For fifteen years we have been discovering, developing and delivering a selection of traceable, high-quality coffees together with some of the most distinguished coffee roasters world-wide. This year, something will be different. Changes in the Ethiopian law will change how we source our coffees and will allow you to find even better Ethiopian coffees than ever before.
Ethiopia knows three separate ways in which coffee flows through the country. To understand the difference, we should first be aware that in Ethiopia, 95% of coffee is grown by smallholder farmers who typically cultivate plots of around 1 hectare, with yields as low as 250kg of green coffee per hectare. Coffee, which is grown as a cash-crop, is produced under the shade of the natural forest canopy beside several subsistence crops.
The smallholder’s end-product is freshly harvested coffee cherry, which he typically delivers to a privately-owned washing-station. Assuming this coffee will be processed as washed coffee, the washing station pulps the coffee, which means removing the fruit from the beans which are still covered in a layer of parchment skin and ferments the beans underwater for up to 48 hours. After a day the coffee is washed, removing all residual mucilage from the parchment before it is dried on raised beds in the sun.
Until this year, the owner of the washing station had to sell the parchment coffee on the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX), which was established in 2008 in an effort to improve price-discovery and transparency. The coffee would lose most of its traceability at this stage since batches were traded on a first-in-first-out basis. Since the owner of the washing-station and the export company were often related, a situation existed where exporters knew which coffee they were buying but did not have the documentation to prove it.
Since this season, the coffee is now fully traceable at the ECX and washing stations can even sell their coffee to an exporter outside of the ECX if they can present an export contract within three days of the coffee reaching the ECX’s regional warehouses.
When the exporter acquires the coffee, he processes the parchment coffee into green coffee, which means removing the parchment skin (hulling) and removing defects to match the requirement of the export contract. The green coffee is then sold to Trabocca or any other importer.
If they prefer, smallholders can also join a cooperative. By law, coops are exempt from having to sell their coffee on the ECX, but they must unite in Cooperative Unions, which are large umbrella organizations representing sometimes hundreds of coops. The most well-known Cooperative Unions are Oromia, Yirgacheffe Union and Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union. They are responsible for processing and exporting the coffee produced by the cooperatives.
We noticed in the past that some small producers who are located far-away in the mountains have the potential to produce great coffee, but lack proper processing equipment. So far, we have donated 7 full-scale washing stations to Ethiopian cooperatives and farms. These do not only use 90% less water per kg of coffee than traditional mills, but also increase quality due to a special ripe-cherry-selecting pulper. Another way in which we develop these supply-chains is through pre-finance, which allows farms to hire pickers and coops to buy cherry from their members when the quality is at its best, resulting in better value for everyone.
As mentioned, 95% of Ethiopian coffees are grown by smallholder farmers. The remaining 5% is grown by larger, privately-held farms. Traditionally, farms needed to be larger than 30 hectares to process and export their coffee themselves. This would involve a washing-station situated at the farm and a third-party dry-mill in Addis Ababa. Since 2018, producers of all sizes can export their coffee directly. Naturally, this still requires access to a washing station, dry-mill and export licence, which our local team and partners in Ethiopia are assisting with.
When we started sourcing Ethiopian coffee fifteen years ago, there was no organic-certified coffee available any at all in Ethiopia, even though most coffee was grown without the use of chemicals, to which the producers simply had no access. Their coffee was not certified because nobody had yet developed a market for organic Ethiopian coffee.
Our founder Menno, having already certified the first Ethiopian sesame-seed as organic, organized the first certification of smallholder growers in Ethiopia and brought the first organic Ethiopian coffee to market. Between 2008 and 2018, when the ECX was not traceable, many producers could not sell their coffee as organic, resulting in lost income. With the new regulations, we have the option to re-certify their coffees again, bringing many new organic supply-chains to the world market.
In the past, the way coffee was traded at the ECX in larger batches resulted in losing the identity of batches produced by smallholders, who often produce the equivalent of only a few bags of green coffee. Since samples from the new harvest have started coming in this month, we have already discovered a number of unique flavor profiles that were previously lost in the obscurity of the ECX. Please keep an eye on our weekly update in which we will announce all new shipments – 2018 will be the year in which we can all enjoy the full diversity of Ethiopian coffees!