Climpson's on tour: Tom visits Ethiopia
Following our incredibly educational sourcing trip to Colombia in August I ventured over to Ethiopia, the “birthplace” of coffee, in December last year on a research trip with our good friends at D.R. Wakefield to learn more first-hand about the practices, profiles, culture and tradition of Ethiopian coffee. Our trip was short yet fulfilling and we were lucky enough to travel to some truly amazing places meeting some of the inspiring people who trust in coffee as a way of life along the way.
I think, like most coffee professionals, Ethiopia has a very special place both in my heart and on the cupping table. It was a washed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe that first instigated my curiosity in coffee and started my journey in the industry. The rich history of coffee in Ethiopia is engrained in the quality of coffee produced there; age-old heirloom varieties (some trees we saw were over 50 years old!), different processing techniques and varied topography in the region contribute to spectacular cup profiles and, with recent innovative thinking marred with traditional approaches, there are some really exciting coffees emerging from the country as a whole.
Our journey began in Addis Ababa, the bustling and developing capital city in the center of Ethiopia, from which we travelled east to visit the Oromia Union’s dry mill. Oromia Union is now 16 years old and is the production epicenter for over 350 Primary Cooperatives located across the Sidamo, Yirgacheffe and Limu regions. It is a large-scale operation that capacitates over 300,000 bags of processed coffee and has over 600 local employees, the majority of which are women. The ethical nature and quality focus of the union has meant that D.R Wakefield, the first importer to source coffee from Oromia, continue to work with the Union year-in-year out to develop and maintain a healthy working relationship and understanding. It was feared, prior to our arrival, that the impact of extreme weather systems at play in Ethiopia last year would have had an impact on coffee maturation and, therefore, quality, however thanks to Oromia’s educational programs this hasn’t affected the primary cooperatives attached to the Union as much as other areas of the country due to increased agronomical understanding at farm level.
After our tour of the dry mill we were treated to a cupping session of the coffees processed here; the cupping table was blind (meaning that we were tasting coffees without any prior knowledge of their derivation) and consisted of Yirgacheffe, Sidamo and Limu coffees from the most recent and previous crops. It is a testament to the quality control within the Union and education strategies at the primary cooperatives that the difference between the two crops was extremely slight – the longevity of the coffees produced through Oromia is amazing and the cupping session was a wonderful introduction into the regional profiles of the area and an insight into the permanence of quality that superior production can generate.
We have sourced coffee through Oromia in the past and one of the reasons for this was due to the span of individuals that benefit through the production chain; the Union currently works with 357 Primary Cooperatives that, in turn, are the principal supporters for around 288,500 farmers. With the size of families often reaching into the double figures in Ethiopia, especially in the more Christian communities the purchasing of coffee through the Union no doubt affects the lives of thousands, if not millions of people who rely on coffee as their mainstay of income throughout the year. And this is achieved alongside full traceability and quality control that one might struggle to achieve through the EXC (Ethiopian Commodity Exchange). This is a thought worth holding on to in my opinion, and one that was cemented in my conscience throughout the remainder of our journey with Oromia that took us south through Sidamo and Yirgacheffe when we visited a handful of the primary cooperatives attached to the union.
Tom Haigh 2015