Ethiopia was the first country that taught me how distinct and wide-ranging differences in region could mean to a cup. This was instrumental in helping me teach my palate about coffee as I went along my path towards, well, wherever I am now, I guess. Harar was the coffee that I really knew from my first impression. It was what we sold and roasted and it was always easy to pick out on the cupping table blind. When you could pick Harar out of a lineup, you felt like you really knew what you were doing, but it wasn't really that meaningful as long as you had half an ounce of ability.
Harar was still a good teacher and I think having a few slam dunks along the way to any sort of education can do wonders for your confidence. Though for a cupper, once you go past Harar, which is always a natural, you've got a huge array of other sorts of tastes and characteristics. And those coffees may be naturals too, though more often than not they'd turn out to be fully washed coffees, which gives you an even wider range of beauty to discover in Ethiopia.
When I was learning to cup coffees, picking out Tarrazus from Tres Rios coffees seemed like graduate school, while with a table full of Ethiopian coffees, a cupper could pretty much always pull out the Harar, and more often than not, at least be able to tell the Yirgacheffe from the Sidamo and tell which ones were naturals. This conference is supposed to be focusing on the now-elusive taste of Harar. While I agree it's been more elusive lately than it was ten years ago, I know it can still be found. I look forward to the discussions of why people think this is. Want my theories? I think its complex. C'mon, I went to Evergreen - what did you expect? It's the condition of the soil and how, after all these years of calling Ethiopian coffees passive organic or traditional organic, the soil doesn’t consist the same stuff it used to be. I have every chance to stand corrected on this point, because I haven't actually been here to confirm for myself until now, but I know this about soil - you have to pay great attention to the soil whenever you're growing anything. My hunch is that the soil here has been left to its own for too long and has been depleted of enough of its important components to produce great coffee. It's also the weather - and how it impacts not only growing and drying of the Harar coffee, but it also the impact it has on coffee as it waits to be transported or while sitting in warehouses. The weather can change everything. It can extend or shrink a growing seaso. It can rain too much or too little, early in the process, as well as late. Things can also screw up after picking, as we learned in 2007. Basically, I'd ask to see the charts for the last thirty years regarding rainfall amounts and general times of year, as well as charts showing temperature swings from high to low and how those curves have changed from year to year. These are my hunches.