New Crop, Traditional ‘Spro

Fine-tuning Zingerman’s Espresso Blend #1, Year After Year
Steve Mangigian, Managing Partner


Zingerman’s has been working with Daterra Estate for 15 years since the inception of the Coffee Company. Our partnership with Daterra is a testament to what the term “relationship coffee” is all about. From our days as a micro-roaster in the corner of the Zingerman’s Mail Order warehouse back in 2003, and through the sizeable growth we have seen since, our partnership has grown as we have grown. The strength of the relationship starts on the farm’s cupping table.

Every year, I trek down to the farm during the harvest season to select the varietals which make up our Espresso Blend #1 coffee.

It’s quite the journey to get to the there which includes a connection in the states as well as 2-3 connections in Brazil culminating in a three hour car ride to the farm. From my front door to the gate of the farm, it’s about an 24-28 hour trip, daunting to any seasoned traveler. But, WOW, is it worth it!

How I spend my time at the farm has often varied.  In past years, part of my time was spent touring the farm (which, is actually split into 3 farms, and from there 300 “mini” farms). Nowadays, virtually all of my time is spent in the Daterra cupping lab, experimenting with different blends. It starts with tasting every coffee the farm has harvested (sometime up to 30 varietals) then narrowing down “finalist” coffees that I feel are either tasting superior this year or get us to our desired mark of producing a traditional northern Italian style espresso. I then prepare individual coffees as shots of espresso and play with different coffees to blend to the outcome we are looking for.

Two young baristas smiling and holding espresso pitchers

In Brazil, coffee primarily is an export – historically there was no real culture behind it, but a barista culture catching on there as we have it here in the States.

Why go through all this year after year? Well, for one, it’s really fun.  Though, more importantly the Espresso Blend #1 is an important coffee for us, as it makes up 30% of our coffee sales! It’s crucial that we taste (“cup”) the individual varietals every year, as each harvest brings distinctive, and sometimes surprising, flavors for us to consider – and it’s our goal to make sure that the blend has a consistent profile, year after year. The result? We aim for an espresso that is syrupy, sweet, velvety, full-bodied, and a little nutty.

I’m more excited than I ever have been for this year’s blend, which will be comprised of 100 percent “natural” processed coffees, meaning the coffee cherries were dried whole, with the fruit still surrounding the bean. The blend hits our mark when brewed as an espresso, but it tastes exceptional as a brewed coffee, too. It has caramelly sweetness and notes of cocoa in the body.  Overall the brew is smooth, balanced, and lingers on the palate.

Next time you stop by the cafe, order an espresso (we serve ‘em with delicious & adorable espresso shortbread star cookies from our friends next door at the Zingerman’s Bakehouse!) and enjoy it as the Northern Italians do – standing at our bar-side table. For comparison, be sure to grab a bag of Espresso Blend #1 for home (we can grind the beans for you if you don’t have a coffee grinder at home). Let us know how you prefer it!

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Ethiopia Yirgacheffe

A captivating coffee of the month!
Ari Weinzweig, CEO & Co-Founder of Zingerman’s 

ethiopia yirgacheffe

Ever since I started paying attention to, and appreciating, the flavors of regional beans, the nuances of various roast levels, the variations of crop years, and the other elements that make up an exceptional cup, Ethiopian coffees have kept their spot at the top of my personal taste list. Their remarkable, winy, at times blueberry-like, big flavors aren’t, I know, for everyone, but they’re definitely for me. I love ’em. This one’s been brightening my days since it hit the counters on the 1st of February.

Having been to Ethiopia three and a half years ago, I see with even more certainty why the coffees are so special. Not only do they taste great, but they have a fantastic socio-cultural history as well. Ethiopia is the literal homeland of coffee. It’s where the coffee plant probably originated, and pretty surely where coffee was first consumed as a beverage. As the story goes, a young goat herder named Kaldi noticed his goats frolicking more than usual after eating the berries of a certain bush. He picked the berries and brought them to an Islamic monk who showed his disapproval by tossing them into the fire, from whence the first coffee roasting commenced. Somehow Kaldi decided to grind and brew the toasted beans and, apocryphally at least, coffee was born. Ethiopia is also the place from which Yemeni traders took coffee to Europe and the rest of the world. All of which is why coffee, quite simply, means about 88 times more in Ethiopia than it does anywhere else in the world.

The traditional accompaniment for coffee in Ethiopia? Not a croissant, not vanilla syrup, not a cookie (though that Kifli would be an amazing accompaniment). It’s popcorn. That’s right. If you order coffee in a traditional setting, say after dinner, it will come with a bowl of popcorn. And while that may seem odd, I’ll tell you that it’s delicious. Sample some topped with one of the amazing spices from the folks at Épices de Cru alongside your next cup.

This month’s roaster’s pick is a particularly lovely bunch of beans from the Yirgacheffe district. The town of Yirgacheffe is about 250 miles south and slightly west of Addis Abbaba—roughly an eight-hour drive on Ethiopian roads. It comes to us from Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Union. It’s likely the home region to many of the first coffee trees, and the coffee does have a clarity and elegance that’s rather extraordinary. Carmelly and smooth with a bit of delicate cocoa-like deliciousness, and a slight, bright hint of citrus at the end. Everyone at the Coffee Company is talking about it. Barista Cholie Diaz loves it brewed in a Clever. I’ve been enjoying it as Pour-Over. Any way you brew it, it’s wonderful.

Excerpt from Ari’s weekly Top 5 E-Newsletter. To stay in-the-know about things that Ari is excited about in the Zingerman’s family, sign up here!