For a long time, coffee from this region was grouped under the banner of Sidamo coffee, but since 2002 it was recognized as unique and given its own name. That does not mean the region was a coffee producing powerhouse in 2014 when Faysel, the founder of Testi Coffee, first visited the area. He was looking for a place to start a washing station. At the time, there were a few coffee farmers in the area, but not too many. Undeterred, and quite sure that this lush, fertile area would soon be producing much more coffee, Faysel and the Testi Coffee team set about establishing their first washing station – Mulish.
The rest, as they say, is history. The Mulish washing station – 40 km away from Shakiso town – is now well established as one of the best in the Guji zone. Set on a slope leading down to the Mormora river, the washing station sits on four hectares of land. It is fully equipped for the coffee washing process. After it started operations, the number of coffee farmers in the area has grown, as have the number of those working with the washing station. In fact, Testi even had to expand operations in 2016 and open a sister washing station (Bishan Dimo) to serve farmers in the same area.
Now, in 2022, over one thousand farmers bring their cherries to the Mulish and Bishan Dimo washing stations.
The Guji zone is part of an area of southern Ethiopia that has been home to the Oromo people for centuries. Even today, most of the residents in this area are from the same people group. Some have lived here for generations, while others have moved to Guji more recently from the eastern part of Oromia as part of government relocation programs. Originally pastoralists, many rural Oromos are now farmers – like the Mulish farmers. The Mulish farmers and their families usually work on fields that are – on average – about four hectares in area. In addition to coffee, they also rear cattle and keep bees for honey.
The Mormora river and its tributaries water the land around Mulish. The soil is rich and fertile, and in some places, as deep as two meters. The forests are home to tall old trees reaching into the skies and providing wonderful shade, perfect for the coffee trees. Before the Mulish washing station arrived, the coffee farmers from this area of Guji zone had to make long, arduous trips to get their coffee to washing stations as there were none close by. They also did not have a school in the area – something that the Mulish team helped establish.
Like most Oromo farmers, the farmers in Guji have grown coffee for generations. In their semi-forest farms, farmers usually intercrop coffee with other food and cash crops, a practice common in southern Ethiopia.
While Guji coffee is now classified separately from Sidamo and Yirgacheffe coffees, that does not mean all Guji coffee tastes the same. Ethiopia is home to many different landraces and varietals of coffee (some estimates put this number as high as 10,000!), and the Guji zone is home to quite a few landraces of its own.
Add to this the fact that different areas in Guji have different altitudes, different types of forests, and different soil types, and you have a brilliant plethora of unique profiles. So, while Mulish coffee is a Guji coffee, it has its own unique flavor, featuring fruity notes and a hint of chocolate.
The past couple of years have been good for Ethiopian coffee with rising prices in the international market resulting in more income for exporters and smallholders. However, the weather has not been the best and last year’s harvest was lower than expected because of less rainfall. Nevertheless, Faysel and the Mulish smallholders are forging ahead with plans to keep improving the quality of their coffee.
Although Mulish is the first of Testi Coffee’s washing stations, the company is keen to keep refining and updating it.
The next major item on the list is to upgrade the machine at the washing station to a newer, more modern machine from Colombia designed to operate better and consume much less water. Besides improving the quality of the washing station’s output, the new machine will also reduce wastage each harvest season.