Roaster’s tasting notes:
This is unmistakably a natural and my favourite of the year so far.
Lime leaf fragrance and aroma carries through to the cup. A big dollop of cooked sugar sweetness tames the citrus acidity creating beautifully balanced notes of lime marmalade.
The body is soft but coating resulting in a lingering aftertaste. Scrummy.
This exceptional natural coffee was grown by smallholder farmers living around the kebele (town) of Konga in Yirgacheffee, SNNPR Region. The washing station (Konga Wote) is partly owned by Mr Beyene Eshete and our
partner in the region, Primrose S.P. PLC. Primroses are responsible for dry milling and exporting the final product.
Most contributing farmers own less than a hectare of land, and they grow coffee simply as a backyard cash crop.
Coffee will usually be interspersed with other subsistence crops, such as; sweet potato, mangos and avocados, but there are no other primary cash crops grown in the region.
Primrose S.P. PLC, is a stakeholder in the supplier washing station and works directly with them to control for quality and cultural practices on the farm. Income from coffee is important but minimal for most farmers due to the
small size of their farms. As such, inputs are minimal – most coffee grown in the region is 100% organic, though not certified, as farmers simply don’t have the money to apply chemical fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides. Primrose
ensures that there are agricultural officers who work closely with each farmer to ensure the fertility of the farmland.
Farmers in the region are susceptible to a number of challenges, namely; an ageing generation of coffee trees, negative effects of climate change and fluctuations in the coffee market price. Climate change, in particular, is having
difficult repercussions, as fluctuating season’s effects harvesting, as well as unexpected rains, increasing the length of the drying process. Fortunately, local initiatives are attempting to combat these problems. Working with agricultural development agents, farmers in the region are finding new support to help combat climate change as well as plant new coffee trees, helping to improve the sustainable production of coffee in the area.
Regarding market price fluctuations, stakeholder organisations are working to pay fair prices to farmers for their coffee production. Primrose pays more than the market price for a kilogram of red cherry, and those farmers that bring quality red cherry are paid a cash incentive, ensuring higher-than-average overall quality.
Coffee is selectively hand-picked before being delivered to the mill collection points, usually within 5 km of the producer’s homes. Here, lots are separated by quality, producer and date of production. At least once a day, the collected coffee cherry is delivered to the mill, where it is floated and then placed on raised beds to be sorted by hand, usually by women, and dried. Great care is taken upon delivery to separate out any overripe, under-ripe or damaged
bean. Once sorted, the cherry will remain on the beds for around 15 to 20 days; until the cherry has reached the ideal moisture content. Next, the dried cherry will be transported to Primrose’s dry mill and warehouse in Addis Ababa city.
Here coffee is dry milled to remove foreign material, remaining parchment, and defected beans; ready for export.
Varieties of coffee grown here are traditionally referred to as ‘heirloom’ by exporters – a catchall terminology which often masks the wide assortment of varieties that may be present within various regions…even, within farms. It is
thought that there may be up to ten thousand naturally occurring varieties in the wild. Many of these varieties will have been developed originally by Ethiopia’s Jimma Agricultural Research Centre (JARC), which, since the late 1960s, has worked to develop resistant and tasty varieties for the Ethiopian coffee industry and also to provide the agricultural extension training needed to cultivate them. The dual factors of Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) forced anonymisation of lots (see below) combined with the relatively low awareness of formal variety names outside Ethiopia has meant that the JARC’s work has historically been under-recognised by specialty importers and roasters, but a new book issued by Counter Culture Coffee in the USA (2018/19) has drawn new attention to the topic, and rightly so.
It is important to note that varieties in Ethiopia fall within two main groups – regional or local landraces (of which there are at least 130, 33 of which would hail from the Southern growing regions) or JARC varieties. It is still very hard to
tell but it is highly likely that this lot contains a great percentage of JARC 740110 and 74112 varieties, developed in 1974 by the JARC, which are directly descended from local landraces indigenous to the Gedeo Region. Most farmers have a mix of both the improved and the indigenous landrace varieties (inherited from parents and grandparents) on their farms, though research by Counter Culture’s Getu Bekele does show that there is a strong concentration of the JARC ’74 varieties.
Our recognition of these processes as an industry, admittedly, lags behind. Though the argument made by Getu Bekele is correct and salient, it remains difficult to get information from mills and exporters regarding the exact varieties that go into various lots. Mercanta. our green bean suppliers, will continue to work with our partners in Ethiopia on this important issue, and we hope that in the coming year we will be able to provide more detailed information on the distinct varieties being grown by the farmers contributing to our Ethiopian lots.
About the Yirgacheffe Region:
Yirgacheffe is actually part of the Gedeo Zone, Southern Nations region, in southern Ethiopia, but its exquisite washed coffees are so well-known that is has been sub-divided into its own micro-region. This steep, green area is both fertile and high – much of the coffee grows at 2,000m and above.
At first glance, Yirgacheffe’s hills look thickly forested – but in fact, it is a heavily populated region and the hills are dotted with many dwellings and villages’ growing what is known as ‘garden coffee’. There are approximately 26 cooperatives in the region, representing some 43,794 farmers and around 62,004 hectares of garden coffee. The production is predominantly washed, although a smaller amount of sundried coffees also come out of Yirgacheffe.
Around 85 per cent of Ethiopians still live rurally and make a living from agriculture; each family usually lives in a modest home (often a single round mud hut) and farms their own plot of land, where they grow both cash crops and food for their own consumption. In Yirgacheffe, coffee is one of the main cash crops – covering from half a hectare to 1.5 hectares (the latter is considered big). This is usually planted alongside a second cash crop – often a large-leafed tree used in making roofs for (and also shade provider for the coffee) known as ‘false banana’. This looks like a banana tree but isn’t – instead its thick stem is used to produce both a nutritious flour and a fermented paste that are staple ingredients (particularly across southern Ethiopia).
There is only one main harvest a year in Ethiopia – this usually takes place in November and December across all of the country’s growing regions. There are, on average, 4 passes made during the harvest period, and, in regions that
produce both washed and naturals, the last pass is used for the natural coffee. Washed coffees are then generally pulped on the same day that they are picked (usually in the evening/night), sorted into three grades by weight (heavy, medium and floaters), fermented (times vary – usually between 16 and 48 hours), washed and then usually graded again in the washing channels. The beans are then dried on African beds, where they are hand-sorted, usually by
About the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange and Traceability:
For many years, Ethiopian coffee, some of the best in the world, was for the most part untraceable.
Starting in 2008, Ethiopia began the centralization of all coffee exports through the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX), where the coffees were ‘anonymised’, stripped of any information other than region, in the interest of the farmers, who were meant to receive top dollar for quality regardless of the ‘name’ of the washing station or farm.
Coffees moving through the ECX were (still are) delivered to certified coffee labs, where they were cupped according to profile then graded and marked generically for export. This ‘equalising’ measure certainly benefitted some
producers, but it had the negative impact of eliminating most roasters’ and importers’ ability to provide accurate information on the precise traceability of coffees. Even after the opening of the ‘second window’ (devised for direct
sales of cooperative and certified coffee), as of the end of 2017, some 90 per cent of coffees still moved through the ECX.
The end of March 2017 saw a huge overturning of this mandatory system. In a bill raised by the Ethiopian Coffee & Tea Development and Marketing Authority, Ethiopian coffee (even that sold through the ECX) can be marketed and sold with full traceability intact. The aim is to limit black market dealings, to demand higher prices and to enable Ethiopian producers to share in a greater piece of the pie.
In a bit more detail, the new system allows any exporter with a valid license to sell directly to buyers without placing the coffee on the ECX first. There is a slight caveat – the parchment coffee will have to be sold within three days of
arriving at the processing plant in Addis. If it is still unsold after three days (which is quite likely), it must be sold through the ECX: BUT with its traceability info intact rather than being deleted. Additionally, it is proposed that
overseas companies will be able to plant and sell coffee, though this is still undetermined as of 2018/19’s harvest.
Update: As of September 2019, The Ethiopian government and the European Union have officially announced the beginning of a €15 million five-year program, designed to boost the Ethiopian coffee sector. The program, named EUCoffee Action for the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (EUCAFE), focuses on Ethiopia’s primary growing regions, namely; Oromia, Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples (SSNPR) and Amhara. The project aims to tackle a number of objectives, including; food security and health for vulnerable populations, improving farmer access to credit, technical assistance and inputs, marketing and strengthening premium market channels, climate change mitigation and involving more women and youth.