Coffee farming is a family heritage in Yirgacheffe. Generations of Gedeo families pass on the trade of growing quality coffee. Gizaw Alemayehu Yirdaw, a Gedeo processor and the founder of the Worka washing station, inherited the passion and drive of his father, Alemayehu.
Alemayehu, Gizaw’s father, owned a plot in the Gedeo highlands. The Yirdaw family enjoyed an income from farming coffee until the Derg regime came to power. The Derg nationalized farms throughout the country, including the farm of the Yirdaw family.
Alemayehu saw no future in growing coffee under the Derg. Instead, he shifted his focus to coffee processing. His decision turned out to be pivotal for the success of the Yirdaw family. During and after the Derg government, Alemayehu attracted customers who paid him handsomely for his quality coffees. Alemayehu used the earnings to improve his processing facilities and the quality of coffees.
Gizaw was born after his father’s farming days were over. Instead of seeing coffee picked first-hand, the young Gizaw experienced how coffee was processed. “So the coffee processing-side of business is all I know since childhood,” Gizaw says. He finished high school and then returned to his father’s station to work alongside his sisters and brothers.
“I worked with my father until I felt capable enough to start my mill” Gizaw continues “Then I went on establishing more mills as the demand for my coffees increased.” With buyers flocking to Gizaw’s stations, he took a bold step and became an exporter.
His grip on the supply chain and quality control became firm. He owned stations throughout Gedeo, except in Gedeb – the most Southern woreda of Gedeo. Amidst one coffee season, Gizaw’s prime Gedeb supplier became an exporter. Gizaw was bound to lose the Gedeb coffee and the customers looking for this profile.
But Gizaw acted quick. Within months he opened a state of the art processing site in Gedeb, the Worka washing station. “I opened the Worka washing station to not lose my customers,” Gizaw tells us.
Gizaw attracts smallholders by paying a better price if they deliver ripe red cherries. The Gedeb smallholders enjoy two separate payments to cover their expenses. One before harvest, when they are low on cash. And one payment during harvest. Today Gizaw works together with 250 smallholders from the Worka, Edera, and Banko Gotiti kebeles. They deliver Gizaw with ripe cherries from Kurume and Dega varieties.
“Unlike most processors, I use clean spring to wash my coffees,” Gizaw proudly says. “I pulp, wash, and dry the parchments carefully, using drying shade sheets. And I employ ladies from the surrounding areas to look after the drying process. They turn the parchment on the drying beds to give each bean enough exposure to the sun.”
The Worka washing station can produce washed, naturals, and even Yirgacheffe honey coffees. Gizaw instructs his employees to dry the washed coffees for 10 to 12 days. The naturals stay on the beds for 3 weeks, depending on the weather. The Worka coffees have a clean high acidity profile with notes of florals, vanilla, and lemon.
Gizaw explains that the bottleneck of export was not owning a mill. But now Gizaw can process, clean, grade, and prepare his coffee for export because he owns a mill. “Now I have my export processing plant. The next step is to export as much Ethiopian coffee as demanded by the customers. This facility enables me to integrate my products vertically.” Gizaw says. With control over the entire Worka supply chain, Gizaw can promise to deliver you clean high-acidity Yirgacheffe’s.