Today I’m writing from Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia. Ethiopia, the country I’ve spent the last month traveling around, is known as "the birthplace of coffee".
The legend has it that it was a Shepard named Kaldi that discovered coffee when his goat ate the coffee cherry. Whether or not this has anything to do with the origin of the coffee drink, around 15 million people’s livelihood depend on coffee here, and almost 95% of these people are smallholder farmers. I’ve attended stakeholder conferences here in Addis, discussing the challenges and opportunities of Ethiopian coffee, but my favorite time has been spent traveling out to the coffee areas. And let’s be honest, I do enjoy my time much more out in the field, talking to farmers than I do in the city. Any city.
My first trip out to see coffee was through the opportunity to join a trip out to the west to see one of the largest estates in the country. The 10 000 hectare Teppi estate under Green Coffee Agro Business. It literally took two days just to get there! We drove from Addis to the city of Jimma the first day, and ended up not too far from South Sudan the next night. With the impressive size of Green Coffee Agro Business, we saw some of their more than 20 wet mills on the way out. Even though Green Coffee is a large operation, a lot of the coffee is still growing in the forest, and it is a much less manicured operation than what I am used to see from large companies. The coffee varieties are still mostly indigenous local varieties, known to be good yielding and resistant. We camped out in Teppi, which is in my opinion a great way to travel in Ethiopia.
I also spent some time attending conferences, and a seminar on the natural process of coffee. The process of dried or natural coffee counts for the largest exported volume of Ethiopian coffee: the country produces close to 700 million exportable bags per year, and naturals accounts for 75% of this. For clarification, when we talk about "natural" and "dry processed coffee", we talk about the same - coffee cherry is dried with fruit and skin still surrounding the bean, and the dried cherry is later hulled before export. The success of any processing method is determined by three factors: For one, the quality of cherry, and secondly, assessing ripeness of cherry. Different varieties needs different assessment to find the right color for ripe cherry. Lastly, the management of drying - whether in a fully washed process, a process which includes some mucilage sticking like in Pulped Natural or Honey process, or natural process, will eventually be determining the cup quality. Understanding how these processes affect cup quality, and acts together, can help unleash the potential of any coffee producer.
Stay tuned - more news from Ethiopia coming soon!