Sourcing Coffee in Ethiopia

November 2019

To the majority of people working in the coffee industry, a visit to Ethiopia is high on the bucket list! Recently both Mary & John from Mahers Pure Coffee had the opportunity to experience this amazing country and the trip certainly lived up to its expectations. Ethiopia is where Coffea arabica, the coffee plant, originates. We are delighted to be able to share some of their trip with you!

Spending the first day in Addis Ababa (2,400 metres above sea level), Ethiopia's capital city, we were escorted by Dagi of YA Coffee, to the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange. All coffees pass through here as a control and it has its own grading system which identifies commercial to speciality grade coffee beans in nine different divisions. Coffee growing falls into four different categories: Wild Forest coffee, Farm Forest, Small Holdings, and Commercial.

20% of agricultural land in Ethiopia is used for coffee, from which 30% of GDP is achieved from its sale. The sector employs 13 million people.
We were entertained to lunch at YA Café, and Dagi gave us an understanding of the industry. One highlight is the "Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony". This involves the brewing of a dark-roasted, finely-ground coffee in a 'Jabenna' (a closed, round, spouted pot) to create a thick, strong and bitter brew.

An early rise the next morning to miss the heavy city traffic set us on our way, under the leadership of Benti Adugna of BNT Industry & Trading to travel south to stay the night at Dila. En route we stopped at Sidamo Dara washing station, which is supplied by 160 farms. This station gave us an in-depth insight to the work required in the coffee bean drying process. The drying parchment (skin on green bean) is sorted for defects by 21 ladies. This coffee is grade 1 (highest grade possible), and the cherry defects are separated to dry naturally and are sold commercially. The dried parchment will be sent to BNT for milling and export.

Continuing our journey south to Yirgacheffe, we stopped at Aricha Washing Station at 1900m. Here the washed parchment and naturals are laid out on African Beds to dry. The parchments are sorted for defects to assure quality at this stage. Here we had the opportunity to taste, what was for us - a lovely cup of coffee, prepared in the traditional manner. The predominant fruit flavours of the coffee as result of the drying process was very evident.

The next morning of our trip took us to Gelana Abaya, in the Oromia Region. Solomon and Robel have laboured rigorously to convert an area of 135 hectares to a coffee plantation. Now in its third year they have a 30-hectare farm planted and are hoping to get one container of 19,000kgs of natural processed coffee this year. It was amazing to see they progress they have made from the original photos of the land they showed us. We are excited to be working with them in the future and see the farm progress.

The long trip back to Addis Ababa was broken by a visit to BNT dry mill. This last stop rounded off the full process in the coffee supply chain. We tasted an excellent line up of washed and natural coffees which enabled us to assess and compare how much variation there is in coffees from different regions and with different preparation methods. The sheer size and scale of the machinery used in the milling process for the volume of coffee passing through was eye opening. The coffee received here in parchment from the washing stations is stored until ready for export, from where it goes worldwide.

This was a very successful trip in a most interesting country. It was great to spend time with the local community to see first-hand the work that goes into producing their extensive product range. We have made great connections which will allow us to expand our Ethiopian coffee offering in the coming months, importing such high-quality green beans, to be roasted locally in Cork.