by Dan Wood
East African espressos aren't for everyone. I get it. The acidity level of washed Kenyas and Yirga Cheffe's can be overwhelming, especially when roasted anywhere north of Full City+. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, and when it comes to espresso, our recent arrival Ethiopia Sidama Nansebo is an Ethiopian SO espresso worth considering.
As brewed coffee, Nansebo stands out. It has some of the hallmark cup characteristics of Sidamas - floral, stone fruit, citrus, and more - but in lower volume than others on our list. But what really stood out to us is your ability to easily manipulate the cup characteristics with roast development, taking a bright, citric cup, to a muted, bodied, and incredibly honey-sweet coffee with just a few shades of roast development. Add to this versatility a big-body regardless of roast level, and you have a great espresso candidate.
For the sake of showcasing this flavor shift by roast development, I roasted one batch to City+, and the other a stretched Full City. I'm roasting in a Quest M3s sample roaster, so batch size is small (85 grams), and only airflow adjustments were used to influence roast development. Our City+ roast had a first crack time of 6:15, temperature of 396F, and finish time of 9:00, temperature of 419F. Full City roasting was achieved with a first crack time of 6:05, temperature of 395F, and finish time of 9:40, temperature of 428F. I maxed airflow across the drum at the beginning of first crack, a minute sooner than the City+ roast, in order to draw out sweetness and further mute perceived acidity (I found that maxing Quest's fan speed/airflow through the drum slows ROR by about 2 degrees per minute in comparison to setting the fan speed dial to 0...but we'll save that discussion for a different Quest M3s blog!).
And full disclosure, we used the Flair portable espresso maker for pulling shots. I know, small basket, no boiler to regulate water temperature...how can you pull a good shot on that? Well, we've sat with this machine for a few months now, and done enough side by side testing with our Rocket Evoluzione to know that with proper preparation, the Flair is capable of producing impressive results. Our staff are continually wowed by our ability to yield good espresso extraction with the Flair, and it's certainly a suitable machine for the purpose of this comparison.
All shots pulled were 15 grams going in, and though I didn't weigh the volume of extracted coffee coming out (it's hard to fit my scale under the brew head of the flair), I have in the past, and I'm generally in the 17 - 20 gram range.
Shot 1: - Pulling shots on the short side (<15 grams) yields mouth puckering results. I enjoy ristretto shots myself, but this was much too short for me, and an accident of my grind setting being off! Citric brightness dominates and is way out front, and flavor notes are difficult to parse out. It's creamy in texture for sure, but any actual flavor notes are hard to focus in on through a lingering metallic taste.
Shot 2: - The parameters of my second pass were much more in-line with what I'm used to. I probably pulled close to 20 grams in 30 seconds, steady pressure applied to the lever the whole time. Still quite bright from the outset, the the tart flavors that followed were like underripe Naval orange, lemon bar, and unsweetened cranberry juice. A chocolate cookie flavor comes into play part way into the sip, giving off a mix of mild chocolate wafers/lemon wafers flavors. A perfumed floral note pushes through in the aftertaste too, but quickly disappears.
Full City -
Shot 1: The volume yielded on my initial shot was on par with my 2nd shot of the lighter roast, building an extremely creamy mouthfeel and each small sip produced an overwhelming amount of flavor. There's a tangy orange characteristic at the top of the taste, but much more a precursor to an expansive flavor matrix loaded with dark fruit and chocolate characteristics. The flavors unfold as you move through each drink; first dark orange, then blueberry, cranberry lambic, peach nectar, and a ribbon of dark chocolate threading through each layer, adding a sort of mortar to the overall flavor compound. An accompaniment of honeyed sweetness is also memorable, as are bitter to sweet cacao flavors that seem to expand the longer you savor them. A full two minutes later and I'm still tasting bittersweet chocolate, a wisp of unsweetened baking cocoa shows just before the cup flavors disappear entirely.
Shot 2: I found the previous shots to be delicious, but surprisingly non-jarring, and figured I'd see if a super short shot changed this aspect. I was surprised to see that the citrus appeal was nearly lost altogether. There were faint berry tones intermixed with much more dominant cocoa roast tones, and a savory miso flavor. Like my first accidental ristretto shot of the City+ roast, metallic flavors also come into play, killing any real enjoyment for me.
In short, Nansebo can bear citrus flavors and citric impressions in titanic proportion when roasted light. It's a big bodied coffee to begin with, and light roasting does little to hinder this, so a great option for those who both enjoy Ethiopian SO espresso as well as light roasted espresso. Just a couple shades darker, and the sweetness really opens up, honeyed and resonant, as do more dark fruited allusions. Citrus notes still show up, but in much lower intensity - i.e. in flavor but not so much in acidic impression. I found more berry and stone fruit flavors in our Full City roasts, as well as deliciously bittersweet cocoa flavors. Overall Nansebo is incredibly versatile, a great dual use option, and definitely worth considering by those looking to have an Ethiopian coffee on their espresso bar.
Ethiopia Sidama Nansebo is available in 100 LB and 50 LB bags, as well as samples. Ordering info and full review HERE.