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INTRODUCING MR. GIRMA ESHETU
ENTREPRENEUR, STORYTELLER (OH, AND FARMER)
Last year Girma’s coffee knocked us off our feet. Last year was Girma’s first time to export, and we grabbed all of it. Both washed and natural.
The first thing that you need to know about the titular Girma Eshetu’s farm is that it’s a touch remote, in the far west of the country. To be fair – the horses were tiny. Still – it’s at least 1.5 hours on horseback from the nearest access road. Luggage comes via donkey, meandering through the Keffa forest. Picture narrow dusty roads, switchbacking through rolling mature forest, with a 150 ft canopy above, complete with the occasional family of Colobus monkeys. You pass seedling nurseries, cross streams, the whole thing. One of the most beautiful coffee settings you can imagine.
Girma’s farm is less an indication of his quality than Girma the man. To be clear, his farm is nothing to shake a stick at. Nice processing equipment, good water management, composting system, plenty of raised-bed drying. It’s just that Girma is a really impressive person. His coffee is exceptional, and he’d never settle for less.
His story starts with ‘Yerges’ the nickname for the popular local beer brand, St. George. In Guji, Girma put himself through university – this first generation of his family to do so. He lands a job in production for the St. George factory. During a career of 30+ years, he rises into management, and pursues his grad degree on the side, for engineering. Moonlighting, Girma starts to design coffee processing equipment, and establishes a company “Girma Eshetu Manufacturing,” his first successful product was a small coffee pulping machine – you’ll see them around Ethiopia – made of cast iron & steel, stamped “G.E.M.” Now fully employed by his own firm, Girma starts hunting for raw materials to lower his production costs – which brings him to the Keffa Zone to buy metals. This is where the story gets serendipitous…
Girma says “I kept seeing people that looked like me.” He never knew where his father’s family was from (he and his mother were relocated to another region of the country after his father died fighting with the military, and his mother never told him much about where he was born). He asked about his grandfather – did anyone know of him here? He meets a woman, who can’t recall the family name, but tells the same story about his grandfather that he had heard as a child. At that point, he says, he knew he wanted to return to his ancestral lands, somehow. Why not grow coffee?
We spent a night with Girma, arriving on horseback about an hour before dark. That evening Ethiopia got its first rain showers in over 4 months. Girma’s son, Natneal, called us Haile Selassie – saying that like Haile, we brought rain in a drought. He was joking of course – but I like the sound of Ras Taylor all the same.
This year, we grabbed all of Girma’s production again, about 380 bags, of that we have close to 70 bags remaining. Cupping results were stellar (complex, floral, bright, juicy kiwi, honey, black tea, bergamot, viscous, molasses) – even as many others in Jimma zone saw frost damage, and fading from accelerated drying with the dry heat. We’ll be visiting Girma again this year when production is in full swing, to see if there are areas in his process that we can improve and to conduct yeast experimentation trials. When you taste Girma’s exceptional coffee, keep in mind this is literally his second harvest – and he’s only getting better!