Ethiopia

In Good Times and in Bad

CCS’ founder, Robert Thoresen, has been developing long-term relationships with producers and partners at origin since before he opened Kaffa Oslo roastery in 2005. Anyone who has worked in specialty coffee as long as Robert can tell you, those relationships will be tested. Like any long-term commitment, there are good times and there are bad. Enduring those tougher times only strengthens the relationship, and reaffirms its value and meaning. Our relationship with Moplaco Trading in Ethiopia is one of our most passionate, and right now it is being tested. 

 Heleanna Georgalis of Moplaco Trading, Ethiopia

Heleanna Georgalis of Moplaco Trading, Ethiopia

We began working with this pioneering company in 2013, and its director, Heleanna Georgalis, has been our trusted guide ever since. Ethiopia is a challenging origin. Its coffees are highly sought after for their cup profiles, the astounding genetic diversity, and for challenging our perceptions of what coffee can be. And yet it is so hard to buy coffee there. The labyrinthine and ever-changing coffee auction system and the laborious government bureaucracy can frustrate even the most patient coffee professional. Add poor infrastructure and political instability, and it is a small miracle that coffee ever leaves the country’s borders. And yet it does, and we can thank Heleanna for showing us how its done. 
 

 Photo by Ria Neri, Four Letter Word

Photo by Ria Neri, Four Letter Word

Our relationship with Moplaco

Heleanna is a coffee producer herself, plus, through Moplaco she has been purchasing and processing cherries through all manner of trading and auction models since she took over her father’s company in 2008. The great value that Moplaco add to their coffees is their meticulous processing, both natural and washed. This work has earned Moplaco an international reputation for exceptional and consistent high quality. 

But things have been rough this year. Despite preparing the contracts for these coffees back in March, we have still yet to receive a single container. Rarely are these rough patches the fault of just one party, and we admit our own part, we were late getting confirmation from our clients which delayed our purchasing decisions. If we had confirmed the coffees we were buying sooner, we might have avoided the problems that followed. 
 

 Photo by Ria Neri, Four Letter Word

Photo by Ria Neri, Four Letter Word

A series of very unfortunate events 

First, just as the coffees we purchased were approaching the front of the milling queue, the zone where the Moplaco mill is located lost power. It was almost a month before electricity was restored, delaying the milling of our coffees to the end of June. By that time, all our paperwork, the contracts, letters of credit (LC), export certificates etc., were out of date and had to be renewed. 

Moplaco’s headquarters are located in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia’s second largest city, located in the Somali Regional State in Eastern Ethiopia. Ethnic tensions are always simmering in this region, but in the last nine months violence has escalated, causing Moplaco to close their office. Internet in the region has also been intermittent -- cutting the internet is a tactic in some African countries to restrict the mobilizing power of social media. Admasu, the Moplaco staff member based in Dire Dawa is currently working in local banks who have sporadic internet access he can use when it is not busy processing international transactions. We are concerned firstly for the safety of Admasu, and secondly — by a very very long margin — that this is slowing down the paperwork. 

We are frustrated, of course. We want our delicious Ethiopians to hit the market early. We want them on your menus before anyone else’s. But this is the reality of working in Ethiopia. Other exporters have not faced these issues this year, and there is plenty of Ethiopian coffee available on the market, but we are not blaming Moplaco for the delay. Our respect for Moplaco’s meticulous work, knowledge of Ethiopia, and their stellar coffees is not diminished. We will continue in this relationship and support Heleanna in her efforts to counter each problem as it arises. 

The silver lining is that the delays caused by the power outage mean our coffee was only recently milled, so it will arrive fresh and delicious. 

To better times ahead. 
 

Moplaco Container update

New Jersey
Two containers for Continental are on the road to Djibouti and should ship soon. We expect them to arrive in September. The third container should arrive in October. 

Hamburg
Two containers are ready, all the paperwork has been updated, and will leave for Djibouti in the next week. We also expect them to arrive at the Vollers warehouse in September. 

Taiwan
We are working on an updated Letter of Credit (LC), an essential document that guarantees payment for the coffee to a government approved Ethiopian bank. We hope to have this sorted soon, and we are expecting the container to arrive in September. 

Spot offers
Plus we have stellar Ethiopian coffees from our partners SNAP, Kata Maduga and Guji Highlands available for spot purchase.

Ethiopia offers - Europe, Asia and the Middle East
Ethiopia offers - North America, East Coast
Ethiopia offers - North America, West Coast
 

 

 

 

Changes to the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange

The introduction of the Ethiopia Commodities Exchange (ECX) in 2008 was a disaster for the Specialty Coffee Industry. The system of sale obscured any information relating to the coffee beyond its region. Basically, it wiped out traceability. Recent changes however, have dramatically improved the situation. 


What is the ECX?

The ECX is a private company made up of both private parties and the Ethiopian government. Upon its inception in 2008, all coffee in Ethiopia had to be sold through the ECX. Initially, it enforced a system where smallholders sold their cherries to a ‘collector’, who in turn sold to suppliers/washing stations. Collectors had to obtain licenses in order to buy from their specific areas (e.g. Kochere). They were only allowed to buy from their specific areas.

Once processed by a washing station, coffee was delivered to the auction in Addis and was cupped and graded by the Coffee Liquoring Unity (CLU). Auctions happened every day and exporters had the opportunity to see, but not cup the samples, and knowing only the coffee’s region, made their purchasing decisions.

In a newer version of the auction, which was implemented soon after the first, collectors were eliminated, and centralized marketplaces were implemented. Rather than suppliers buying from collectors or specific smallholders, they bought from centralized markets and cherry prices are based on ‘market price’.
 

CHANGES TO THE ECX IN 2018

The ECX has grown quite expansively over the years. Of the 600,000+ metric tons of product sold through the exchange, coffee makes up only 3,000 metric tons. Still, 6.5 million pounds is no small number, and it requires a large amount of infrastructure.

The inception of the ECX was a step backwards for the specialty coffee industry. In the process of being sold on the ECX, coffee lost all traceability. Not only did coffee origins become anonymous beyond a region, information about the cup profile was also often unavailable until after a coffee was purchased.

Fortunately, the ECX is improving, and for this harvest we have seen huge steps taken to keep the coffee, and its vital information, together.  

The ECX now relies on an electronic auction system for access to data related to a particular product and all related transactions. Not only will this ensure that information stays with the product being sold, it allows a massive expansion of amounts and types of criteria that can be traded along with the product. For coffee, full traceability means reliable data pertaining to where the coffee was grown, down to the Woreda (district) or washing station. It also means better physical or sensorial data such as cup score, moisture content, and water activity of the coffee. Additionally, the ECX has revised its grading system for both washed and sundried coffees to improve the accuracy, reliability and consistency of scores.

Our long-time partner in the region, Heleanna Georgalis of Moplaco, was initially skeptical about the promised changes. She has been in Ethiopia long enough to know promises and action are not always the same thing. However on our latest trip to Ethiopia Heleanna was optimistic, and said the changes have been successful thus far. For the first time in many years, she is encouraged by the direction the ECX is headed.


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Ethiopia Update - 2nd Origin Trip, 2017 / 2018 Crop

 Muluka, sorting natural coffees at Gidhe A Washing Station, Ethiopia

Muluka, sorting natural coffees at Gidhe A Washing Station, Ethiopia

CCS was in Ethiopia for the second time this harvest season from January 7 to 14. Roasters from all over the globe joined us as we travelled from Addis Ababa to Yirgacheffe and Sidamo in the south of the country, visiting long-time partners and new friends. 

Our goal in the south of the country was to visit washing stations that are new for CCS, to get a sense of the people there and the way they work, as well as cupping their coffees. Next to Robert and I, in the vans travelling the bumpy roads of Southern Ethiopia, sat Mike from Blueprint in the US, Glen and Stanley from Green Coffee Gallery in Taiwan, Echo, Qili and Van, from Coffee Voice in China, Thomas, from Belleville Brûlerie in France and Erik, from Kaffa in Norway. We were accompanied by Abenezer from SNAP, an exporter and new partner we will work with this season and into the future.
 

Coffea Arabica at the source

When buying your green coffee or sipping your freshly brewed cup, you may have wondered, what is an Ethiopia Heirloom? Well, I have at least a partial answer to that: when stepping on the black and fertile soils in the Guji Highland Estate you cannot find two trees alike. Walking randomly in the farm we passed by a beautiful specimen of unknown variety with orange, almost pink cherries. Even Robert, who has travelled to Ethiopia at least twice each season for the last 12 years, had never seen a tree like this! As the birthplace of coffee, the genetic variety in Ethiopia is breath taking, and something we are only beginning to understand. 

I have spent some time at origin in Latin America, but this was my first trip to Africa. What struck me immediately was how perfectly suited Ethiopia is to growing coffee, at least on the southern regions we visited. The weather was dry during our trip, with temperate days and cool evenings. Spectacular forests provide protective shade for the coffee trees which allow the cherries to grow and ripen slowly, enriching their pulp with sweetness. Again, this is no surprise given Ethiopia is the home of the coffee tree, still it is an experience to see it in person. 
 

The complications of logistics

In Perú and Ecuador, where I worked for a few months with cooperatives and producers, we often spoke about the terroir, the weather, and the processing methods as the components of specialty coffee quality. The one part that is usually the forgotten is logistics. The complexity in Peru surprised me, some farms are only accessible by motorcycle over bumpy and muddy tracks. How do we reach those small producers in the most isolated reaches of the mountains? How do we maintain traceability?

The issue of logistics is even more complicated in Ethiopia. First, Ethiopia is HUGE. We spent four days of long travel to reach different washing stations and farms in the south. And yet, seeing how tiny that region is on the large map of Ethiopia, I realised how crazy it is to work in a lot of different regions in the country. Distances are not that great, but the roads are extremely bumpy! Just moving from the north of Yirgacheffe to the south took us a full day in a car! 

At the same time, I felt privileged to see an Ethiopia that will soon be history. The country boasted an annual economic growth of 10,8% on average between 2004-2014, and its population is expected to grow from 100 million people today, to 190 million by 2050! That’s almost double! Huge infrastructure projects are underway to connect all parts of Ethiopia, and more specifically to link remote areas of beautiful coffees to the existing main roads leading to Addis. If you want to experience the Ethiopian “adventure,” go there soon guys! 

We returned to Addis on the weekend for many cuppings, and to visit Heleanna of Moplaco. Their warehouse and mill are astonishing! In another life I worked for luxury cosmetic brands and visited the French factories of Chanel and Dior. It is astounding to see a production facility for coffee in Ethiopia just as clean and perfectly organized as the production line of the fanciest perfumes from Paris. No wonder the coffees we get through Heleanna are always stellars.

The highlight of this trip was meeting the people behind these incredible coffees, all of them with the biggest smiles. Each time I lifted my camera to my eye to capture the sorting process, or the natural coffees drying on their beds, I saw producers and partners with phones in hand, taking photos of me. 

Matt is finalizing our buys in Ethiopia, and the fresh crop should be on the boat by end of March. Contact me in Europe or Sal in the US to get your hands of some samples. 

Nicolas

Living Our Values: Why we set the benchmark at 86

The following is a excerpt from our report Collaborative Coffee Source, Living Our Values 2017. Number one on our list of values is "We seek the right quality."

We often describe ourselves as an "86 company," meaning we begin with coffees that score 86 points and work our way up. We felt we should define what that means, why 86 is our benchmark, and what it means for the industry to source high quality coffee.


Defining Quality

We want to define what we mean by the term quality, especially since we claim to find the truly good coffees. We search for quality through screening and scrutinizing, then we articulate the result with a list of the coffee’s flavor attributes, and a numerical score out of 100. CCS sets the bar at 86 points for the coffee we buy. We recognize that this number isn’t self explained, but it is an efficient and simplified way of communicating a starting point for most people in the industry.

The common denominator for an “86” coffee is its clarity, and this means more than clean coffee. Clarity is a sensorial term that describes how a coffee opens and expresses its attributes, usually with the help of a structuring acidity. This combination creates complexity in the cup and many more desired attributes.

Sharing this experience of actually tasting the qualities through cupping is key to understanding and agreeing on a value for a coffee. Thus the point of using a numeric scale to express the quality is also a way to define its monetary value. Premium is a term for the extra money paid for higher quality, which suggests that the starting point is the right one. We disagree, because that level is more often than not too low.

High quality in coffee is the result of a concrete process and a particular craft, it doesn’t just happen. When certain conditions are in place, making a delicious coffee is achievable, but not easy. By setting our benchmark at 86 we mean to honor the honest craftsmanship and care that goes into making a truly special coffee.

Robert

Read the full report.

 A coffee picker from Gesha Village, Ethiopia. Just look at that selection!

A coffee picker from Gesha Village, Ethiopia. Just look at that selection!

CCS Origin Trip to Ethiopia, January 2018

The CCS Sourcing team are currently in Ethiopia with customers and partners from all over the globe including Echo Lou of Coffee Voice, our distribution partners in China. Echo is a talented photographer and she has been documenting the trip on Instagram. Her photos provide a stunning insight into the vital role of coffee in the lives of Ethiopians.

You can follow @echo_lou on Instagram, and check in with CCS daily to see all the photos and videos from the team on the ground.

Here is just a sample:

Ethiopian coffees are renowned for their longevity. Many cup well after several months of rest, some cup even better. We have some stellar Ethiopian coffees from last year that are still cupping beautifully which we're clearing as part of our Antwerp Warehouse Clearance Sale. Check out these offers:

Guji Natural by Mormora Estate, Ethiopia
Variety: 
Guji heirlooms
Process: Natural
Notes: Rose water, cane sugar, berries, peach, citrus
Score: 87.25
Normal Price: $11,07/kg
Now: $10,57/kg or $10,07/kg for a full pallet.

Hunda Oli Lot 15, Agaro, Ethiopia
Variety: 
Limu heirlooms
Process: Washed
Notes: Floral, fresh apricot, balanced and round
Score: 87
Normal Price: $11,62/kg
Now: $11,12/kg or $10,62/kg for a full pallet.

See the full Antwerp Clearance Sale price list and contact Nico for samples.

Stay tuned for our Ethiopia Origin Update, coming soon.

 

 

Refrigerated Containers for Ethiopian Coffee

Innovation in Shipping

Our visit to Ethiopia a few weeks back was only my second time at origin. I expected to be inundated with information pertaining to all aspects of coffee production. After all, everything you are experiencing at that time and place is the precursor to the longevity and quality of the coffee, more so than during any other time in a coffee’s life cycle. If things are out of sorts at origin, the coffee is unlikely to express what it is capable of. It’s heavy stuff.

On top of this, I had just started a new position in Buying, QC & Sample Management at the Collaborative Coffee Source. That makes me the link between the producer’s hard work and the coffee community yearning for long lasting quality beans. My focus on this trip was to understand what is being done and what could be done better next time around. Altering fermentation times? Thinner layers on the drying bed? More selective picking? All seemed to be common suggestions that are given to producers and are absolutely key to improving quality and longevity! But perhaps the most interesting thing I learned during the trip was an innovation I’d never heard of: refrigerated containers.

Heleanna Georgalis of Moplaco Trading has been using these "reefer containers" for one customer for a few years now, and her customer speaks very highly of the results. Coming from George Howell Coffee, famous for pioneering the freezing of green coffee, I’m well aware of the positive and lasting effects that climate control provides. As you can imagine, I was excited and astonished to learn that refrigerated containers exist.

 Moplaco Trading, Addis Ababa

Moplaco Trading, Addis Ababa

Reefer Containers - How Do They Work?

Coffee harvested and processed in Ethiopia will make its way to the Port of Djibouti, located about 400km away on the shores of the Red Sea. There the coffees are transferred into a reefer container and stored at 18°C (64°F) and 60% humidity for the remainder of its (often) month-long journey across the ocean. Nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide levels are also regularly checked to ensure proper storage.

The pallets are loaded in and arranged with air space between the coffee and the wall, while air is circulated throughout the container to prevent pockets. Refer to the graphic below (courtesy of www.cma-cgm.com):

reefercontainerdiagram.png


How Much Does It Cost?

For the time being, only 40 foot containers are available to be refrigerated (the standard size is 20 foot). Why is this? Well, since 2000, the number of companies moving reefer container ships has dropped by 60%, so availability is very low. Companies who purchase reefer ships need twenty years to recover the initial cost, versus two years for a normal container ship.

But, there is hope. One company, Seatrade Reefer Containers, continues to purchase and use reefer containers in their fleet. Due to the slower  delivery times of container ships over the last few years, shipments (from all goods industries) are getting to their destination well after their intended arrival dates. Late shipments have translated into more food spoilage. Seatrade hopes these delays in container delivery will cause an increased need for reefer containers, and a resulting increase in their availability. But for now, they are still a cost to consider carefully.

This means there are two options:

  1. Find a way to fill a 40 foot container. This either means purchasing large volumes, or sharing containers with other buyers.
  2. Move a container below maximum capacity. Of course, this is a more expensive option as the cost is spread out over a smaller volume.

Costs fluctuate, but the breakdown at the time of writing is this: if a normal 20 foot container costs around $900 to move from Ethiopia to your nearest port, the cost is 2.1 cents per pound. A max capacity 40 foot reefer container, over the same distance, would cost around $2,900, or 3.4 cents per pound. A 40 foot reefer container, filled to half capacity, then would then cost 6.8 cents per pound.

Does refrigerated shipping provide enough value to justify this additional expense? Could you make the money back by having your 88-point Ethiopian coffee hold up for two extra months? Being cost conscious is entirely necessary for a business to be sustainable so your budget may not lend itself to this kind of transit. However, for around ten dollars more per 60 kilo bag, it may be a wise investment not having to discard bad roasts of tired coffee.


Logistical Considerations

To arrange reefer containers for your coffee we'll need some advanced notice. As mentioned, containers are currently limited in quantity and require a bit extra planning. However we think it's worth the extra effort. For now we are offering reefer containers from Ethiopia and we hope to add more origins in the near future.

Please contact me if you have questions! I am excited by the potential of this shipping innovation and keen to discuss how reefer containers might work for you.

Matt

The Longevity of Ethiopian Coffees

 Hana Kassahun Bililign, Store Manager, Moplaco, Ethiopia

Hana Kassahun Bililign, Store Manager, Moplaco, Ethiopia

Hana Kassahun Bililign is one of the most important people we work with in Ethiopia. Her job is not the most romantic, and her view is not the most scenic, but as Store Manager for Moplaco, one of our long-term partners in Ethiopia, her task is crucial. She cares for the coffee while it rests.  

In addition to dealing with logistics and exporting, Hana is responsible for selecting and preserving the highest quality possible. She spends most of her day in a warehouse in Addis Abeba, where Moplaco’s parchment coffee is rested. After the coffee is hulled, it is stored in GrainPro bags until Hana’s team of expert women assesses each coffee bean and discards all but the perfect specimens.

 Women pickers in the Moplaco warehouse removing any defective beans from the hulled coffee.

Women pickers in the Moplaco warehouse removing any defective beans from the hulled coffee.

This resting period in Moplaco’s warehouse, which is insulated to keep temperatures between 19 and 24 degrees celsius, is a crucial step in developing the complex fruit and floral notes so carefully cultivated by Ethiopian coffee growers. Hana cups daily to track the coffee through this important process, and decides the exact moment when it has reached its full potential. Uniquely, Ethiopian coffees often achieve their fullest flavour after three to four months of resting, and keep their freshness for over a year. Some are even better after a year.

We have several Ethiopian lots in stock and ready to ship from the November 2016-January 2017 harvest which our team cupped last week. The quality was impressive! All our Ethiopian coffees, including the Kaffa, Kochere, Guji, Wonago and Matahara from Moplaco, are clean and bright and displaying the organoleptic richness that Ethiopian farmers, and coffee professionals like Hana, take great pride in delivering.
 

Special offer!

We have some spectacular Ethiopian coffees we need to clear from our Antwerp warehouse. See the full Antwerp Clearance Price List for details and contact Nico to order samples. 

Ethiopia: Coming Back to Cooperative Coffee

ethiopia-coffee-areas.jpg

Our Previous Relationships with Cooperatives via TechnoServe

During the initial phase of Technoserve’s (TNS) work with cooperatives in Ethiopia, Kaffa in Oslo imported green coffee directly (pre-CCS) and roasted a few lots from some of the TNS supported washing stations, including Yukro, Hawa Yember and Hunda Oli.

I first got involved with some of the TNS coops during the 2009/10 season. Groups of roasters from around the word were invited, particularly from USA and Scandinavia, as they were seen as discerning buyers in viable markets. TNS was presenting their work at SCAA, SCAE and at roasting community events. These presentations weren’t really within TNS’ self-proclaimed mandate nor model, rather it was done to train and empower local representatives to learn how to market themselves.

KAFFA bought some lots but service was slow, samples hard to get, lots were sold out before one had time to provide feedback, and even if one visited to cup and buy on-site, the unions seemed to favor the ‘bigger’ roasters. When ‘dealing’ with the coops, one quickly learned that they didn’t truly have control over their products. It felt like one had to scramble to get ahold of something rather than being able to pick and choose properly, the way we’d do it in, let’s say, Kenya. Commitments were certainly not honored. It was all quite discouraging.

When I re-visited at the end of the harvest in 2012, the cooperatives were not just under-funded; they’d had little to no money just before the beginning of the harvest to pay for cherries. When I additionally learned that the harvest had been very low, I initially thought the low volume had to do with little yield per tree/farm. In reality, the low volume was due to farmers not being able to afford to deliver cherries to places that couldn't pay them up-front. This in turn meant low volumes at the washing station. Coop washing stations could only purchase as much coffee cherries as their credit line allowed them to. The irony of the TNS coops’ credit drought was that Oromia Union, their partner-in-crime, didn’t lend their coops the resources needed to buy cherries and hence, thrive. Even though customers were lined up to buy, complete dysfunction ruled at the most basic levels.

The quality management of the cherries was also poor and this related to the above economic problems. When you’re struggling to pay in the first place, you end up scrambling to get what few cherries you can afford. This is not the time to be scrutinizing the cherries’ maturity and uniformity.

Just as discouraging was the administrative and fiscal dysfunction. I wanted us to stay away as long as the Oromia Union stayed involved.

Now, five years later, the time feels right on many levels. And I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on our previous experiences, as well as provide some background info that will hopefully be helpful to you. Full disclosure: I am “collecting” this information from memory, so bear with the fact that some of it is anecdotal.

  Former TechnoServe staff, Aansha Yassin

Former TechnoServe staff, Aansha Yassin

TechnoServe’s Coffee Initiative

TechnoServe (TNS) is an NGO that was founded in 1968 and has been funded by the likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. TNS works with development initiativesin many countries including within Africa and mostly with agro-businesses — coffee amongst others — utilizing local natural resources and human potential to create economic advantages. What I like about the Gates Foundation approach is the clearly expressed belief that making good business (product and management) is both the means and the goal. In other words, participating communities utilize what they already have – local resources and the development of community members’ own knowledge and skills – to create better economic opportunities.

In Ethiopia, the Coffee Initiative was started in 2008 with investment from the Gates Foundation. This allowed TNS to do coffee work on a large scale and in new places like Ethiopia and this particular project had a five-year mandate. One of the beautiful ideas and high ambitions of the program was to empower local people to learn about the specialty coffee field by crafting great coffee: managing it as a business; doing lot separation; assessing quality through cupping; communicating monetary value through quality; and finally, marketing and offering it to a discerning marketplace.

TNS intelligently set out to focus their efforts in the western regions of Ethiopia. This part of the country has always had a rich history in producing coffee. As far as we know, this was the birthplace of coffee. Still at the time that TNS came in, coffee from the west didn’t have fame, nor was it fetching the high prices coffees in the south were getting (such as e.g. washed Sidamo and Yirgacheffe).

The western lowlands are home to Bebeka Estate, which up until recently was the largest government owned estate farm. This estate is now owned by Mr. Al Amodi, who is also the current owner of the Horizon Dry Mill. Also located in this region, are areas such as Djimmah, which was synonymous with low grades of naturals.

Although many areas in the west do have the altitude for producing high quality coffee, the infrastructure wasn’t in place to produce and supply good coffee, whether because of the lack of equipment to produce it (very few wet mills), or getting products to the marketplace (poor roads). Thus, TNS’ strategy was to change the perception of West Ethiopian coffee by both efficiently producing washed coffeefor a specialty coffee market, and by making this coffee logistically accessibleto the market. Though roads were built and upgraded independently of TNS initiatives, these kinds of efforts went hand-in-hand.

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The TechnoServe Way

TNS proposed that the coops install eco-pulpers at all the washing station projects they got involved with. This was a controversial prospect at the time, given the strong tradition up until then of the Ethiopian wet process being about fermenting with mucilage before washing. As we know, eco-pulpers have benefits, including saving water and requiring a lower up-front investment than the traditional wet process set-up with its many large fermentation tanks and washing channels.

Part of the TNS agenda was to help build equitable business projects, even helping with the financing, implementation of transparent bookkeeping, and overall good management by:

  • Facilitating the process of applying for and getting loans to buildthe technical infrastructure: buying eco-pulpers, building washing stations and drying beds;
  • Facilitating the process of applying for credit from banks so the coop could buy cherries. When a farmer arrives with coffee cherries, on any given day, the coop is expected to pay for the delivery on the spot. Thus, a lot of cash is required even before the start-up of the harvest season. Not to mention all the cash required to carry out the season;
  • Helping to create a marketing plan (on behalf of the union): market outreach, market access, quality control and sample distribution
  • Operational management, planning, and fiscal control.

Some of the most successful TNS coops managed to pay back the investment of equipment and infrastructure in less than 2 years, which is considered a great success by any business standard.

  The ECX

The ECX

TechnoServe During the time of the Revamping ECX

Little did TNS know that their program would be in stark contrast to ECX’s coming implementation of anonymity in the auction process. The new ECX structure was coincidentally put in place very soon after the TNS cooperatives were inaugurated and ready to hit the market with their attractively traceable coffees. The Coffee Initiative's original intention in Ethiopia was never to work with the Unions. In the first year, 2009, it tried to create a model where coops could work directly with private exporters. However, the Unions/government brought this process to a grinding stop. Eventually, all the coffees had to be taken over and exported by the Unions, and the contracts renegotiated. This was a major blow to the program because no one, including TNS, trusted that the Unions would be efficient, transparent, etc.

Specialty coffee buyers were flocking to TNS’ washing station projects. Although the coffee quality was not top-notch in the very beginning, the model at least provided a transparent trade model and TNS was pushing to make sure the farmers and their communities were rewarded with premium prices above the Fair Trade/Organic models.

When a washing station is owned by a cooperative, the contributing farmers collectively own the coop, but they must nominate a union to handle their milling and marketing for which the coop is charged a service fee. It usually makes sense to get these services from a union that is involved in the region, and hopefully it is also offering competitive terms. Even if the milling fee is regulated by law, unions have a reputation for taking advantage of the coops by charging the maximum fee possible and/or screening and processing lots to their own benefit (e.g. ‘mixing up’ lots, blending and even stealing).

The coop-union relationship is generally one where the union arguably has the ‘upper hand’. Since the union ends up with the parchment coffee in their possession, and being that they become the party that markets the coffee, they are the ones to send samples out to potential buyers.

In other words, even if a union is intended to be an intermediary part in the transparent relationship between a producer and a buyer, the unionis the primary contact and by default becomes the ‘owner’ of the relationship.

All this said, that dynamic briefly changed as soon as the TNS coops and washing stations earned their own fame, consequently bypassing the unions in building relationships directly with their end buyers (roasters).

TNS coops were obliged to deliver to various unions, as made geographic sense. Unfortunately, this only lasted for the first year of operation under TNS supervision. Once the Oromia Unionand its powerful and charismatic leader saw the success and prestige associated with trading directly with affluent coffee buyers around the world, it didn’t take long before all the TNS coops were forced to mill and market their coffee through the Oromia Union.

Oromia Union’s experiencewith lot separation, handling of the respective samples, and the necessary marketing efforts were generally not well developed initially. To overcome this, TNS opened regional offices with cupping facilities, training local staff and offering opportunities for buyers to access coffee without having to depend on the union. These efforts were meant only to be an temporary solution, while Oromia Union was supposed to equip itself with skilled staff, adequate systems and protocols, and building marketing strategies.

In my opinion this became and remained the weakest link with the TNS-developed supply chain. When TNS ended their project term, Oromia was still struggling to get things right.

  Limmu is primarily where our coop coffees this year will come from

Limmu is primarily where our coop coffees this year will come from

Returning to Cooperative Coffee

I am very pleased to announce that CCS is going into this season with a more diverse approach to sourcing and buying in Ethiopia. In addition to offering stellar ECX coffees; and micro-lots from private estates; CCS will introduce cooperative coffees to the menu. It is promising indeed thus we are looking forward to presenting a carefully curated list of lots from thoughtfully selected coops in the Limu/Djimmah region of the west!

The reasons for this optimism are these necessary turn of events: 1) Other Unions, for all the above-mentioned reasons, have emerged to service the coops; and 2) Quality, compliance, and commitment seem to hold a higher priority than in the earlier years of my experiences with the cooperatives and the Oromia Union.

We cannot wait offer you to taste the 'fruits' coming from all these emergent changes. Enjoy!

Robert

—founder of KAFFA and Collaborative Coffee Source (CCS)

Corrections: 1) the previous version incorrectly stated that TechnoServe was founded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and has been corrected to reflect the fact that the NGO was founded in 1968 and that the Gates Foundation is  one (albeit a large one) source of funding for TNS.

2) it was never TNS' original intent to work with Unions, as was implied in the earlier version. The post has been corrected to reflect the fact that TNS' aim was to work directly with cooperatives, independently of the Unions/government from the beginning.

  Cupping back in 2012

Cupping back in 2012

Situation in Ethiopia

17215223989_808e5532a4_z.jpg

Over the last nine months, there have been waves of protest and unrest occurring in the Oromia region, which has led us to cancel our planned trip to Ethiopia in the coming weeks. Amidst the protests and subsequent killings, we have read about and had confirmed by export partners, that washing stations have been targets of looting and vandalism. For one of our partners in particular, it has been incredibly challenging to make decisions about buying and processing cherries. Would these coffees even make it out of the country?

While it's challenging to find good news sources about how and why these protests have been occurring, we've found some that we'd like to share with you and that you can find in the links below.
 

(Very) Surface Background 

The current situation is based on the build up of years of frustration from ethnic groups who have felt marginalized by the government. Ethiopia is made up of about 80 different ethnolinguistic groups with the Oromo nation comprising the largest ethnic group in the country. The communist regime was overthrown in 1991 and the current government, which acts essentially as a single-party, has been ruling as an authoritarian regime since that time.

Throughout the years, there have been varying degrees of unrest and protest, the biggest and until now occurring in 2005 during the country's heavily contested elections. The results of that election, which sustained the ruling party's power (the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)), was considered fraudulent by both the opposition as well as outside observers. Now, the country's two largest regions - Oromia & Amhara - have been continuously erupting in protests over the last nine months, over similar dissatisfactions with the ruling EPRDF, despite the EPRDF's attempts to repress these uprisings through thousands of arrests and hundreds of killings.

The heart of the protestors' frustration comes down to a few main topics: land ownership, repression, and the fact that the ruling party is significantly made up of a minority Tigray elite. The Tigray nation makes up just 6% of Ethiopia's total population.
 

Potential Impact on the 2016/17 Harvest?

Those of you who have spent time in Ethiopia, or in the East African region more generally, understand that change is the modus operandi. It is too early in the season to make any predictions about how the export season will play out and whether these sociopolitical happenings will negatively impact the coffee sector.

For now, we wanted to share what is happening and why we and other coffee buyers have been cancelling travel plans to Ethiopia. We will keep you updated as further news becomes available.
 

News Links

http://hornaffairs.com/en/2016/09/14/ethiopian-spring-killing-grievances-protests/

http://addisstandard.com/7784-2/

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-36940906


Helpful Reports for Background Info

http://graphics.eiu.com/PDF/Democracy_Index_2010_web.pdf

https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2006/country-chapters/ethiopia

Coffee Profile: Washed Gesha, Gesha Village Estate

23204926041_ca4a667dc2_z (1)
23204926041_ca4a667dc2_z (1)

Name: Gesha Village
Nearest Town: Gesha
Location: Southwest Ethiopia
Average Annual Rainfall (mm): 1150
Altitude (masl): 1900-2100m
Number of hectares: 471
Hectares cultivated: 320
Shade: Agro-forestry system with mix of indigenous shade trees
Process: Washed
Drying Method: Sun
Harvest Method: Handpicking
Main Harvest Season: November- January
Varieties: Wild Gesha
Soil: Virgin forest, brown loam soil


About

Washed Gesha goes through a mechanical demucilager, soaked for 24-36 hours and then shade dried to 30 percent moisture content.It is then transferred to a raised African bed for further drying before it is bagged and stored for export.


Cupping Notes

Lot 14(WHQ-G1-14):With hints of peach and cranberry, Lot 14 scored 87 points for its tropical profile.Smooth with light florals notes, this Gesha lot is easy on the palate.

Lot 21(WHQ-G1-121):With a burst of aromatic fruits, Lot 21 scored a high of 87.5 points during CCS cuppings in both North American and Europe with everyone noting the cups sweetness even as it cooled.Reminiscent of baked pears, this Gesha lot is elegant and complete.

Lot 32(WHQ-G1-32):A welcome to late Summer/ early Autumn, Lot 32 scored in at 87 points and is full of deep red berries and apricots.The mouthfeel of this washed Gesha is full and lingers pleasantly after each sip.

Lot 123(WHQ-G1-123):This lot scored a high of 87 points for its transparent qualities.With very subdued acidity levels, the introduction of Lot 123 from Gesha Village offers a melange of cooked berries.Blackberries and lingonberries are very prominent and has a clean finish. 
 

The Backstory

The Gesha Village journey began back in 2007 when Adam Overton and Rachel Samuel were making a documentary about Ethiopian coffee for the Ethiopian government. It was during this project that they were first introduced to Dr. Girma, their guide through the Gera Coffee Forest near Jimma. Dr. Girma is a coffee researcher and is a wealth of information about coffee agronomy, and farm management. During the process of creating this documentary, Rachel was reintroduced to her birth country and Adam became fascinated by the rich coffee history of the birthplace of coffee.

By the end of this coffee expedition, the couple felt compelled to start their own coffee farm. They saw too much unexplored potential and opportunity in Ethiopia’s wild coffee forests to ignore. Even though the country’s coffee trade was established long ago, Ethiopia’s coffee sector as a whole is far behind newer coffee origins in terms of agricultural and processing innovations as well as terroir distinctions, which these days are two of the most important distinctions between specialty and commercial coffee. Adam and Rachel are fully utilizing this gap in the Ethiopian specialty market in establishing Gesha Village Estate.

From 2007-2010, the couple scoured the country in search for the perfect place to set up their project. One of the initial criteria was that the farm should be within close proximity to the capital city, Addis Ababa, due to practical transport considerations. More importantly, however, were other considerations:

  • Altitude: between 1800-2100 meters above sea level
  • A relatively large piece of land (over 100 hectares)
  • Old growth/primary forest
  • Established shade trees
  • Road access
  • Access to labour
  • No displacement of inhabitants
23287555755_9bdbd51a95_z.jpg

As they surveyed place after place, they drew further and further away from Addis. Finally, they found Gesha town, very close to Ethiopia’s border with Sudan, in the far western region of the country. During their reconnaissance, they found wild coffee growing within pristine forest. This coffee paradise, combined with meeting some inhabitants from the Meanit community who indigenous to the area, also drew the couple in. This was a place and people where something completely cutting-edge could happen. In autumn of 2011 the lease for the 471 hectares that now make up Gesha Village Estate was signed and soon after, Akalu, Gesha Village’s (GV) Farm Manager was hired. He, together with the newly established GV team, began doing a forest exploration where they picked wild seeds from the nearby Gori Gesha forest.

After a year in the nursery, these seeds were planted on 30 hectares and at the same time, the team began acquainting themselves with the Meanit neighbours that lived around them. This initial 30 hectares made up GV’s first “test plot” – the team wanted to ensure the cup quality was good before more coffee was planted. The first 1kg sample was sent to Adam and Rachel’s friend Willem Boot in the spring of 2012 even before they themselves had a chance to cup. Willem in turn organized a Cupping Caravan in Ethiopia where cuppers were blown away by the coffee. At this point, the GV team knew that they were onto something special.

Before getting too ahead of themselves, the team decided to visit their neighbours’ coffee farms in order to both study the morphology of more established trees, which also came from forest seeds, and also to cup their neighbours’ coffees to further understand what they were working with at GV. As exciting as cultivating forest coffee was, the team understood that planting one of any variety was risky and on the advice of Akalu and Dr. Girma, decided to plant a good portion of GV with tried and tested Ethiopian heirloom varieties released from the Jimma Argicultural Research Center (JARC). These released varieties come from various seed collection expeditions that JARC has conducted.

Wild varieties collected during expeditions are studied and researchers are looking for the following characteristics in determining which are “superior plants”: a) showing disease resistance; b) excellent cup quality; and c) good yield. Plants showing these characteristics are chosen for release and GV chose to plant a variety that originated in the highland coffee forests of Illubabor. This one showed both disease resistance and excellent cup quality.

We can say that over the course of cupping the different varieties produced on GV, these research varieties have some of the most exciting cup profiles that Gesha Village have produced. With varieties playing such an important role in quality and cup profile, it makes perfect sense that the GV team found research partners to carry out a methodical genetic study on the Gesha forest varieties. Part of that study concerns the possible connection between Panamanian geisha and coffee from the Gori Gesha Forest. You can access the study’s findings here.


The Community

Before the project started in earnest, the GV team gathered the elders and wise men from the local Meanit community in order to explain the project as well as hear out the community’s thoughts and concerns about it. Though successful as an introduction, the team understood from the beginning that a real partnership would take time and effort and one of the early challenges GV faced was finding labourers. There was a stigma against working for someone else as most people already had their own garden farms.

23287559545_efff52ce74_z.jpg

Over time, women began working with the farm and since they earned their own income for the first time, this early labour force attracted more and more people, eventually both women and men. Today, GV can attract up to 800 workers per day coming from 17,000 families. These workers come from 5-6 different kebeles (localities) spanning from Gesha Mountain to Gori Gesha Forest.

Now that a good relationship has been established between Gesha Village Estate and their surrounding communities, three local representatives have been appointed to liaise between the farm and its neighbouring communities.


Social Projects

Nearby to Gesha Village are three government run schools and one clinic. These are all within a short walking distance from the estate and this is significant as in rural Ethiopia, many students must walk up to three hours in order to get to school.

Gesha Village provides school supplies to students and is currently working with the clinic in order to figure out the best way to support its operation.

One other community project that the GV team is focusing its efforts on is distributing fuel efficient and cleaner burning stoves to their neighbours. Most households currently use outdated stoves that require lots of wood/fuel and burn a lot of waste particles into the atmosphere.

For the past 3 years GV has given away 25,000 coffee seedlings per year to neighbouring farmers. The team also provide agronomy training when the farmers pick up their seedlings. GV hopes to grow coffee production in the surrounding area so that local farmers can grow benefit from the innovations employed at GV.


Agricultural Projects

On the botanical side of the spectrum, the GV team planted a research plot in early 2016 that is made up various of indigenous coffee varieties. This will allow the team, including Dr. Girma, to better study varieties. The team is keen to continue partnering public/educational partners to carry out future research that will add to the knowledge they’ve already accumulated from the genetic study they worked on in 2014 with Dr. Sarada Krishnan from Denver Botanic Gardens (mentioned earlier).

In addition to coffee, GV is currently testing apple and honey cultivation. The motivation behind these two projects is mostly one of curiosity, but who knows where things will lead?

22991764230_61bc816d76_z.jpg

Production Projects

The GV processing facility is upgrading to a custom-made Penagos pulper, which will be installed in 2017. This pulper sorts under and overripe cherries through water pressure and will help out the manual pickers, who sometimes find it difficult to pick the different plots which are planted with different varieties and hence have different morphology.

Finally, the team is researching how to build a warehouse on-site. They have found a potential supplier but given the poor road conditions between Addis and Gesha, the logistics for getting the materials to the farm first needs to be solved.


Partnership with CCS

Team CCS is proud to have the distinct honour of being the only coffee importer in Europe and the US to be working with Gesha Village Estate. While Adam & Rachel and their team do run direct sales with roasting partners, both CCS & Gesha Village saw an opportunity to work together to further distribute Gesha Village coffees to great homes around the world.

Both projects share similar values in promoting excellent coffee while building a transparent and a partnership-based buying community, so it made sense to join forces in the effort to spread the coffee and word about the phenomenal work of Gesha Village Estate.

23287632835_04e4995d4b_z.jpg

Coffee Profile: Natural Gesha, Gesha Village Estate

23261512476_975c8a6b91_z
23261512476_975c8a6b91_z

Name: Gesha Village
Province: Gesha
Location: Southwest Ethiopia
Average Annual Rainfall (mm): 1150
Altitude (masl): 1900-2100m
Number of hectares: 471
Hectares cultivated: 320
Shade: Agro-forestry system with mix of indigenous shade trees
Process: Natural
Drying Method: Sun
Harvest Method: Handpicking
Main Harvest Season: November- January
Varieties: Wild Gesha
Soil: Virgin forest, brown loam soil


About

Naturals from The Gesha Village go through a rigorous selection process.Run through a wash, floaters are removed and all quality cherries are transferred to raised African beds where they are dried in thin layers using a parabolic plastic cover.


Cupping Notes

Lot 1.4(NHQ-G1-1.4): Tropical with clear aromatics of Guava, this natural lot from Gesha Village is bright and flavorful and scored a high of 87.5.Full of cantaloupe, the finish is refreshing.

Lot 1314(NHQ-G1-1314):A very floral natural Gesha, Lot 1314 combines the acidity of apples with hints of mango.Long yet sweet, this lots allows you to savor the complexity of Gesha in a naturally complex state.Scoring 87 points during cupping, it lives up to its name.

Lot 1617(NHQ-G1-1617):The highest score of our Gesha naturals(88 points), Lot 1617 is a wonderful experience combining orange blossoms and rose petals.With a sparkling acidity level, this lot is bright with a slight hint of rosemary.

Lot 7910(NHQ-G1-7910): With a score of 87, this natural Gesha is vibrant and full of bright red berries.Raspberry is very prominent with notes of red apples adding a hint of sweetness. 
 

The Backstory

The Gesha Village journey began back in 2007 when Adam Overton and Rachel Samuel were making a documentary about Ethiopian coffee for the Ethiopian government. It was during this project that they were first introduced to Dr. Girma, their guide through the Gera Coffee Forest near Jimma. Dr. Girma is a coffee researcher and is a wealth of information about coffee agronomy, and farm management. During the process of creating this documentary, Rachel was reintroduced to her birth country and Adam became fascinated by the rich coffee history of the birthplace of coffee.

By the end of this coffee expedition, the couple felt compelled to start their own coffee farm. They saw too much unexplored potential and opportunity in Ethiopia’s wild coffee forests to ignore. Even though the country’s coffee trade was established long ago, Ethiopia’s coffee sector as a whole is far behind newer coffee origins in terms of agricultural and processing innovations as well as terroir distinctions, which these days are two of the most important distinctions between specialty and commercial coffee. Adam and Rachel are fully utilizing this gap in the Ethiopian specialty market in establishing Gesha Village Estate.

From 2007-2010, the couple scoured the country in search for the perfect place to set up their project. One of the initial criteria was that the farm should be within close proximity to the capital city, Addis Ababa, due to practical transport considerations. More importantly, however, were other considerations:

  • Altitude: between 1800-2100 meters above sea level
  • A relatively large piece of land (over 100 hectares)
  • Old growth/primary forest
  • Established shade trees
  • Road access
  • Access to labour
  • No displacement of inhabitants
23287555755_9bdbd51a95_z.jpg

As they surveyed place after place, they drew further and further away from Addis. Finally, they found Gesha town, very close to Ethiopia’s border with Sudan, in the far western region of the country. During their reconnaissance, they found wild coffee growing within pristine forest. This coffee paradise, combined with meeting some inhabitants from the Meanit community who indigenous to the area, also drew the couple in. This was a place and people where something completely cutting-edge could happen. In autumn of 2011 the lease for the 471 hectares that now make up Gesha Village Estate was signed and soon after, Akalu, Gesha Village’s (GV) Farm Manager was hired. He, together with the newly established GV team, began doing a forest exploration where they picked wild seeds from the nearby Gori Gesha forest.

After a year in the nursery, these seeds were planted on 30 hectares and at the same time, the team began acquainting themselves with the Meanit neighbours that lived around them. This initial 30 hectares made up GV’s first “test plot” – the team wanted to ensure the cup quality was good before more coffee was planted. The first 1kg sample was sent to Adam and Rachel’s friend Willem Boot in the spring of 2012 even before they themselves had a chance to cup. Willem in turn organized a Cupping Caravan in Ethiopia where cuppers were blown away by the coffee. At this point, the GV team knew that they were onto something special.

23204926041_ca4a667dc2_z-1.jpg

Before getting too ahead of themselves, the team decided to visit their neighbours’ coffee farms in order to both study the morphology of more established trees, which also came from forest seeds, and also to cup their neighbours’ coffees to further understand what they were working with at GV. As exciting as cultivating forest coffee was, the team understood that planting one of any variety was risky and on the advice of Akalu and Dr. Girma, decided to plant a good portion of GV with tried and tested Ethiopian heirloom varieties released from the Jimma Argicultural Research Center (JARC). These released varieties come from various seed collection expeditions that JARC has conducted.

Wild varieties collected during expeditions are studied and researchers are looking for the following characteristics in determining which are “superior plants”: a) showing disease resistance; b) excellent cup quality; and c) good yield. Plants showing these characteristics are chosen for release and GV chose to plant a variety that originated in the highland coffee forests of Illubabor. This one showed both disease resistance and excellent cup quality.

We can say that over the course of cupping the different varieties produced on GV, these research varieties have some of the most exciting cup profiles that Gesha Village have produced. With varieties playing such an important role in quality and cup profile, it makes perfect sense that the GV team found research partners to carry out a methodical genetic study on the Gesha forest varieties. Part of that study concerns the possible connection between Panamanian geisha and coffee from the Gori Gesha Forest. You can access the study’s findings here.


The Community

Before the project started in earnest, the GV team gathered the elders and wise men from the local Meanit community in order to explain the project as well as hear out the community’s thoughts and concerns about it. Though successful as an introduction, the team understood from the beginning that a real partnership would take time and effort and one of the early challenges GV faced was finding labourers. There was a stigma against working for someone else as most people already had their own garden farms.

23287559545_efff52ce74_z.jpg

Over time, women began working with the farm and since they earned their own income for the first time, this early labour force attracted more and more people, eventually both women and men. Today, GV can attract up to 800 workers per day coming from 17,000 families. These workers come from 5-6 different kebeles (localities) spanning from Gesha Mountain to Gori Gesha Forest.

Now that a good relationship has been established between Gesha Village Estate and their surrounding communities, three local representatives have been appointed to liaise between the farm and its neighbouring communities.
 

Social Projects

Nearby to Gesha Village are three government run schools and one clinic. These are all within a short walking distance from the estate and this is significant as in rural Ethiopia, many students must walk up to three hours in order to get to school.

Gesha Village provides school supplies to students and is currently working with the clinic in order to figure out the best way to support its operation.

One other community project that the GV team is focusing its efforts on is distributing fuel efficient and cleaner burning stoves to their neighbours. Most households currently use outdated stoves that require lots of wood/fuel and burn a lot of waste particles into the atmosphere.

For the past 3 years GV has given away 25,000 coffee seedlings per year to neighbouring farmers. The team also provide agronomy training when the farmers pick up their seedlings. GV hopes to grow coffee production in the surrounding area so that local farmers can grow benefit from the innovations employed at GV.


Agricultural Projects

On the botanical side of the spectrum, the GV team planted a research plot in early 2016 that is made up various of indigenous coffee varieties. This will allow the team, including Dr. Girma, to better study varieties. The team is keen to continue partnering public/educational partners to carry out future research that will add to the knowledge they’ve already accumulated from the genetic study they worked on in 2014 with Dr. Sarada Krishnan from Denver Botanic Gardens (mentioned earlier).

In addition to coffee, GV is currently testing apple and honey cultivation. The motivation behind these two projects is mostly one of curiosity, but who knows where things will lead?

22991764230_61bc816d76_z.jpg

Production Projects

The GV processing facility is upgrading to a custom-made Penagos pulper, which will be installed in 2017. This pulper sorts under and overripe cherries through water pressure and will help out the manual pickers, who sometimes find it difficult to pick the different plots which are planted with different varieties and hence have different morphology.

Finally, the team is researching how to build a warehouse on-site. They have found a potential supplier but given the poor road conditions between Addis and Gesha, the logistics for getting the materials to the farm first needs to be solved.


Partnership with CCS

Team CCS is proud to have the distinct honour of being the only coffee importer in Europe and the US to be working with Gesha Village Estate. While Adam & Rachel and their team do run direct sales with roasting partners, both CCS & Gesha Village saw an opportunity to work together to further distribute Gesha Village coffees to great homes around the world.

Both projects share similar values in promoting excellent coffee while building a transparent and a partnership-based buying community, so it made sense to join forces in the effort to spread the coffee and word about the phenomenal work of Gesha Village Estate.

23287632835_04e4995d4b_z.jpg

Coffee Profile: Illubabor Variety, Gesha Village Estate

23287639555_019267440e_z
23287639555_019267440e_z

Name: Gesha Village
Province: Gesha
Location: Southwest Ethiopia
Average Annual Rainfall (mm): 1150
Altitude (masl): 1900-2100m
Number of hectares: 471
Hectares cultivated: 320
Shade: Agro-forestry system with mix of indigenous shade trees
Process: Washed
Drying Method: Sun
Harvest Method: Handpicking
Main Harvest Season: November- January
Variety: Illubabor 1974
Soil: Virgin forest, brown loam soil


About

Illubabor 1974 is a research variety washed with a mechanical demucilager, soaked for 24-36 hours and then shade dried to 30 percent moisture content.It is then transferred to a raised African bed for further drying before it is bagged and stored for export.


Cupping Notes

Lot 252627(WHQ-JR-252627):Illubabor is a varietal which introduces us to the wonderful prospects Gesha Village has to offer beyond Gesha coffee varieties.Scoring a high of 88 points during US and European cuppings, this varietal is wild with jasmine, honey and passionfruit standing out.The body is sweet with finishes of melon and honeydew.Truly a gem from the Gesha Village estate.


The Backstory

The Gesha Village journey began back in 2007 when Adam Overton and Rachel Samuel were making a documentary about Ethiopian coffee for the Ethiopian government. It was during this project that they were first introduced to Dr. Girma, their guide through the Gera Coffee Forest near Jimma. Dr. Girma is a coffee researcher and is a wealth of information about coffee agronomy, and farm management. During the process of creating this documentary, Rachel was reintroduced to her birth country and Adam became fascinated by the rich coffee history of the birthplace of coffee.

By the end of this coffee expedition, the couple felt compelled to start their own coffee farm. They saw too much unexplored potential and opportunity in Ethiopia’s wild coffee forests to ignore. Even though the country’s coffee trade was established long ago, Ethiopia’s coffee sector as a whole is far behind newer coffee origins in terms of agricultural and processing innovations as well as terroir distinctions, which these days are two of the most important distinctions between specialty and commercial coffee. Adam and Rachel are fully utilizing this gap in the Ethiopian specialty market in establishing Gesha Village Estate.

From 2007-2010, the couple scoured the country in search for the perfect place to set up their project. One of the initial criteria was that the farm should be within close proximity to the capital city, Addis Ababa, due to practical transport considerations. More importantly, however, were other considerations:

  • Altitude: between 1800-2100 meters above sea level
  • A relatively large piece of land (over 100 hectares)
  • Old growth/primary forest
  • Established shade trees
  • Road access
  • Access to labour
  • No displacement of inhabitants
23287555755_9bdbd51a95_z.jpg

As they surveyed place after place, they drew further and further away from Addis. Finally, they found Gesha town, very close to Ethiopia’s border with Sudan, in the far western region of the country. During their reconnaissance, they found wild coffee growing within pristine forest. This coffee paradise, combined with meeting some inhabitants from the Meanit community who indigenous to the area, also drew the couple in. This was a place and people where something completely cutting-edge could happen. In autumn of 2011 the lease for the 471 hectares that now make up Gesha Village Estate was signed and soon after, Akalu, Gesha Village’s (GV) Farm Manager was hired. He, together with the newly established GV team, began doing a forest exploration where they picked wild seeds from the nearby Gori Gesha forest.

After a year in the nursery, these seeds were planted on 30 hectares and at the same time, the team began acquainting themselves with the Meanit neighbours that lived around them. This initial 30 hectares made up GV’s first “test plot” – the team wanted to ensure the cup quality was good before more coffee was planted. The first 1kg sample was sent to Adam and Rachel’s friend Willem Boot in the spring of 2012 even before they themselves had a chance to cup. Willem in turn organized a Cupping Caravan in Ethiopia where cuppers were blown away by the coffee. At this point, the GV team knew that they were onto something special.

23204926041_ca4a667dc2_z-1.jpg

Before getting too ahead of themselves, the team decided to visit their neighbours’ coffee farms in order to both study the morphology of more established trees, which also came from forest seeds, and also to cup their neighbours’ coffees to further understand what they were working with at GV. As exciting as cultivating forest coffee was, the team understood that planting one of any variety was risky and on the advice of Akalu and Dr. Girma, decided to plant a good portion of GV with tried and tested Ethiopian heirloom varieties released from the Jimma Argicultural Research Center (JARC). These released varieties come from various seed collection expeditions that JARC has conducted.

Wild varieties collected during expeditions are studied and researchers are looking for the following characteristics in determining which are “superior plants”: a) showing disease resistance; b) excellent cup quality; and c) good yield. Plants showing these characteristics are chosen for release and GV chose to plant a variety that originated in the highland coffee forests of Illubabor. This one showed both disease resistance and excellent cup quality.

We can say that over the course of cupping the different varieties produced on GV, these research varieties have some of the most exciting cup profiles that Gesha Village have produced. With varieties playing such an important role in quality and cup profile, it makes perfect sense that the GV team found research partners to carry out a methodical genetic study on the Gesha forest varieties. Part of that study concerns the possible connection between Panamanian geisha and coffee from the Gori Gesha Forest. You can access the study’s findings here.


The Community

Before the project started in earnest, the GV team gathered the elders and wise men from the local Meanit community in order to explain the project as well as hear out the community’s thoughts and concerns about it. Though successful as an introduction, the team understood from the beginning that a real partnership would take time and effort and one of the early challenges GV faced was finding labourers. There was a stigma against working for someone else as most people already had their own garden farms.

23287559545_efff52ce74_z.jpg

Over time, women began working with the farm and since they earned their own income for the first time, this early labour force attracted more and more people, eventually both women and men. Today, GV can attract up to 800 workers per day coming from 17,000 families. These workers come from 5-6 different kebeles (localities) spanning from Gesha Mountain to Gori Gesha Forest.

Now that a good relationship has been established between Gesha Village Estate and their surrounding communities, three local representatives have been appointed to liaise between the farm and its neighbouring communities.


Social Projects

Nearby to Gesha Village are three government run schools and one clinic. These are all within a short walking distance from the estate and this is significant as in rural Ethiopia, many students must walk up to three hours in order to get to school.

Gesha Village provides school supplies to students and is currently working with the clinic in order to figure out the best way to support its operation.

One other community project that the GV team is focusing its efforts on is distributing fuel efficient and cleaner burning stoves to their neighbours. Most households currently use outdated stoves that require lots of wood/fuel and burn a lot of waste particles into the atmosphere.

For the past 3 years GV has given away 25,000 coffee seedlings per year to neighbouring farmers. The team also provide agronomy training when the farmers pick up their seedlings. GV hopes to grow coffee production in the surrounding area so that local farmers can grow benefit from the innovations employed at GV.


Agricultural Projects

On the botanical side of the spectrum, the GV team planted a research plot in early 2016 that is made up various of indigenous coffee varieties. This will allow the team, including Dr. Girma, to better study varieties. The team is keen to continue partnering public/educational partners to carry out future research that will add to the knowledge they’ve already accumulated from the genetic study they worked on in 2014 with Dr. Sarada Krishnan from Denver Botanic Gardens (mentioned earlier).

In addition to coffee, GV is currently testing apple and honey cultivation. The motivation behind these two projects is mostly one of curiosity, but who knows where things will lead?

22991764230_61bc816d76_z.jpg

Production Projects

The GV processing facility is upgrading to a custom-made Penagos pulper, which will be installed in 2017. This pulper sorts under and overripe cherries through water pressure and will help out the manual pickers, who sometimes find it difficult to pick the different plots which are planted with different varieties and hence have different morphology.

Finally, the team is researching how to build a warehouse on-site. They have found a potential supplier but given the poor road conditions between Addis and Gesha, the logistics for getting the materials to the farm first needs to be solved.


Partnership with CCS

Team CCS is proud to have the distinct honour of being the only coffee importer in Europe and the US to be working with Gesha Village Estate. While Adam & Rachel and their team do run direct sales with roasting partners, both CCS & Gesha Village saw an opportunity to work together to further distribute Gesha Village coffees to great homes around the world.

Both projects share similar values in promoting excellent coffee while building a transparent and a partnership-based buying community, so it made sense to join forces in the effort to spread the coffee and word about the phenomenal work of Gesha Village Estate.

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Direct Trade and the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange: What’s the Problem?

98% of the coffee exported out of Ethiopia goes through the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange (ECX), so to say it’s important is a massive understatement. But it’s also a struggle to understand, makes transparency seem as out of reach as world peace, and causes a lot of misrepresentation about what Ethiopian coffee is and how the export process works. In fact, it’s almost incomprehensible as to why the ECX is so, well, incomprehensible. Anyone who imports Ethiopian coffee can attest to the resulting challenges, frustrations, and constant changes they experience when buying from this coveted origin.

So two stakeholders in the Ethiopian coffee trade have sat down for a Q&A on what the ECX is, why it makes it difficult to buy directly from source, and how the process may improve in the future. Read on to to discover what this confusing system is all about.

  Coffee being processed in Gedeb, Ethiopia

Coffee being processed in Gedeb, Ethiopia

The Q&A Participants

Heleanna Georgalis of Moplaco P.L.C. is an exporter of Ethiopian coffee. Her family has been working in the coffee trade in Ethiopia for three generations, and Moplaco was established by her father, Yanni, in 1971.

Melanie Leeson is a coffee buyer/importer for the Collaborative Coffee Source, whose founders have been establishing close partnerships with coffee producers and exporters since 2005 through their sister company, Kaffa Roastery, in Oslo, Norway. Since 2012, CCS has independently continued to strengthen these early partnerships and is continuously and thoughtfully adding new partnerships – producers, exporters, and roasters alike – to its supplier roster and customer base, which together span over five continents.


The ECX: A Q&A

Melanie Leeson: Heleanna, explain to me the different ways someone can buy coffee from Ethiopia. Is it possible to have direct trade Ethiopian coffee?

Heleanna Georgalis: Well, yes. You can buy in three ways:

1. Directly from Unions which form an umbrella on top of a number of cooperatives. Coffees bought this way can come in bulk (e.g. a Sidamo Gr-2) with no specificity behind it, or can come “directly” from the specific cooperatives you have chosen to buy from. This coffee can be fully traceable and recognisable.

2. Directly from a commercial farm that has a minimum of 35 hectares of land. These farms are also recognisable. They offer traceable coffee from their own land, along with coffee most likely collected from the farmers around them.

3. From an exporter who can ONLY buy their coffee from the auction. These coffees are not traceable and are only given general names from wider geographic areas. For example, a Sidamo A would include areas such as Bensa, Guji, and Harorensa.

  Wild coffee trees in Kaffa forest

Wild coffee trees in Kaffa forest

Melanie Leeson: Are there any downsides to buying from cooperatives via unions? Why doesn’t everyone who wants traceable coffee just buy from the unions?

Heleanna Georgalis: Although I’m not a buyer myself, I believe people may, in many cases, prefer to buy from an exporter, as they’ve already built a relationship of trust over time.

Buying from a cooperative and union, although they may offer the advantages of traceability and the access to see where and how the coffee has been produced, requires an enormous investment of time. This may form an impediment. And even once a relationship has been established with the cooperative, timely communication and reliability with the union-exporter may become hurdles. In addition, the farmers of the cooperative may not be the full beneficiaries of all these efforts.

However, this option still remains the best option for establishing a desired “direct trade”, as it allows you to deal as close to the origin as possible.

  Processing Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

Processing Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

Melanie Leeson: Buyers see a lot of names of Ethiopian coffees in the market. Can you explain how all these names come about, given the fact that 98% of the total produced volume in Ethiopia is still bought from the ECX?

Heleanna Georgalis: There are about four different types of names an exporter, whether a union, farm, or private exporter, can use:

1. A general wider area, such as Sidamo.

2. A specific area, such as Guji, that can be accessed through the ECX because it’s graded as an 80+ coffee. In this case, “Guji coffee” becomes traceable to the wider Guji area. So this kind of traceability is possible for some localities traded through the ECX, but certainly not for all.

3. A specific location, such as Haricha. However, this is only possible if the exporter is a cooperative/union from the area that can directly trade the coffee as “Haricha”. Or if they’re a commercial farm that’s established in that area.

4. A brand that’s a registered name an exporter has given to their coffee.

  Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

Melanie Leeson: Is it possible for an exporter to buy coffee from cooperatives and farms and then market these coffees using their names and locations?

Heleanna Georgalis: “Absolutely not” would be the definite and short answer to this. So when an exporter claims that a coffee comes from Haricha in Yirgachefe, you have to wonder how they know, given the lack of traceability inherent in the auction.

Equally, when an exporter says that their coffee comes directly from one particular washing station, you have to wonder – again – how they could possibly know this, since the coffees from a wider area are just blended together and then given a grade and a classification.

  Where is your coffee really from?

Where is your coffee really from?

Melanie Leeson: What was the rationale behind the creation of the ECX? Why the move to remove traceability in the coffee buying process?

Heleanna Georgalis: Let’s say “a lack of adequate information and understanding of the workings of coffee”.

ECX was formed out of the belief that Ethiopia would be able to eliminate or reduce poverty if commodities could have a platform to be traded on, rather than an informal system of supply mainly controlled by or benefiting the “middleman”.

However, coffee already had an established system and platform of trade that had existed since the 1970s. It was well designed to represent and trade coffee in a traceable and sustainable way. Like every system it had its drawbacks, but these were easy to correct.

The move to remove traceability emerged from a belief that if the exporter and the supplier of coffee could identify each other, then collusions could form that would distort the market and make it difficult and unfair for all the players to participate. So the most valuable information of the coffee was removed, but the collusions and special relationships that plagued the previous system have gone underground but have not been hindered.

  Moplaco’s Yirgacheffe warehouse

Moplaco’s Yirgacheffe warehouse

Melanie Leeson: I read earlier this year that ECX was rolling out a geotagging system this season. Each bag now comes with a scannable code that will provide the buyer with its precise geographic information. Is this program operational? How is it working out?

Heleanna Georgalis: This system, although cumbersome to implement, and cumbersome for the logistics of any exporter’s warehouse, gave me the hope that the information we need would be restored to us. It would enable us to sell high quality coffee traceably.

At the moment, the system has not yet been fully established. Although efforts have been made to deliver tagged coffee bags to us, they cannot actually be read or traced. I sincerely hope that, as of next year, we will have a clearer view on how the system will actually operate.

  Coffee picking in Gesha Village, Ethiopia

Coffee picking in Gesha Village, Ethiopia

Melanie Leeson : What do you think about buyers’ demands for traceability?

Heleanna Georgalis: Reasonable, I would say. How can a product be “special” if it is bulked and blended with other products? How can you understand and appreciate the specificities of each coffee and location unless this information is available?

However, like many demands, this can also become a hurdle to both exporters and buyers in sourcing the best coffees they can. If Ethiopia exports 98% of all its coffees through the auction, it would be unreasonable to believe that this amount would not be sufficient to cover their need for a great coffee.

At the end of the day, traceability does not guarantee quality, although I would say that quality needs to be traceable up to a certain point. I do find some of the demands unreasonable, but then who am I to judge what people have to do to sell their coffee?

  Cupping coffees picked and processed at Gesha Village, Ethiopia

Cupping coffees picked and processed at Gesha Village, Ethiopia

Melanie Leeson: One final follow-up question on the geotagging system. As I understand it, the exporter buying a coffee from the auction cannot see or taste the coffee before it is purchased; it’s purchased simply based on the grade the ECX cuppers have given it.

Let’s say the geotagging system is perfectly operational – still, what’s the point of being able to trace the coffee if you have no way of buying it again? If you’re purchasing coffees from the auction with only the wide geographic region and grade as your basis for purchase, then what is traceability for? Other than simply to know where the coffee comes from.

Heleanna Georgalis: This is a very valid point for a person who needs consistency over time. In fact, it represents the exact point that our established new system needs to work on. However, an importer should also remember that, given the current state of infrastructure in Ethiopia, a good Guji Gr-1 wouldn’t taste fundamentally different from another good Guji Gr-1, to give an example.

In Ethiopia, processing is where fundamental changes can happen in the quality of the coffee, but it hasn’t evolved much yet. So both traceability and the ability to re-buy coffee year-to-year is something that isn’t really possible in Ethiopia yet – but the ability to re-buy wouldn’t make much of a difference anyway until processing is revolutionized.

  Ethiopia Guji beans

Ethiopia Guji beans

Melanie Leeson: So, so, so many more questions… We could write a book about how coffee works in Ethiopia. Thank you for shedding some light on these points. I look forward to learning more and seeing how the link between traceability and quality develops over time here.

Original article on Perfect Daily Grind

Specialty or Marketability: What Are We Really Selling?

 Melanie Leeson and Heleanna georgalis

Melanie Leeson and Heleanna georgalis

via Perfect Daily Grind

The internet has done wonders for coffee. It’s brought the stories of producers to life, revealing the extraordinary work that they do. It’s spread the message of how amazing good coffee can taste, making words like “single origin” and “acidity” far more common. It’s enabled people at origin to reach new markets and receive better prices for their product.

But has all this gone too far? Do we now sell specialty coffee or do we sell a like-inducing photo? And is the time and effort that producers put into marketing themselves for specialty – allowing origin visits, teaching purchasers about their work – being adequately repaid?

Two coffee professionals, one exporter and one importer, share their views on the state of specialty in Ethiopia.

  Are we helping communities by selling their coffee – or are we selling communities to help our coffee businesses?

Are we helping communities by selling their coffee – or are we selling communities to help our coffee businesses?

The Exporter Point-of-View: Heleanna

Heleanna Green coffee exporter, farmer, and roaster; one half of Moplaco P.L.C.

My coffee journey has been one of disappointment through to excitement and, now, unease.

As an exporter from Ethiopia, I’m always striving to find the best coffee possible within the limitations that the current auction system (Ethiopian Commodities Exchange, ECX) imposes. Whenever I find great coffee, I get really excited and I hope that my partners will feel the same.

We’re all working towards the same goal: producing a delicious cup. And as someone working in the early part of the chain, I’m trying to find the right market and client base for a given coffee: people who will appreciate it, promote it, and put their best efforts into delivering what the farmers and processors have already put into it.

When I joined the coffee world, one of my first discoveries was that coffee is contradictorily one of the most valuable and yet undervalued commodities in the world. I firmly believed that quality was important and that Ethiopia had the potential to produce it.

Yet I felt frustrated about the way Ethiopia was perceived amongst top roasters. One of them even told me, “Your father saw coffee as this precious little shrub that he had to take care of and that the farmers behind it mattered. But coffee is sold in bulk, in big volumes, so all that romanticism does not matter.” I remember the disappointment I felt so sharply – yet also the burning conviction that my father was right.

Then I discovered the growing specialty market, and I was thrilled to be a part of coffee at that time. I was talking to people who shared the same beliefs as my father and me, I was hearing the word “sustainability”, and I truly felt that people were starting to really think about the future of coffee and the farming communities producing it. I met great people like Geoff Watts, co-owner of Intelligentsia, and saw how all these people upheld those values.

And as more and more people flocked towards specialty, we were delighted. Yet over time, we spotted another shift – one that has left me with feelings of concern.

Today, everyone collects images and stories. And I have to ask myself, has specialty become a competition to take the best photos and gather the best stories? Or is it still about the essence of the coffee itself? Why does a coffee sell: is it its marketability or is it its worth?

  Is this coffee farm better if it has an exciting story?

Is this coffee farm better if it has an exciting story?

Here in Ethiopia, I see people selling the wildest stories to a very willing audience. But how many people truly understood how to source really good coffee, how to identify the potential of it, and at the same time sincerely support the communities around it?

Yes, advertising, reviews, public relations, social relations, media, and our own personal experiences affect our perceptions. But are we forgetting about the “sustainable”, “equitable”, “quality driven”, “uniquely sourced” principles that the specialty industry originally set out to achieve? And is the lack of marketing going to plunge otherwise great coffee to the depths of the unknown?

Does the lack of a story have to mean a diminishing perception of quality of the coffee itself?

  What sells this coffee: its processing or the photo of its processing? 

What sells this coffee: its processing or the photo of its processing? 

The Importer Point-of-View: Melanie

Melanie Leeson, Director of Marketing and Development at Collaborative Coffee Source, a coffee importer.

I used to think of marketing as a four-letter word. But that was until my perception about what marketing can be changed.

I entered into this business eight years ago, as a barista in Canada, and have worked as a buyer/importer for the last four years for roasters all around the world. And so I’ve encountered a lot of different ideas about, and approaches to doing, specialty coffee.

Within these years, my perception of what marketing is and how it can be used has evolved quite a bit. As an example, one of my early perception shifts came from acknowledging that “education” distributed through a for-profit business is marketing. And so I no longer think of marketing as bad – but I do think that we in specialty need to examine our relationship between marketability and sustainability.

Visiting origin is marketable and it can be sustainable – but the idea that every single roaster who is doing specialty coffee should travel to each origin they buy coffee from isn’t. I think there’s a necessary time and place for roasters to get to know their producing partners and to see how production is done, but I don’t understand it when small/microroasters travel to an origin to source two bags of coffee, using up a lot of a producer’s or exporter’s valuable time and resources in doing so.

Why not travel with your importer and a group of colleagues, so that you can all share your host’s resources? You’d likely see and do more than you would be able to alone, and it would be less costly for the producer.

  Marketing doesn’t have to be bad – but it is marketing.

Marketing doesn’t have to be bad – but it is marketing.

As a buyer, I also understand the necessity of working with suppliers with a good reputation and who know how to market their work. For a start, it’s absolutely crucial that you work with people who can expertly prepare and export coffee: I need to be able to present that coffee in the same way I experienced it while cupping it during the buying process – and this will only happen if the coffee departed milled, packaged and organised into the container properly. Regardless of how much effort went into production and how special the cup profile is, the preparation and export process makes or breaks the final result.

So when it comes to the marketability of a coffee, I’m not only looking for engaging photos and stories (though they are nice and I do like them); I’m looking for suppliers that share my value of transparency. And that hinges on the ability for everyone along the coffee chain to be able to convey to the end coffee drinker precisely who made their cup of coffee and what was involved in the producing and transporting of it.

I think it’s great that there are select suppliers who are able to demand high prices for their boutique nano-lots. If it means that coffee is perceived and treated with as much respect as a well-crafted cocktail or glass of wine, I’m all for it.

But I’m in agreement with Heleanna about the need for us to question what “specialty” and “sustainability” mean to us in 2016. It’s far too early for specialty coffee to be coasting on the past 20+ years of hard work in educating the public. There are still far too many producers struggling because they are unknown or, worse, that are not being compensated fairly for their contributions to our industry.

Written by H. Georgalis of Moplaco P.L.C. and M. Leeson of Collaborative Coffee Source and edited by T. Newton.

Coffee & Genetic Diversity

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'Science' is often conflated with 'truth' and this assumption can have far-reaching impacts, both positive and negative, on an industry that is as reliant on evidence-based conclusions as specialty coffee is.

Bruno Latour, a philosopher and sociologist of science, wrote a clear and in-depth analysis back in 1987 about the ways in which scientific communities are inseparable from the traditions, culture and societal perspectives that surround them. This is something that is not often acknowledged within the course of scientific debates and it came to mind when I recently came across diverging sets of research on genetic variability: a topic that is of vital importance to the future of coffee.

Since 2013, World Coffee Research has been undertaking studies on genetic variability and one of their preliminary findings was that there is almost no genetic diversity amongst coffee plants, whether wild or cultivated. Thisconclusion was based on 'an incredibly diverse range' of around 1000 plant samples. It is important to note that these samples were taken from the CATIE coffee germplasm collection, and not wild Ethiopian coffee forests.

If these findings hold true, the consequences could be dire for coffee which is increasingly under threat from climate change and its associated diseases, pests, rain and temperature fluctuations, etc. Coffee requires, as other viable crops do, a broad range of genes from which to select and plant future coffee.

But the findings from World Coffee Research are not corroborated by other researchers who are investigating this same topic. For example, Ethiopian and German researchers from Addis Ababa University and Freie Universität Berlin jointly published an article in 2014 that used inter-simple sequence repeats (ISSR) fingerprinting analysis and found high genetic variability in the forest populations it studied.

One of the realities about conducting any kind of research is that it is almost always conducted within a specific sphere of influence, whether a university, a small international community of acquainted researchers, or a company that has its own R&D department. I'm glad that World Coffee Research exists - it is made up of many great coffee organizations and companies that are specifically working for the specialty coffee community. This industry needs to have bodies such as WCR in order for all of us to thrive and innovate.

What my very short and select literature review highlights is the need for more and closer cooperation between specialty coffee and the wider scientific community. Why shouldn't specialty coffee benefit from the fact that a lot of resources and great minds outside 'our sphere' are addressing some of our biggest questions and challenges?

- Melanie

Ethiopian Coffee: The Timeline

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I want to explain a process that you all have questions about and is super important to your offerings: the timeline of getting Ethiopian coffee from the tree to your roastery.

The prevailing expectation is that since harvest begins in October and ends from December-January, cupping/selections happen in February and March is shipment month. This schedule is based on buyers' experience of the former auction system. It does not reflect the way the current auction system works for mixed containers.

In the old system, coffee was sent to a centralized warehouse and then purchased in Addis. This meant that a coffee purchased in the morning was delivered to the buyer's facility the same day.

When the new ECX system was implemented, the decision was made to place warehouses in 7 locations across the country that make up the geographic regions that coffees are now sold as (e.g. Yirgacheffe, Sidama, Limmu, etc.). So now, when a lot is purchased, it has to travel from the countryside to Addis after the regulated inspections are made and paperwork is in order. This process takes, on average, 10 days.

By the time the coffee arrives in Addis, it has not yet been evaluated by the buyer. In fact, one can only make a quality claim while the coffee is still at its original warehouse. Basically the process makes it impossible to make quality claims because: 1. you have to pay a non-refundable fee of $150 to have your coffee inspected, 2. you have to have a staff member be there to do the inspection, 3. you have to pay your driver's expenses while any claim is made and the resulting appeal is followed up. And of course, the coffee isn't going anywhere and can't be offered to any customers while this process is unfolding.

Let's assume a lot has been purchased on February 1 (e.g. Kochere gr. 1) and it proceeds to Addis without incident:

February 1: Kochere gr. 1 is purchased (it's a full container lot, so 300 bags) February 8: Inspections and paperwork are completed February 10: Kochere arrives at warehouse in Addis February 11: Kochere is first cupped and evaluated by the buyer February 12: sample is sent out to a potential client (e.g. CCS) February 17: sample arrives at CCS' lab for evaluation February 18: sample is roasted February 20: sample is cupped and let's assume, approved February 21: lot goes into the queue for mechanical and hand sorting at the exporter's facility February 28: it's ready for export March 1: earliest possible departure date from exporter to CLU for final inspection before export March 4: container is approved for export by CLU March 5: departure from Addis to Djibouti March 10: container arrives to Djibouti port March 15: container departs from port April 15: container arrives at Antwerp/New Jersey port April 22: container is stripped at Pacorini/Continental warehouse April 24: earliest possible loading to you the roaster

The above timeline is based on the following assumptions: 1. absolutely every step occurs without incident 2. only one lot is within the container

In reality, we purchase containers that are made up of at least 2 different lots (usually it's more like ±5) so that we're able to offer a good variety to our roasters. So each of these lots have to go through the above process and then approved by us for purchase. Getting 5 lots coming from different warehouses with the exact cup characteristics that we like and then getting them machine and hand sorted for export makes March export, well, pretty challenging, to put things lightly. And all the above also assumes that the export facility is functioning at top efficiency and capacity.

Last week the electricity went out on Wednesday at Moplaco and wasn't functioning again until Friday afternoon. Not only was production halted, but a staff member had to take the time to follow up vigilantly with the utilities company to ensure that someone was actually addressing this situation. Heleanna estimates that an entire container's production was halted due to these three days of the electricity cut.

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of celebrating Ethiopian Easter with Heleanna, her friends and family. One of the people I met on Sunday works for an Italian development agency and another works as an IT consultant for the World Bank. Both of them work with a variety of commodities and have years of experience working not only in Ethiopia but around the world on development projects.

I explained some of the challenges that I've noticed about the export process for coffee and asked for their perspective as to why it's so labyrinthine and challenging. They had some common answers: - small business doesn't matter to policymakers, so there is very little will to make the export process more efficient and transparent, even while government officials totally acknowledge the challenges that exporters face. This is also taking into account that coffee export makes up 31% of export revenues for the country - the current auction system is a mess and failure but there are so many parties with vested interests and so many people employed by the current system that a dissembling of the structure is simply not going to happen. The question now is how and whether the structure will be improved - there's no cultural value for transparency and accountability in bureaucratic processes

It's not all dismal. The Ethiopia of today is completely different from the Ethiopia of five years ago. Addis is a vibrant and developing city with a metro line, a fantastic food scene, commercial centres and hotels cropping up everywhere, and a thriving arts and music scene. As the World Bank consultant put it: Ethiopia is where Central America was 10 years ago. As I mentioned in an earlier newsletter, receiving coffee from our Central American partners is much more smooth and efficient than it is getting coffee from East Africa. This consultant believes that Ethiopian policies and business culture are heading in a similar positive direction.

- Melanie

How is Pricing Determined Anyway?

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We all know and agree that coffee prices are too low and this is certainly the case in Ethiopia where the average farmer (owning an average of 0.1 ha, or 200 trees) earns USD $260 per year from coffee. Even in Yirgacheffe, where coffee prices are about three times higher, the income is too little to properly support a family’s needs on.

Yet we also notice that prices for Ethiopian coffee are increasing year-to-year and not just for the top qualities. So what are these increases based on?

In the case of Q1 coffees, the price increases (in my opinion) are fair. When we compare the price we’re paying for Kochere gr. 1, taking into account its cup quality in comparison to what we’re paying for for top qualities elsewhere, the price is similar. But we’re not just seeing increased prices for Q1s, we’re seeing exponentially increasing prices for the lower qualities too. Last week Yirgacheffe AQ1 was sold at ETB 2000 per 70KG of parchment while A3 fetched 1950 ETB. What is this A3 pricing based on?

In comparison to most of the other countries we’re working, this is the reality about most Ethiopian coffee:

  • Much of it is not traceable and what is claimed to be traceable is often questionably so (even at top quality levels). In contrast, in Central and South America, farm-direct relationships are the norm for specialty coffee.
  • There is very little investment in evidence-based agricultural practice. Say what you want about the FNC; their investments in research and continuous developments in best agricultural practices are indisputable.
  • Processing and quality control is mostly at a lower standard.

Last week I talked about the importance of intercultural understanding in coffee buying. Within the course of the past week, I had the chance to meet with professionals from other industries here: a tourism operator, grocery store owner, embassy representative, an architect, and a woman who runs a workshop and sells the textiles it produces. Some of these women are Ethiopian and others come from abroad. The common concern everyone expressed is that business in Ethiopia is becoming harder and harder. In the past 3-5 years, conditions have noticeably deteriorated. In the case of the grocery store owner, she is dealing with customs that doesn’t understand the products (e.g. camembert cheese which they think is spoiled, rather than knowing that its smell is supposed to be the way it is) she’s importing and whose ‘solution’ is to burn the food it refuses to clear. Burning food: in a country where people are without food!

For next week’s newsletter, I’m working on finding out what has become of ECX’s geo-tagging system, which it implemented at the beginning of the season.

- Melanie