This Week's Coffee: Biloya Natural Sundried at Coffee Cultures
Seven years ago, a special coffee roared out of a small village in Ethiopia -- Biloya -- and dropped into the It Girl seat of the coffee world, if just for a moment. The coffee ran its course for a few years, basking in the world's affection, and slid back under the radar when that flavor grew more elusive. Now, it's back.
Two years ago, Counter Culture Coffee started working with the Biloya Cooperative in order to resurrect the magic of years past, and committed to buying the first natural processed coffee the cooperative attempted (natural process being the process by which coffee is dried in the fruit surrounding it, in lieu of washing it off, imparting bigger, distinctive fruit flavors). The samples from Biloya were all grand and fantastic, but shipping the stock was too slow and dampened the coffee's "je ne sais quoi," keeping it from ever landing on the main stage. Despite the slight letdown, Counter Culture committed to another lot this year, and landed a grand surprise: a big, bright, jammy coffee. Like sap in a mug.
Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, and as such, is a country with a (highly ceremonial) coffee culture braided deep into its history. Ethiopia is even more unusual as a country that drinks as much as, if not more than, it exports. Biloya sits shoulder to shoulder with Yirgacheffe, the town that reshaped Ethiopian coffee industry by building a washing station, introducing a process popularized by Latin America. Washed coffees (pulp removed before drying), have the habit of producing a cleaner, lighter bodied cup, and easily discernible flavors. Coffee left to dry in the sun, like this one, resting, marinating in its own fruit, grows a big body stuffed with something like steroidal fruit.
This particular coffee out of Biloya includes coffees from both the lowest valleys and peaks of the highest elevation that Counter Culture buys from, unusual in its own right, and possibly responsible for the dynamic, distinctive flavors. The Biloya Cooperative includes about 1,200 members, growing coffee inside a diverse, mostly shaded, ecosystem. Coffee suffers as a monocrop, so the shade canopy and subsistence farming that coexist with it do well to encourage sustainable practices and plump the soil with all the right nutrients.
Biloya makes for a perfect bridge cup -- a coffee that smooths the transition between those dark and toasty roasts and the puckered up, fruit-in-the-face character of some third wave coffee. It's sweet, redolent of blueberries, with a strong body, thrumming with bittersweet chocolate. Order a pour over at Coffee Cultures in the FiDi, stand close by, and you might catch a whiff of syrup bubbling in a saucepan. Particular baristas are even known to grind it straight on the frozen yogurt for a coffee nerd's equivalent of a blueberry smoothie. Against the likely backdrop of Tom Waits' gritty croon, it's a sweet, sweet thing.