Ethiopia Nansebo as Espresso: A Closer Look


Sept. 28, 2017

East African espressos aren’t for everyone. I get it. The acidity level of washed Kenyas and Yirga Cheffes 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 single origin (SO) espresso worth considering.

As brewed coffee, Nansebo stands out. It has some of the hallmark characteristics of Sidamas – foral, stone fruit, citrus and more – but in lower volume than others on our list. But what really stood out 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 big body regardless of roast level, and you have a great SO 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 (“stretched” meaning I drew out the time after first crack by dropping heat in order to develop sweetness). I’m roasting in a Quest M3s sample roaster with a batch size of 85 grams, and using only airflow adjustments to influence roast development (you can read more about that on our Shrub site, here).

My City+ roast had a first crack (1C) time of 6:15, temperature of 396F, and finish time of 9:00 minutes, temp 419F. Full City roasting was achieved with a 1C time of 6:05, temp 395F, and finish time of 9:40, 428F. I maxed airflow across the drum at the beginning of 1C, a minute sooner than the City+ roast, in order to draw out sweetness and mute perceived acidity.

my “double-barrell”, two Quest M3s sample roasting home setup

I used the Flair Portable Espresso Maker for pulling the shots. I know, small basket, no boiler to regulate temperature…how can you pull a good shot on that? Well, we’ve used one of these for a few months now, doing enough side-by-side testing with a Rocket Evoluzione can honestly say 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 this little machine, and it’s certainly suitable for the purpose of this blog post!

All shots were pulled with 15 grams of coffee going in, and though I did not weigh the volume of extracted coffee coming out (it’s hard to fit my medium-sized scale in the space under the Flair brew head), I have in the past and am generally in the 17 – 20 gram range.


Shot 1: – Pulling shots on the shorter side (<15 grams) yields mouth puckering results. I enjoy ristretto shots myself, but this was much too short for me, and actually an accident of my grind setting being too fine! Concentrated citric brightness is way out front, and any other flavor notes are difficult to parse out. It’s creamy in texture for sure, but any actual flavor notes are difficult to focus in on through a dominant and lingering metallic taste.

Shot 2: – The parameters of my second attempt were much more in line with what I’m used to. I probably pulled close to 20 grams of espresso over the course of 30 seconds, steady pressure applied to the lever the entire time. Still bright from the outset, the tart flavors that followed were like underripe Naval orange, lemon bar, and a hint of unsweetened cranberry juice. A chocolate cookie flavor comes into the play partway into the sip, giving off a mix of chocolate and lemon wafer cookies. A perfumed floral note pushes through in the aftertaste too, and then quickly disappears.


 the Flair portable espresso maker – aluminum body + steel brewing chamber = portable and functional espresso machine!

Full City

Shot 1: – The volume yield 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 flavor at the top of the taste, but is 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, stone fruit nectar, and a ribbon of dark chocolate threaded through each layer, and a sort of mortar to this complex 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 2 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 shot to be delicious, but surprisingly non-jarring acidity-wise, and I thought I’d see how much of that I could push to the front by pulling a shorter volume over the same amount of time. I was surprisded to see that at this roast level, the citrus appeal found in the first shot was nearly lost altogether. There were faint berry tones mixed in with much more dominant cocoa roast tones, and a savory miso flavor. Like my first accidental ristretto shot of the City+ roast, metallic flavors were also a bit strong, killing any real enjoyment for me.

In short, Nansebo can bear citrus flavors and acidic 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 it’s a great option for those who enjoy light roasted espresso as well as SO espressos from Ethiopia. Just a couple shades darker and the sweetness really opens up, honeyed and resonant, as do more dark fruited allusions. Citrus notes still show, but in much lower intensity – i.e. in flavor but less so acidity-wise. 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 coffee option, and definitely worth considering by those looking for an entry to East African espresso.

You can read more about Ethiopia Sidama Nansebo as well as place an order for it HERE.