiopia. Brazilian coffee is incredible because they are so good at growing it and they use the most modern techniques. But it is low grown and generally utilizes disease resistant strains that emphasize yield rather than flavour. It has good body.
Ethiopian coffees, on the other hand, derive from the plants birthplace and it is the center of may varietals. Farmers utilize organic methods, that is in respect to fertilizer, the plants are inter dispersed with other crops, it is non intensive agriculture. The farmers roast and drink it themselves, everybody in Ethiopia roasts and drinks it and you start to gain confidence and understanding with this coffee crazed country.
The coffee plant is in its natural habitat in the highlands of Ethiopia. Which can be described as a beautiful part of the world (but don’t expect A grade accommodation). The plants exude a distinctive healthy and contented look when you see them. The plant will yield up to 30% less than on an intensive coffee farm but that naturally results in more flavor being permeated into the lower yield. A coffee tree here may well flourish for a 100 years whilst in Brazil it’s a quick sun soaked, chemical enhanced fast carnivale lifestyle but the plant is dead at 15. Coffee from Ethiopia is naturally better and though there are different grades there would be say a 30% price premium compared to other countries equivalence. It’s got flavor. From the grading you will receive a lot of different sized beans in a bag and this is generally bad news for the roaster because all the beans will roast to different ending profiles. There is the risk that little ones will be overdone and the large ones underdone. But with a medium dark roast the beans all get done and the deviation in size adds to the complexity of a darker roasted Spanish style espresso coffee.
The problem with Ethiopian coffee is getting what you want. 90% of Ethiopia’s coffee is sold through the Ethiopian Coffee Exchange (ECX) and only 10% is sold as direct trade. There have been transparency issues with the Exchange but it certainly remains a step towards the future. Irrespective, buying coffee through the Exchange is not straightforward. Shipping coffee out through the Port of Djibouti is not straightforward. Nothing is straightforward and you need people on the ground. But the fact remains there are some truly natural and wonderful Espresso beans in the highlands of Ethiopia.