If you would like more than 8 samples, please contact a trader directly.
Before Covid, we would invite buyers to Brooklyn every winter to taste through offer samples from Ethiopia. We’d present 30 or 40 coffees across tables at the Wythe Hotel or some other venue, hoping we planned enough water and coffee and time to get through them all and provide a meaningful glimpse at the coming year’s imports.
Our aim for these cupping events was to build community around the coffees and thus help build volume toward our import. Inevitably, though, as well thought-out and planned as they were, cupping in that context—with that many coffees, and with that many buyers present, and a limited amount of time—is challenging. And with limited sample material of each coffee available, even if you were interested in contracting a coffee and wanted to re-cup it in your own lab, there wouldn’t be enough PSS to go around.
During our most recent visit to Ethiopia, in the midst of harvest in December, we reflected on the lessons we’d learned from previous imports and some of the lingering problems we hoped to solve—and dreamed of a better way to present our partners’ coffees. So we put together a tasting kit—a complete picture of the coffees from Ethiopia we’ve already approved, sent to milling in Addis, and booked for shipping—our way to do that.
There may still be tasting kits available—reach out to your trader for more information.
Ethiopia’s 2022-2023 harvest was one defined by economic pressures: inflation, a shortage of foreign currency, and cherry prices that exceeded last year’s already high prices by more than 200%. A paradox of coffee production is that higher prices tend to lead to lower qualities, the effects of which have been observed by some buyers who have noted that quality from Ethiopia has apparently not lived up to expectations over the last few years.
It’s our ambition and our belief that the coffees on our offer sheet will change your mind—and that you’ll think about coffees from Ethiopia differently as we head into the 2023 import. We hope you enjoy tasting through these samples. If you like any of them, you can book them immediately—first come, first served—by reaching out to your trader (note that for many, only extremely limited quantities are available).
These coffees are already on their way—we expect to receive the first landed lots by the end of May.
Tag us on Instagram (@croptocup) during your cupping or drop us a line afterward to let us know what you thought of this tasting experience.
If you’d like to book any of these coffees, reach out to your trader at Crop to Cup. Many of these coffees are available in very limited quantities and will be contracted first come, first served.
Few places in the world offer the quality and diversity of flavor profiles of Ethiopia, the birthplace of Arabica coffee. Coffee is Ethiopia’s main export commodity and critically important to the country’s economy, with approximately 4 million smallholders growing more than 95% of the country’s coffee. Despite its importance, lack of financing opportunities, the liquidity of other cash crops such as khat, and economic disruption are pressuring growers to abandon coffee cultivation, creating an opportunity for specialty actors to work at community-level.
Over our nine years working there, Ethiopia’s coffee export system has changed from a largely opaque, centralized system with nearly all coffee flowing through the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange to a more liberalized model allowing growers and private washing stations to, once again as before ECX, self-export their coffee and engage directly with buyers.
Our earlier relationships were with unions and cooperatives within those unions as well as larger single-farmer estates in the West, who, thanks to a government program started to protect remaining forestlands through commercial coffee agroforestry, were able to hold export licenses. The ECX system, while intended to provide a standardized minimum price for coffee across the country, made traceability and transparency challenging if not impossible through its system of aggregation and auctions. By purchasing through these two channels we were able to develop relationships directly with producers and producer groups with traceability and transparency.
In 2018, after the government relaxed its export regulations and once again allowed private washing stations to export the coffee they processed and also allowed smaller growers to self-export, we expanded our work, establishing relationships with both private washing stations and individual smallholders.
For our 2023 import, we focused on cultivating and growing relationships with individual smallholder-exporters as well as cooperatives who have taken the step to break away from unions and self-export. By eliminating layers of bureaucracy, we are able to ensure the premiums we pay impact the communities of the people producing the coffee, collaborate on processing experiments and lot separations, and grow our impact through projects executed by our roaster-supported working groups.
Sourcing Philosophy & Green Quality Standards
We use a relationship and impact model of purchasing. This means we aim to: work as closely and directly with suppliers as possible; buy from those same producers each year; and provide support, financing or other resources to those partners based on the year’s commitments, toward improving both financial security and coffee quality.
Like everywhere Crop to Cup operates, in Ethiopia we work to build transparent and traceable supply chains formed around relationships and community impact. Prior to the export laws changing in 2017 it was not possible for smallholders to export directly; after the market liberalization, we were able to engage a broader network of suppliers—so while you’ll see many names on this offer sheet that are returning from previous years, there are a number of new partners, too.
Over our last few years of imports, we’ve collected physical data from each coffee to best understand how to mitigate the risk of coffee fading prior to arrival. Based on that data, we now require coffees to have a moisture content of 10.0-11.0% (measured on a calibrated Draminsky moisture meter) and water activity of less than 0.55 (measured using an Extech RH390). This way, when coffees arrive—even if they do arrive late—they will still taste fresh and vibrant.
At the beginning of harvest, we communicated this drying standard to our suppliers and partners. In order to give our partners the best possible opportunity for success, we:
All of the samples on our offer sheet met this standard.
Every coffee on this Ethiopia Grade 1 offer sheet has been evaluated at least twice by our team in Addis Ababa led by Q-graders Moata Raya and Ansha Yassin. We calibrated with the Addis lab at the start of and throughout the harvest—as well as prior to final contracting.
Ethiopia Sourcing Team
MAYA BLUESTONE rose through Crop to Cup having seen all sides of the company. Maya is more than just a Q-grader: she’s the beating heart of the team, ensuring that we always center our values and mission in our sourcing work, even as we work with our partners to continually increase quality.
CHRISTOPHER FERAN is the newest member of the Crop to Cup team, a “lapsed Q-grader” who comes with a decade of sourcing and buying experience as well as deep knowledge of roasting. He previously operated a multi-unit roaster-retailer and also works as an independent consultant.
BEN HEINS is a Q-grader with deep experience in Ethiopia dating back to Crop to Cup’s first Ethiopian import, Ben’s experience in coffee emerged from his background in sales. Ben leads the sales team at Crop to Cup and is uniquely positioned to push the sourcing team to “meet the moment” with roaster needs and industry bellwethers.
TAYLOR MORK is Crop to Cup’s co-founder whose roots in coffee date back to his time living in Uganda, where he and C2C co-founder Jake saw the potential of specialty coffee to transform the local economy. Fourteen years later, Taylor runs sourcing operations for Ethiopia from our Brooklyn HQ and quality lab, where he also oversees logistics.
MOATA RAYA is a trained agronomist and Q-grader who runs our in-country sourcing operations out of his lab in Addis. Before joining the Crop to Cup team, Moata worked as a technician for Technoserve, helping to establish and train some of the most well known cooperatives and washing stations in Agaro.
Roasting & Cupping Standards
We roast on an Arc S sample roaster and approach the roast hoping to avoid both underdeveloped or roasty character to present the coffees as transparently and cleanly as possible. Our roasts fall into standard roast durations, approximately 8 minutes per batch with 1:10 of development and a final roast color targeting a ground Agtron score of 73.
Our tasting kit was presented randomized and blinded. By presenting coffees agnostic of region, process and producer type, the diversity of Ethiopian coffees is properly contextualized and allowed to shine without any projections, preconceived notions, or bias. Blinding the samples is the only way to truly give every coffee a fair shake.
We also included two packets of Third Wave Water classic for this tasting; we prefer to use it at half strength to provide the best balance of total hardness and buffer.
For cupping, we use and recommend a 1:17 ratio and pour with water at 99ºC. We look for a strength of 1.3% TDS by 12:00 into the extraction; you may need to adjust your grind accordingly. Using a Compak PK1 Lab, our burrs are set to 390um spacing from burr touch.
If you’d like to book any of these coffees, reach out to your trader at Crop to Cup
Rashad Ababulgu, Mustefa Abasadi and Abo Hussein
On our way back to Jimma from visiting producers in Gera, Moata’s phones were ringing constantly. A few of those calls came in from Rashad Ababulgu and Mustefa Abasadi, two coffee farmers located near to the Biftu Gudina Cooperative who had, for years, been selling cherry to Duromina. It was starting to get dark and we had a way left to go, so instead of taking a detour, we arranged to meet them on the side of the road a few kilometers from their farms. Both had received drying materials and support through USAID, gotten export licenses and in the last year had sold coffee for export destined for Korea—and had friends in their community, other smallholders like Abo Hussein, who were similarly positioned to begin direct export. As the direct export market continues to develop in Ethiopia, we’re eager to seek out and deepen relationships with all-star producers who, for years, have contributed coffee to some of the cooperatives best known for quality. With their own export licenses, they’re able to capture higher prices and market their coffee and brand year-over-year to returning buyers like Crop to Cup.
Musa Abalulesa and Mustefa Abalulesa
Musa Abulelessa and his brother Mustefa operate two farms together outside of Beshasha in Agaro, called Koye and Chanko. Before the undergrowth was cleared for coffee, Musa and Mustefa’s jungle parcel at 2,100 meters elevation was a hideout for their father, Abalulesa, a guerilla fighting the oppressive military government of the time called The Derg. Failing to capture him and having lost soldiers in their attempts, the government offered the local community a bounty for Abalulesa’s capture. With his health deteriorating and near death, Abalulessa turned to an old friend and, as thanks for nursing him through his final months, told him to tell the government he had killed him, thus benefiting from the bounty. Abalulessa died in 1977—when Musa was just two years old—and as part of a subsequent amnesty and reconciliation program, the government gave land to the brothers and their mother, which Abalulesa’s sons now farm.
Crop to Cup was Musa’s first direct sale customer in 2016—and Mustefa’s the following year. With the premiums they’ve earned, Musa and Mustefa have begun to renovate their farms using seedlings from their nursery; built new drying beds; purchased shade cloth; and built a larger warehouse. Mustefa has built a dry mill in Agaro aimed at providing feedback to smallholders to help them understand the potential value of their coffee and assist in faster export—and thus, faster payment. Musa and Mustefa also operate a seed production business, selling seeds to the local government seed banks. Musa’s own production is supplemented by his purchase of cherry from 21 outgrowers—all of whom, like his own farm, are certified organic.
After visiting with smallholders and single farmers around Yirgacheffe, we got picked up in a truck driven by Tagel Alemayehu, the owner of Olkai coffee—a former race circuit driver, whose efficiency as a driver is only matched by his humility and warmth. Over dinner at Aragesh Lodge, (in addition to teasing him about his car’s sound system—which sounded as awful as his reflexes were quick), we got to know Tagel better. For Tagel, coffee runs deep: He’d grown up in Bule Hora, the son of a local coffee trader who built the first washing station there and installed the first Pinhalense dry huller in Ethiopia. Starting in 2004, he worked as washing station manager at one of first specialty natural stations in Guji, and founded Olkai in 2018 as the government export regulations opened. Olkai is a family business; his wife works as the export manager. Tagel and Olkai operate a half dozen washing stations in the south dotting many of the most sought-after regions for quality in Guji, Bule Hora and Sidama. Tagel’s ties to the community were forged over 20 years of collecting cherry from these regions. Community members later sold land to make space for him to operate a washing station in their community, and many stopped us along our journey out of Hambella to say hello to Tagel and chat.
The de-facto leader and organizer of a collective of independent smallholder farmer-exporters around Bensa, we’ve been buying Bekele Balacho since 2019—Crop to Cup was his first direct export customer. A family man—he has 11 children with his two wives—Bekele operates his farms and drying stations with the help of his family. His son, Beleteno, who graduated this year from Hawassa University with an economics degree, manages his Hora Ganet farm (which means “Spring Paradise”). Between his farm in Bombe and a smaller, 5 hectare farm in Kokose (with its own drying station), Bekele purchases cherry from more than 100 smallholders, producing a total of 1.5 containers of coffee. Like many collectors in Ethiopia, his bottleneck, with cherry prices as high as they are, is financing. Bekele is a connector and a consummate professional—an ideal partner, willing to engage with every idea for improving his coffee and helping his community. During our visit, Bekele expanded his shaded drying area to cover nearly his entire station, protecting the natural process coffees—traditional, anaerobic and lactic styles—he produced there, and verifying their final moisture content with a moisture meter.
We stopped by Basha’s Bombe drying station on our second day in Bensa in December. Basha’s father—also a community man who with Basha built a church for the community at their site in Bombe—was once a manager for a co-op in Bombe that supplied coffee to the Sidama Union. Before the government made it possible for smallholders to obtain export licenses, both he and his father sold their cherry to the cooperative. Basha now has his own export license and grows coffee (primarily 74158, known locally as “Walega”) in semi-forested plots on 12 hectares in addition to operating collection sites in Bombe, Shantawane, and Kokose—collecting cherry from producers growing coffee as high as 2300 masl. While cherry prices were high this year, Basha maintained a practice we didn’t see everywhere: delivering a second payment to the 126 producers he bought cherry from once the coffee sold. Like most smallholders around Bensa, Basha exclusively produces dry processes—which includes experiments with anaerobic styles of fermentation—and practices cherry flotation before drying his coffee slowly on raised beds (with some preparations drying under shade). This is our first import from Basha.
Just minutes from the gates of the famous Nano Challa cooperative, Kefyalew Deressa’s Genji washing station sits tucked at the edge of the Belete-Gera forest. Kefyalew’s start in coffee came somewhat unexpectedly. While working as a server at Central Jimma Hotel (our hotel of choice while traveling in the West), a representative for Penagos took an interest in him and, toward the end of their conversation, offered him a job as a Penagos technician. He took the job and worked for Technoserve, helping them install and service Penagos ecopulpers across the country and, over time, began to communicate directly with Penagos—eventually becoming the company’s exclusive distributor in Ethiopia. Kefyalew continues to distribute Penagos equipment as well as Draminsky moisture meters and plastic material used for covering raised beds. He bought his washing station in Gera three years ago, installed a Penagos ecopulper, and began production by purchasing cherry from some 250 smallholders. His outgrower program continues even as his own farm, planted with variety 74110, has begun to produce. At Gera Genji, Kefyalew produces washed coffee and naturals, and is experimenting with anaerobic style coffees. This is our second import from Gera Genji.
A former footballer for the local district team, Neja Fadil built his washing station in Uraga in 2017 after working for several years as a coffee collector on commission for other washing stations. The Neja Fadil wet mill has registered about 250 farmers who are located in the villages surrounding the wet mill (in Tobitu Tuta kebele). Growing at altitudes above 2,000 meters, coffee from this region—and in particular, directly surrounding the washing station—is young, only recently having been planted and quickly developing a reputation for quality. As is becoming increasingly common at private washing stations in Ethiopia, Neja’s station is currently expanding registration of farmer suppliers and launching agronomy trainings to expand quality control to the farm level. While we’ve been buying coffee from Neja since 2019, we didn’t have his coffee as part of our 2022 import from Ethiopia; with domestic prices as high as they were, Neja chose to sell coffee to the local market, reinvesting his profits in starting a tire importing business and securing financing to build his own dry mill at a second drying station, which will exclusively produce naturals. We’re thrilled to have his coffee back on our offer sheet for 2023.
The former secretary of the Nano Challa cooperative, Wandamu (whose name means “brother”) now exports coffee from his 11 hectare farm in Gera under his father’s export license. Like many of the higher-quality producers in the West, Wandamu grows variety 74110 under the canopy of Gera’s montane forests. Wandamu, who has four children, comes from an agricultural family—he and his father began to grow coffee 10 years ago after previously growing teff and sorghum. Wandamu is a driven and motivated producers, actively soliciting support and training from local experts—including Moata—and investing in his farm by purchasing USAID-style shade for all of his raised beds and material for performing anaerobic fermentation. All of his coffee is floated, sorted and dried in cherry under shade for 20-22 days.
Last year, we imported coffee from Gemedech Fulasa for the first time. In the Gedeo culture, land inheritance typically passes to male children. But Mrs. Gemedech is an only child, so when her father passed away in 2011, she inherited his 4.5 hectare coffee farm, which sits at a wildly high elevation of 2050 meters. These days, Gemedech shines as one of the few woman coffee farmers—and one of the farmers producing the highest quality—in Yirgacheffe. A mix of Wolisho, Dega and Kurume landraces grow in a regenerative agroforestry at Mrs. Gemedech’s farm under the canopy of fruit and food staples. Fallen leaves and coffee pulp hauled from local mills are the main source of compost. Enset trees across the farm collect water from the rainy season inside their trunks and release it to the ground during the dry season. This helps the soils retain moisture all year round. According to Gemedech, she does not use inorganic fertilizers or pesticides, and, since she processes her harvest using the natural/sundried process, her environmental waste and impact are minimal. By exporting directly through her own export license, Mrs. Gemedech is able to receive 88% of the FOB export price, resulting in substantially increased income compared to the conventional model of selling cherry through the Ethiopia commodity exchange or private washing stations. During our visit in December, she shared with us that she’s expanded her cherry collection efforts to increase her exports—and has separated the coffee from her neighbors from her own into different lots.
The story of Tariku Kare is one of the success that sometimes follows when hard work and perseverance collide with opportunity. Tariku was born in Bombe and, at 15 years old, began working as a cherry sorter for a local cooperative. He worked his way up—first receiving a promotion to wash coffee in the channels, and then when a man from Awassa opened a washing station in Nansebo, Tariku was tapped to manage. Market disruptions led that owner to bankruptcy, so Tariku and 17 other workers at the washing station formed a company and took it over—with Tariku managing. Later, he opened a new washing station by himself—this one, in Arsi—to supply coffee to the international market. Once the mill in Nansebo was stabilized and had enough producers contributing cherry reliably, Tariku returned to his hometown of Bombe and built a washing station there. At his sites, Tariku pays a premium over local prices for ripe red cherry and works hard to incentivize farmers to deliver cherry to his washing stations each year.
Once renowned for its quality, coffee from Adado has fallen out of favor with buyers in recent years due to the emergence of higher elevation farms with newer plantings in other parts of Yirgacheffe and Guji. On our way back from Uraga to Urgalem, we stopped in Bule to meet a friend of one of the producers we’d visited earlier in the week. Walking along a road cut into the side of the mountains, through dense tropical plantings, we arrived at the drying station of Fikadu Legge, a smallholder who just this harvest received his export license. Fikadu was raised in the nearby town of Dilla and after moving to Adado, began bringing bread from Dilla to sell locally. Eventually, he was able to buy land to grow coffee—he has been producing coffee for 3 years—and works with his wife and children through the harvest. Most of the coffee he produces comes from his own small farm which he processes and separates from cherry he collects from just 5-10 of his neighbors. He told us, “I focus on the coffee. I know the farmers who focus on quality and fertilize well and buy it in a traceable way.” After receiving quality training from the government, Fikadu uses best-practices for natural processing, such as floating cherry and drying slowly—over 15-20 days—on raised beds.
Sitting atop a ridge at 2300 MASL in Bombe, Nguisse Nare’s 10 hectare farm “Setame” is planted with variety 74158 intercropped with taro and sweet potato. With his two other farms—one in Kokose, one in Tiburo—he produces natural and anaerobic coffees using his own cherry as well as cherry collected from around 60 of his neighbors. When we visited in December, we spoke with Thomas Tosha, the farm manager at Setame, as well as Demisse Turuma, the Industry Manager (the term of choice for the resident postharvest processing expert) while touring Nguisse’s drying station and farm. Over a traditional meal of enset, we learned that Nguisse bought the farm four years ago, with a strict focus on quality. He floats his cherry before drying them slowly on raised beds over 20 days.
Crop to Cup has been the exclusive U.S. importer of coffee from Kossa Geshe since Abdulwahid Sherif’s first export in 2016. His farm, in the highlands of the Kebena Forest in Limu and established in 2009 as part of a government program to protect Ethiopia’s remaining forests—of which just 2% remained at the time—is known for producing clean, fruit-forward naturals. Abdu’s rise was meteoric: just two years after he took over the farm, his coffee which won a Good Food Award and placed in the AFCA Taste of Harvest. It goes without saying that quality is continually on his mind. Crop to Cup doesn’t normally work with estates, but Abdul has been an exception, especially because of the support he provides to his outgrower neighbors. Abdu is a man of action and a man of his word, which also makes him a great partner—and when he says he will make a change, investment or improvement, it’s not uncommon to find that he’s already begun to implement it by the time our time visiting with him has ended. During our visit, we saw Abdu’s relentless spirit push forward ahead of our 2023 import as he undertook new initiatives to ensure proper ripeness selection and sorting of cherry—including for the outgrowers he buys from—and expanded his raised bed capacity, built shade netting over some of the drying space, universally used tarps for patio-dried cherry, and oversaw organic certification for all of the outgrowers he buys from. All the while, Abdu demonstrated his commitment to social progress, continuing his investments in his community—building access to potable water, dormitories and toilets for farm workers, a school on the farm for children younger than the first grade, and a transparent ledger system for employee wages.
Bekele Utute’s brother-in-law manages his farm in Kokose, which was the 5th place winner in the Cup of Excellence in 2021—a lot named after his nephew, Samuel, who manages Bekele’s Kokose drying station. At his farm, he grows primarily 74158, common to the quality-focused farms around Bensa. Like at his other drying station near Dembe—where he was born into a family of coffee growers—Bekele produces dry processed coffee at his Kokose site, which he purchased in 2019. He used to sell coffee to local suppliers before obtaining his export license in 2021, exclusively producing dry processed coffees (traditional naturals and anaerobics) for export to the U.S. and Korean specialty markets. This is our first import from Bekele Utute.
Melese Wolde’s farm in Shantawane developed a reputation for quality after winning a competition through one of the major specialty importers twice—an importer who never, in the end, showed up to buy the coffee. Melese is a farmer through and through, he told us, as we stood in his warehouse to avoid the rain, his coffee sleeping protected under plastic tarpaulins on his raised beds. He said would have happily continued to sell his farm’s cherry to private washing stations if the government had not given him the ability to get his own export license—which he did, in 2018. His son, the oldest of his six children, helps him and runs the harvest.
One of the newer cooperatives within the Kata Meduga union, Kenissa was founded in 2018 and processes and markets coffee for its 305-310 members who grow coffee in Agaro. We visited Kenissa with Asnake, the Kata Meduga Union boss, in December. As we walked down from the top of the Technoserve-funded mill—at over 2,100 masl—the cooperative’s attention to detail was immediately evident: a worker scrubbed the tank used to hold water for washing to ensure cleanliness, and just a few meters away, raised beds held parchment draped with shade cloth, individually labeled with the collection and processing, ensuring traceability from cherry through final milling. The details matter, and at Kenissa, they show up in coffee. Most of Kenissa’s members grow variety 74110, with some still having a small amount of 74177. The young cooperative’s leadership is unusually committed to its success: former members who have secured their own export licenses to market their coffee directly continue to serve on its board or in management roles to help their community, understanding the cooperative’s value for improving the incomes and livelihoods of its members. This is our first import from Kenissa.
Geta Bore Cooperative
The most remote of the Kata Meduga cooperatives, Geta Bore is also the smallest, with 232 members who grow Metu Bishari Selection varieties (primarily 74110 but also 74112, 74140, 74148, and 74165) at the highest elevations in Gomma woreda, up to 2200 meters above sea level. Sitting 8km south of the well-known Biftu Gudina cooperative, members of the Geta Bore cooperative used to deliver their cherry to Biftu Gudina or other nearby washing stations but in 2018 formed their own cooperative to reduce the difficulty and cost of transporting fresh cherry as well as to have a stronger role in the cooperative governance structure. Now, Geta Bore farmers can now more easily access training services from Kata Muduga, and through the Union’s model they receive both a cash payment upon cherry delivery plus a 2nd payment after coffee export. This is our third year importing coffee from Geta Bore.
If you’d like to book any of these coffees, reach out to your trader at Crop to Cup. Many of these coffees are available in very limited quantities and will be contracted first come, first served.
THE SECOND HARVEST
MUDDY FEET AND CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT IN KEFFA ZONE’S NEWEST PRODUCER
Efrem was first introduced to us in 2017 as a new but trusted producer by Crop to Cup Ethiopia organizer, Moata. His year-one quality was through the roof. No complaints there. We met him during a stop in Bonga town, where we shared an Ambo and some tibs (pictured). It was enough time to hear a story that included military, Cuba and Israel, and not near enough time to wrap our heads around a saga of that magnitude. Which is to say, we were very interested to learn more.
Fast forward to November as we are visiting near the onset of the 2018 harvest. The November rains stayed late this harvest, so we got stuck in mud. Lots of mud. Day one started with a slow and sloppy hike into the farm which gave us time to hear more of Efrem’s story. He is an Ethiopian-born, Cuban-educated and part-time Israel-residing accountant who returned to work in his home community through coffee some six years ago.
You may remember that the US took part in a series of airlifts that brought almost all of Ethiopia’s Jewish population (~120,000 souls) to Israel following the ‘violent red terror’. But the Beta Israel (as they are called) have a history in Ethiopia that they trace back to the tribe of Dan (son of Moses), and now a few brave members, like Efrem, are coming home to reestablish their community.
“They claim Decha is the birthplace of coffee, and that coffee is the source of happiness for our people. Emero means happiness…” Efrem explains as he serves us delicious coffee, taro root, and a bread made from fermented roots of false banana trees. “This is what we eat here on the farm” he continues, as our small group politely nibbles on the spread.
Noticing my sweat, and not knowing it was from the false banana bread, he changes topics. “The hike here, it was hard wasn’t it? I’m hoping to build a road by next year”. Actually, he needs a few roads, one being a foot-bridge over a local river (where we saw cattle being dragged by the horn through fast moving waters deeper than their heads.)
Later we found out that Efrem took us the long way into the farm. Not a bad way to show off his estate, which included not only coffee but cardamom, teff, old growth trees and easily startled spider monkeys. Or perhaps he took us the long way so that we’d work up a soggy-footed, high-elevation sweat.
In the parts where hiking was not possible, we saddled up. When horses could not make it, we jumped on a tractor borrowed from a neighboring farm. This is the western highlands and the highlands are wet almost year-round…which is why our first conversation with Efrem was on the subject of drying.
While the harvest had just begun, Efrem’s drying trays were already thick with the first collection. When preparing naturals it is common to gradually increase the depth of they cherry pile (as a decrease in overall moisture occurs), this is done to consolidate and avail drying space for incoming cherry. But especially during the first few critical days cherries MUST be one layer thick and no more.
It was clear that Efrem would need more drying beds in order to scale up with the harvest. The day following our visit we saw a facebook update – viola!, more drying capacity. We are not surprised; this is Efrem’s style. He’ll take advice into immediate action. Last year Efrem’s farm was brand new. In a years time, he constructed a brick-making operation, invested in a ton of raised bed drying, and erected two facilities, an office + warehouse. Next on his to-do list is a vacuum packing machine.
This year, in addition to growing his volumes from 1 to 2 containers (ambitious), Efrem set goals around investing in local schools and improving the roads.
We bought all of Efrem’s coffees this year. Most of it has been contracted out before arrival. But there’s still a few bags that we reserved for our spots. Efrem’s coffees lean into a subtle blue fruit-leather / concord grape profile. They’re very clean and we think play especially well in espresso, which extenuates a nice round body, and coaxes those deep fruit notes to the fore.
In 2016 a handful of successful smallholder cooperatives from the Jimma region broke off from the Oromia Union to form Ethiopia’s first new coffee farmers’ cooperative in generations – The Keta Maduga Cooperative Union. They thought they could do a better job marketing member coffees, run a more efficient organization and return more to members.
In 2018 we used average export numbers to develop a Profit and Loss style breakdown of how this has worked out. It’s a good example of how complicated it can be to trace export prices back to the farm – even in this case, when the coop itself acted as the exporter, lots were collected all at one price (as opposed to being assembled across multiple daily prices), and minimal middle-men were involved.
The chart below starts with revenues on top (green), then variable costs (red) to show Gross Profit at the cooperative level (black). From there, expenses – including payments and premiums to member farmers are shown on an average basis by pound, bag and container (blue).
|2018 Keta Maduga Income, Cost and Profit Distribution (an example)|
|Keta Maduga Income||$3.47||$458.73||$146,795|
|Export Green (FOB Export @ 3.40 / lb)||$3.40||$449.75||$143,921|
|Local sales (7% undergrades, broken, chipped @ 97c /lb)||$0.97||$128.31||$2,874|
|Keta Maduga Costs||$2.40||$316.96||$101,427|
|Red Cherry Purchases (price paid to farmer)||$1.45||$191.81||$61,378|
|Cherry – Parchment Loss (20%)||$0.29||$38.36||$12,276|
|Wet Mill Processing (fuel, transport, workers)||$0.22||$29.10||$9,313|
|Parchment – Green Loss (2.5%)||$0.04||$5.52||$1,767|
|Export Expenses (jute bags, grain pro, transport, forwarding, insurance)||$0.17||$22.49||$7,196|
|Union Commission (5% of export sales)||$0.17||$22.49||$7,196|
|Working capital loan (15% against red cherry purchases at 1.38 over 4 months)||$0.05||$7.19||$2,302|
|Keta Maduga Profit||$1.07||$141.77||$45,368|
|Keta Maduga Profit-Distribution|
|Reserve Fund (30% of remainder)||$0.32||$42.53||$13,610|
|Member bonus by share (10% of remainder)||$0.11||$14.18||$4,537|
|Member bonus by cherry delivered (55% of remainder)||$0.59||$77.98||$24,952|
|Social Project (5% of remainder)||$0.05||$7.09||$2,268|
|Total Farmer Payment (w/ shares)||$2.15||$283.96||$90,867|
|% of FOB Export Price||63%|
|Total KM Benefit (Reserve + Commission)||$0.49||$65.02||$20,806|
|% of FOB Export Price||14%|
|Total Capture of Export Value||$2.64||$348.98||$111,673|
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!
(excerpt: full-story available here)
In this area of Ethiopia, lower-producing farms are spread out over larger areas, oftentimes overlapping or fully within large swaths of protected forest. Land ownership is an issue here, as estates bring in outsiders but bring roads, jobs, housing and schools. Smallholders are in an interesting position to gain from new laws allowing for more direct export as some of the country’s top cooperatives unite under the new Kata Maduga Union to triple their income over the past two years. In November 2017, we met farmers: new farmers known to customers as Girma Eshetu, Efrem and Kossa Geshe, and to Biftu Gudina, one of the 26 smallholder cooperatives that’s member to Kata Maduga.
You are only allowed to be ignorant once, so you better make the most of it.
Ignorance is an incredible state to be in for experiencing new people and places. If you don’t know, you don’t have any choice but to take each person and idea as novel, as if it were new.
The downside to adulting is that you aren’t often allowed to come across as a child. Maybe this is why you don’t see as many full-sized humans awestruck as often as this world warrants. At some point, growing up, you’re just supposed to just know already. Ergo, when you come across that rare first, you have a rare opportunity to not know. And you should embrace it.
(spice shop in Jimma; flavors yet to be tasted)
In November ’17 I traveled to Ethiopia for the first time. I’ve been working in East African coffee for over ten years, and have kept up to-date on the ins, outs and intricacies of Ethiopia through my colleagues. But despite my company’s history there, I had never before been to Ethiopia and simply did not know.
Nor was I expected to. My business partners did the knowing for me, I just had to learn, build relationships and ask the stupid questions.
When I realized this I felt fantastic. Ethiopia is an incredible, complex and confounding country – it’s foolish to feel as if I ever had anything worthwhile to say on the subject. Yet, the country is such an important part of the coffee industry that – like me – most coffee professionals have been talking about Sidama or Yirgacheffe before we started serving them as Single Origins. I’ve heard so much on Ethiopia, and have repeated much in kind, that I was expecting myself to know.
But right about the time I got off the plane I remembered that I did not know. I was flying in from Entebbe to Addis, arriving at night, and was reminded right away that Ethiopia is not East Africa. Why? Well, that would be hard to explain without geeking out on Ethiopia’s history and ending up like a text book (summary – Ethiopia is not East Africa). But another way is to try to share all some first impressions, you know, those details that fade over time, but which bring a memory to life.
Memories can lose their pop if left out for too long, and so my goal with this blog is to bottle-up some of these first impressions before their fizz could fade, particularly those which I’m surprised were surprising. More, I intend to scold my friends and colleagues who let me be surprised – they had travelled to Ethiopia before, but completely failed to share any of these rather important details with me.
So that I don’t fall afoul of the same, here are some important non-coffee things you should know before travelling to Ethiopia.
For example, you would never go to France or Italy for the first-time without someone explaining to you that they’ll kiss you on the cheek. So, you can imagine my surprise when I learned first-hand of hwo they do it in Ethiopia. Expect to be grabbed by the wrist and pull me in like the Trump pump, and then butt shoulders, three times, hard. It’s actually kind of cool, and pretty considerate in a place where you eat with your hands. What’s inexplicable is how this crucial daily detail seems to escape everyone’s story.
So, when you get to Ethiopia, as a male, just know that this will happen. For women, I did see some cheek kissing going on – one example of the Italian influence – just like them saying ‘ciao’ for goodbye, and serving up some darn good pasta on every menu.
Another daily detail that shouldn’t have surprised me was the non-verbal gasp that Ethiopians give when they agree with what you are saying. I’ve seen similar things in East Africa, where you grunt or raise your eyebrows to indicate agreement. But this Ethiopian gasp took me by surprise because the gasp itself sounds like surprise. So just know that gasping is good.
How can you tell me about your trip to Ethiopia and not tell me this? I sat through all of your silly photos and you keep this juicy detail from me? Absurd!
Almost as absurd as no one telling me Ethiopia uses a totally different clock and calendar! How is it that no one told me that 7:00 AM is 1:00 in Ethiopia; they use a 12 hour clock that starts at sunrise. Also, dates are different – as I write this on November 18th 2017, it is the 9th of Hadar 2010 in Ethiopia where they use a Coptic calendar, similar to the original Julian, but with 12 months of 30 days each, and one month with 4-6 days if accounting for a leap year. They have reason to believe that Jesus was born a few years later, hence the seven-year difference. If someone had told me all of this I wouldn’t have thought that Ethiopians were into broken clocks and old wall calendars!
From the sound of it, Ethiopian is a Muslim country. But that’s only because we are used to hearing the Muslim call to worship. Ethiopia, actually, is almost 2/3rds Christian to 1/3rds Muslim; the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church has a call for prayer that rivals mosques in every town. Literally. There’s a competitive call and response between Mosques and Churches, each trying to find 11 on the dial to get God’s ear.
Religion runs deep here, with a direct line back to Queen Sheeba and King Solomon, whose son it is said took the Ark of the Covenant back to Ethiopia. Yup, that’s right. Some say it’s still there. But, for me, this anecdote was a reminder of Ethiopia’s long history as the early kingdoms of Kush, of Nubia, and as the Lower Kingdom of ancient Egypt.
But this history is relatively new to Ethiopians, who only recently started researching and teaching a common history of Ethiopia. More traditional history classes focus on the history of each tribe, and the more modern political history of the Ethiopian state. But I hear that classes are changing, books are being published and the conversation is starting to change to one of a more national identity that honors this common pre-history.
Still, today, the country is divided along both religious and tribal lines. The Oromo are the biggest, at just over a third of the population, followed by the Amhara who represent about a quarter. The Tigrey tribe represents about 6% of Ethiopia’s population, but has held power up until the recent peaceful ‘coup’ of April 2018 which say an Oromo president into office. Coffee lovers will recognize Sidama as a big name – but they only count for about 4% of Ethiopia’s population.
Oh wait, did I mention the peaceful ‘coup’ of April 2018? I sure did. Which is amazing since this article was written in November of ’17. But this news is so big it cannot be excluded so was put in during editing. It is interesting enough to deserve an article of it’s own, but there has been plenty written on it already. Look it up – very exciting, very positive for a country divided.
Making the matter of tribe more present, remember that Ethiopia – unlike most African countries – created political states along tribal lines. Look at a map and you’ll see how sprawling Oromia is, for example. This is just where the Oromia people live.
Depending on your view of the government in power this map either looks representative, or like incredible gerrymandering. Depending on how you feel about the Westphalian system in Africa, the move to redraw country lines along clan identities was either progressive or regressive. Regardless it’s not something you see very often, and an interesting source of both unity / representation, as well as conflict.
This also means that when you drive across state lines it is like driving into a difference country – new faces, languages and permits required for your vehicle (according to the thirsty officers).
And yes, this means that travelling through coffee country will take you through many different language groups. As if understanding the coffee geography of Ethiopia wasn’t tough enough …
Before visiting I had thought that the naming of Ethiopian coffees was unnecessarily complicated. Turns out, it is. But the reasons are fascinating. But before, a note on spelling. Amharic – the official language of Ethiopia – uses a different alphabet. A cool one at that.
This leads to many possible Roman spellings of Yirgacheffe, Yirgachefe, Yergacheffe, Yerga Chefe… Djimma, Jimma or Jima….Nekempti, Nekempt, Lekempti, Lekempt…Sidama, Sidamo, etc…any other way you can think to make Roman letters make the same sound – they all work. So take that one complexity off the map – it doesn’t matter how you spell it as long as it’s phonetic.
With that out of the way, the next step is to understand the relationship between different coffee regions. One way of doing this is by looking at ECX designations, which are growing obsolete but still shape the way we refer to coffees. ECX separates major regions, and then designated sub-regions. While the system is less relevant to those interested in more transparent trade, the groupings still helped me to make sense out of the relationships between areas and towns.
Borena, Benssa, Guji, Chire, Bona Zuria, Arroressa, Arbigona, Bale, Arsi, and West Arsi (deliver through Hawassa).
Aleta Wendo, Dale, Chiko, Dara, Shebedino, Amaro, Dilla Zuria, Wensho, and Loko Abaya (deliver through Hawassa).
Bale, Arsi, Nansebo, Arsi, Chole (deliver through Hawassa).
Kembata & Timbaro, Wellayta, South Omo, and Gamogoffa (deliver through Soddo).
Debub Omo, Gamogoffa, Basketo, Derashe, Konso, Konta, Dawro (deliver through Soddo).
Yirgachefe, Wenago, Kochere, Gelena/Abaya Yirgachefe
Bonga Town, Keffa Zone
Limmu Seka, Limmu Kossa, Manna, Gomma, Gummay, Seka Chekoressa, Kersa, Shebe and Gera.
Bedelle, Noppa, Chorra, Yayo, Alle, and Didu Dedessa.
Yeki, Anderacha, Sheko, S.Bench, N.Bench, Gura ferda and Bero
Bedelle, Noppa, Chorra, Yayo, Alle and Didu Dedessa.
Nekempti (Lekempti), Kelem Wollega, East Wollega and Gimbi.
>> thank you to Boot Coffee and USAID for their 2013 ECX companion, for laying this out <<
To make it more complicated, I mean interesting, ECX classifications run parallel to political regions, zones and districts. Political units are divided into regions (Oromia or Tigray, for example) which have many zones (Jimma or Keffa, for example), which is a collection of local districts called Woredas (Limu Kosa for example) which are, in turn, made up of local groups called Kebeles (Gundarashala, Manigawa and Gundaragara…names we’re not likely to hear very often).
What’s more, as of 2018 the government loosened up restrictions, and now allows washing stations, estates and cooperatives to sell directly to exporters and importers. Before, giant companies like Horizon, for example, could own many wetmills but not sell coffee from their supply-chains outside the ECX. Now they can market individual washing station coffees directly overseas.
This is very interesting and will impact purchasing strategies for evermore. But one impact of this will be a flood of new, sexy coffee names for you to choose from as these individual washing stations make their way to market like never before.
So, naming in Ethiopia is complicated, and about to get even busier. But the same complexity gives roasters many options for how they choose to label a coffee. For example, you can specific a coffee by…
As I build my mental map it has helped to describe every coffee I come across using as many of the above as possible. So, start asking your suppliers for more information!
On that, I’ll end with a short-list of other observations that made it into my notebook under the heading of ‘hmmm’. These are details that don’t fit into any narrative, but which I still found interesting as first impressions.
Every year we learn more. Check out our Current Offers to see what’s new this year.
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