THE STORY BEHIND AMARO GAYO
Truly great coffee has a magical, anthropomorphic quality. You can develop a relationship with it. You can imagine having a long conversation and an emotional exchange. Coffee ads have been trying to capture this mysterious phenomenon for decades. For many of us there’s an “aha moment” when smell, taste and touch transport us and suddenly we’re discovering coffee for the very first time. In that instance there’s a line drawn between the old world and this new reality, and a sense that we can never turn back.
Our Green Coffee Buyer, Dan Streetman, was looking to provide this sensation for Irving Farm customers through the reliably bold flavor profiles of Ethiopian naturals. After sampling various Ethiopian lots in 2012 he discovered the outstanding Amaro Gayo. In 2013 he traveled to see this region in person and meet the producer, Asnakech Thomas, and he had his own aha moment as a buyer upon learning that the story behind the coffee reflected the remarkable and rare quality in the cup.
The Amaro Mountains are a small range in southwestern Ethiopia that divide the communities of Amaro on the eastern slopes and the Nechisar National Park in the west. This area of waterfalls and highland bamboo forests is separated from Yirga Chefe—Ethiopia’s most densely populated and celebrated coffee producing region—by a wide, unrelenting desert.
Asnakech grew up in Amaro and left Africa for several years before deciding to return in 2005. She was fueled by a desire to improve the lives of others by creating sustainable jobs, raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and providing access to health care for the women of Amaro. Women’s health issues are of paramount concern in this area where the nearest hospital is over 70 miles away, an impossible distance when it comes to prenatal concerns and childbirth.
She employs 32 full-time staff and over 200 seasonal workers between September and March, with a large number of jobs being filled by women. All the coffee that comes through Asnakech’s mill is naturally processed with the seed fully encased in its fruit and skin, and then it’s sun-dried on raised beds which allows for complete aeration above and below. She works with over 500 registered farmers and maintains a high level of quality control over each small crop. In a country where most farmers sell their coffee cherry to co-op washing stations, who in turn sell the processed coffee to unions, Asnakech is in a highly unusual position as a woman, a farmer, the owner of a washing station, and an independent exporter—she inhabits all of these roles herself, which is virtually unheard of in Ethiopia.
This is a big, fruity coffee, and over the years we’ve tasted some lots that are brighter and more acidic while others have had a pronounced herbal spiciness. It’s been used by Pastry Chef Laurie Jon Moran at Le Bernadin, and last summer it was a featured ingredient in bartender & barista Amanda Witt’s Purple Reign cocktail at Amor y Amargo in the East Village where it mingled with Zucca, Cocchi Rosa and dry vermouth. It’s incredibly versatile.
This year the intensity of the sweetness is really coming through. It still has the anticipated blueberry notes and juicy body, but on top of that it’s just so sweet—the perfect summer single origin espresso or iced pour-over. If you’ve had our Amaro Gayo in the past, get ready to welcome back an old friend. If this is your first time, get ready to say, “Whoa, I didn’t know coffee could taste like this!”
The sheer scope of what Asnakech is doing is impressive on its own, but the real aha moment for us is that all of this hard work, integrity and heart truly comes through in the taste. Somehow this coffee manages to capture the spirit of Asnakech’s story. It’s a manifestation of her vision. It’s inspiration in the cup.