Reserve and Education Lot Additions: Exquisite Coffees from Africa

By Evan Howe

Passenger’s latest collection of Reserve and Education Lots offers a compelling exploration of the diverse flavors that can be found in coffees representing four of Africa’s most significant coffee-producing nations. The seven coffees that make up this menu release include: two superlative microlots from the Long Miles Coffee Project in Burundi, a unique Ethiopian coffee specially acquired for Decaf lovers, Passenger’s first menu offering from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and three vibrant AA screen separations from the storied Kenyan producing region of Nyeri.

Burundi: Gitwe and Nkonge

As one of the six Foundational Partners that forms the heart of Passenger’s coffee sourcing program, the Long Miles Coffee Project is the ongoing producer of Heza: an annual harvest selection from Burundi that, with the benefit of green coffee preservation in frozen storage, is one of the finest coffees on our menu, and available year-round. Named after one of three processing sites managed by the Long Miles team, the Heza Foundational lot is always traceable to one of five distinct communities of smallholder farmers that live in the hills surrounding the washing station. Gitwe and Nkonge are the names of two of the hill communities that deliver coffee to Heza washing station during the harvest season.

With the addition of two immaculate 2022 harvest selections from Gitwe Hill and Nkonge Hill to the Reserve Lot menu, intriguing opportunities for comparative tasting emerge. Try tasting Gitwe and Nkonge together to experience the subtle differences in cup profile that reflect the particular microclimates of individual hills. Or consider tasting one or both of them alongside Passenger’s current Heza Foundational lot, to compare sparkling coffees from the 2022 harvest alongside one of the finest lots of 2021 (in this case, also representing Nkonge Hill).

Ethiopia: Halo EA Decaf

We’re incredibly proud of Passenger’s year-round Los Sueños Decafoffering. It’s not just a great decaf; it’s a delightfully sweet and balanced cup of coffee, full stop. And over the past year we’ve been particularly pleased that the Colombian coffees that are decaffeinated and ultimately roasted for Los Sueños are now entirely produced by our Foundational Partners in Divino Niño, Suaza. While Los Sueños isn’t going anywhere, we thought it would be fun to bring in something new and interesting for our diehard decaf drinkers (and occasional decaf enthusiasts!) to try for a limited time.

Passenger’s Education Lot menu was created as a home for coffees that highlight something of interest regarding plant genetics, unique microclimates, comparative or experimental explorations of processing, or coffee producing regions of historical significance. While this coffee, produced at the Halo Hartume washing station in Gedeb, Ethiopia, ‘ticks the Education Lot box’ on multiple fronts, we were especially interested by the plant genetics of this coffee and by the way it was processed. Like Los Sueños, this coffee was decaffeinated using the ethyl acetate or “EA” method that is commonly employed in Colombia. But here the similarities largely stop. Unlike Los Sueños, which is a “field blend” of common Colombian coffee varieties such as castillo, caturra, and var. colombia, Halo EA is composed of Ethiopian landrace varieties and selected varieties from the Jimma Agricultural Research Center (JARC). And while Los Sueños is composed of coffees that have been wet processed (or “washed”), Halo EA was prepared as a dry processed (or “natural") coffee, prior to decaffeination. For coffee drinkers that are accustomed to classic Colombia EA decafs (like Los Sueños) that have become rather ubiquitous on the specialty market, Halo EA offers a fascinating opportunity to taste something quite different, and to evaluate the extent to which plant genetics and different processing approaches seem apparent and enjoyable in the final decaffeinated cup.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Mapendo

Mapendo, which translates to “Love” in the native Swahili language, is the first coffee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo that Passenger has had the privilege of roasting. This coffee was sourced with the support of Mighty Peace Coffee, a specialty importer that was born out of the Congolese peace movement with the goal of using specialty coffee production in DR Congo to make a positive impact on the lives of those affected by years of conflict in the region. Around 4,200 farmers, about 40% of whom are women, contributed to the 16 different separations that were blended to create this Mapendo community offering. 

The specific lot selected by Passenger’s green buying team was titled “Mapendo 1800”, denoting that our lot separation consisted solely of coffee cherries grown at 1800 masl or above. With growing elevations for Mapendo ranging from 1450 - 1800 masl, the lively acidity and deep sweetness of this separation is almost certainly traceable to higher elevation cherry selection (slower cherry maturation at higher altitudes tends to yield added complexity and sweetness to the cup).

Kenya: Gaithaithi AA, Ichamara AA, and Dedan Kimathi University AA

Last, but certainly not least, are three superb coffees from Kenya, and more specifically, the renowned Kenyan coffee-producing region of Nyeri County. Gaithaithi AA, Ichamara AA, and Dedan Kimathi University AA are the last three lots that Passenger’s green buying team selected from the 2022 harvest, and we are thrilled to share them now, as the 2023 Kenyan harvest is already well underway. As is always the case with Passenger menu releases, the fact that these coffees are hitting the menu at a time when vibrant, fresh-tasting Kenyan coffees are not generally available in the U.S. should not be a reason for quality concerns. These lots, like all Passenger coffees, have been carefully preserved in deep-freeze storage since their arrival at our roastery and they are bursting with the juicy, fruit-driven flavors that make great Kenyan coffees so special.

In Kenya, a “lot” is made from a larger batch of coffee that is delivered to the dry-mill from a cooperative or estate on a given day. When a delivery arrives at the mill, it is processed (hulled), analyzed (technically and sensorially), screened (separated according to bean size) and given an outturn-number. Within the leathery skin of the coffee fruit, two seeds can typically be found. These seeds are, of course, what we roast, grind, and prepare as coffee. Competing for space, the two seeds contained within one round cherry force each other to develop with one flat side. The flat sides rest against each other while the opposite sides develop rounded. Occasionally (roughly 5% of the time) only one seed develops within the cherry. Without another seed competing for space, this single seed develops in a round, pea-like shape.

Kenyan specialty coffee lots are typically from one of three screen sizes: AA, AB or PB. AAs are flat beans with screen size 18+, ABs are flat beans with screen sizes 16 and 17 (16, 17, and 18 here refer to 64ths of an inch). PBs are the aforementioned singular, round peaberries. Though it was long believed that bean size directly correlated to quality, we at Passenger are less than convinced that this is true. Having tasted many thousand Kenyan samples blind over the years, we do not see any meaningful correlation between seed size and quality. While qualities certainly vary from screen size to screen size, we have not found that quality itself follows any sort of expected relationship with size.

The three Kenyan lots that we are adding to the menu at time of writing are all examples of the AA screen size. And while they share this similarity, as well as the same regional origin in Nyeri County, they are certainly distinct in the cup. Taken together with the other memorable coffees in this newest collection of Reserve and Education releases from Africa, the menu has gained a wealth of delightful new flavor profiles to explore.

Reserve and Education Lot Additions: Exquisite Coffees from Africa