For the last day of our cupping class last week, we spent the day focusing on coffees from Harar itself. On the final cupping table were three clean, specialty-grade coffees from this region. If you drink Harar coffees in the United States, you might get the impression that it's one monolithic region. Certainly the coffees are almost always simply billed as "Ethiopian" or "Ethiopian Harrar." I can't recall ever seeing a bag of roasted coffee that offered more information than that. Of course, this is usually not the roaster's fault. It can be difficult to get more specific information about geographical origins here.
Nevertheless, there is a noticeable difference between East Harar and West Harar, one that the coffee professionals here have no trouble distinguishing. Also included under the umbrella of "Harar" coffees are coffees from the regions of Bale and Arsi. If you look at a map of Ethiopia, you can see just how far these regions are from the central areas surrounding Harar city and Dire Dawa. These coffees get exporter as "Harar," but the locals often consider them to be separate origins.
Of the three coffees on that final table, one was from East Harar, one from West Harar, and one from Arsi. Most of the cuppers, myself included, gave all these coffees a score of 80 or above, qualifying them as "specialty grade." I very much enjoyed the West Harar coffee, and found the Arsi coffee to be perfectly fine.
But it was the East Harar coffee that truly stood out. This is the magical flavor profile that buyers in the States are so desirous of, and so frustrated about when they cannot find it. Think blueberries, cherries, chocolate. The mouthfeel is rich and creamy, and the flavors relatively heavy, but the acidity still has a bright clarity that enlivens the whole cup. The aroma notes I wrote included toast, honey, caramel, and the aforementioned berries and chocolate. I'm a pretty harsh grader most of the time, but this coffee was to me a solid 89.
Most of the class agreed. I had a conversation today with a friend here about not wanting to ignore the very good quality that comes out of West Harar and Arsi. There are some excellent specialty grade coffees to be had from this region, and they are at risk of being overshadowed by East Harar, which would be a shame. But I have to give credit where credit is due. The East Harar coffee is indeed special. My few sips from the cupping cup I had of it were the most memorable sips I have had in a week of excellent coffee here.
So there you have it, the gem-like quality of East Harar coffee, this week's coffee of the week.