Sourcing coffee in Ethiopia is like nowhere else. There are multiple supply chain systems at play. Before I get into anything else, here are a couple examples to bring you up to speed:
PRIVATE WASHING STATIONS:
An individual can own a wet mill. Here, smallholder farmers can deliver their fresh picked coffee fruit, in exchange for an instant payout. This payout is often stringent on ripeness and visual quality. There are no extra bonuses or dividends for smallholders after the initial point of sale.
Gelana Abaya (Private Washing Station)
This Stands for the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange. This is where physical commodities (like mung bean, sesame, and coffee) are traded. All coffee coming from Private Washing Stations must be sold through the ECX. The coffee is first graded at an ECX cupping lab, and then a code is given. Other than the general region, and the cup quality, there is no further traceability.
In this system, smallholder farmers can deliver their crop, in exchange for cash in hand. Smallholder members can expect an added dividend, dependent on what the coffee was sold for. There is ability for full traceability, since cooperatives can export their coffee with the help of the cooperative unions they are a part of.
Hunda Oli (Cooperative)
Now that you’ve got all that, I wanted to discuss our most recent Ethiopian release, that we are calling Deri.
Grown in Sidamo, right outside Yirgacheffe, Deri is collected from various private washing stations within the region. This lot is purchased out of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (as are all private washing station coffees as per Ethiopian law, rendering full traceability dubious at best).
Deri (Private Washing Station)
For private mills at least, this lack of traceability is seemingly at odds with what we are trying to do at 49th Parallel, and likely for other specialty roasters as well. Working in Ethiopia, I spend as much as a month there, mostly visiting our cooperatives, corralling samples, and cupping, with which we have traceability.
Without fail, the first lots to show up in Vancouver come to us not through cooperatives, but instead through the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange. Not only that, they are undeniably delicious.
The struggle with getting sweet, clean, delicious coffee out of Ethiopia (on time!) is real. Do we see this as reason to give up on buying coffee from Cooperatives? Not any time soon. To turn our back on 6 year buying relationships with cooperatives like Biftu Gudina, we think, would be a huge mistake. Especially after hearing this year’s news of them forming their own union (along with Hunda Oli and Duromina cooperatives) allowing them much deserved control over how their coffees are milled and exported.
Biftu Gudina (Cooperative)
Both systems, awkwardly juxtaposed are our challenge to work through as a coffee roaster. Both systems have their drawbacks, but ultimately working with both is the reality. Both systems support smallholder farmers, but in different ways. The payment to the farmer is often larger on the day of the delivery when delivering to a private mill. With a cooperative, although the payment is lesser up front, there is good chance of a dividend when the coffee is ultimately sold. Continually, we are trying to navigate all this the best we can - we want to make sure people got paid, on time, and the right amount.
With lush forests and incredible biodiversity, Ethiopia will be at the heart of what makes our coffee program really shine throughout the summer and fall. We do hope that one day there will be ability to seek full traceability on lots like Deri. With the ECX barcode system that is slowly being rolled out as of last year, we are on the way to seeing that happen.
With soft honey aromatics, and vibrant flavours of meyer lemon and fresh yellow plum, Deri is a lovely example of a fresh crop Sidamo coffee. One of our first 2015/16 releases of the year!