Origin Update: Ethiopia 2021
Here we are heading towards the end of 2021, and it's been two years since our last visit to Ethiopia, for reasons we are all aware of. While we are planning to take a trip to the birthplace of coffee in the coming months, we wanted to provide an update because our Ethiopia coffee program is anything but dormant, with a number of exciting current harvest lots arriving and available in the coming months. You will see them throughout our menu, including in Epic espresso and as Single Origin offerings.
We furthermore have been enjoying the presence of Abenezer Asfaw, Supply Chain Manager for Snap Specialty Coffee, our main supplier for four years now, who has been filling us in on the news from Addis Ababa while visiting on an extended tour of North America.
2021 – Civil War, Shipping Constraints and Vertical Integration in Ethiopia
I met up with Abenezer recently in Los Angeles, where I am based, for a cup of delicious Ethiopian coffee and conversation. Later we cupped a table of arrival samples headed for the west coast. This was the first time we had met in person during my year and a half tenure at 49th Parallel and we hit it off right away. Abenezer is a unique combination of “coffee nerd,” obsessed with quality like so many of us, and entrepreneur, focused on growing his business and that of his clients. He sees opportunity all around him and has a contagious level of optimism.
While much of our conversation was focused on coffee, Abenezer also reported on the conflict between the central government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which has claimed an estimated 50,000 lives since its outbreak in November 2020 and cost the state nearly $300 million, draining government coffers. The conflict is concentrated in the north of the country, and aside from increased costs for almost all commodities, is not directly impacting the southern and western regions where Ethiopian coffee is produced. Nonetheless, we at 49th continue to hope that peace will prevail. In our last blog on Ethiopia we could not have predicted how difficult shipping would become in the spring and summer months, delaying the arrival of our 2020/2021 lots by a few months. Back then we estimated that our first lots would arrive in April, and though we missed that timeframe, we are happy to see them trickling in now. What’s causing the delays? As we have seen elsewhere, there have been problems with logistics starting with a global shortage of containers, followed by reduced availability of bookings, and capped by delays stripping in shipments at the port of arrival. Combined, these bottlenecks can add months to shipping timeframes, a worrying trend.
Abenezer stated that he expects these delays to continue to impact Ethiopian shipments during the new harvest, which starts in October. As it seems this is the new reality for the time being, we are planning ahead with our suppliers to ensure we have a steady supply of Ethiopia in 2022.
Aside from supply chain difficulties, Abenezer spoke of the radical changes underway in the Ethiopia coffee sector, particularly the rapid pace of vertical integration between coffee producers/washing stations and exporters. This has become possible due to a recent change in regulations that allows exporters to buy coffee directly from washing stations, rather than through the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange, as was required in the past. This has allowed exporters to have a more direct link to producers, which many specialty coffee roasters, including 49th, see as a largely positive move.
According to Abenezer “Companies such as SNAP are scaling up their investments in the downstream supply chain to control much of the coffee supply through positioning themselves closer to the farmers.”
A perfect example of this is the new Buku Sayisa wet mill that SNAP completed in May of this year. This wet mill serves small producers with 1-2 hectare farms located at 2350 meters above sea level, and promises to offer outstanding washed coffees in coming years. We offered a gorgeous natural Buku a couple of years ago and hope to get our hands on some top quality washed lots this year.
In the meantime you will find Snap coffees from our perennial favorite Worka Chelbessa in our Epic Espresso starting in November.
We are also looking forward to a Halo Hartume lot from our friend Daniel Mijane, who for the first time this year is exporting his coffees directly. We were initially a little worried about this transition but are happy to see his coffees arriving in good condition and are sure he will expand his operations in coming years – he certainly has our full support. This particular lot is a collaboration between Daniel and the Banko Gotiti washing station, located in Halo Hartume.
You will find a number of other Ethiopian offerings on our menu in coming months, including a vibrant and expressive washed Chechele from Metad, as well as a Single Origin Espresso “Kolla Bolcha” available now.