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Published, Apr 25, 2016

Ethiopia Sourcing Trip. Part 2 of 3.

Correspondents from travelling Ethiopia in the early days of December 2014. I want to express my gratitude to all the farmers, workers, cuppers and mill managers who assisted me in travelling the country. Every person in these photos graciously gave permission.
Joshua Tarlo, Coffee Development Manager


Ethiopia runs on a different clock. A different clock, a different calendar, a different year. Right now if I was writing this in Ethiopia at 14:00 it would actually be 08:00 because 06:00 is zero hours and they count up to 18:00 at night and then call it a day. On top of that it isn’t 2014, it’s only 2007. Everything is different.

I woke up early at zero hour to beat the chaos of traffic that is Addis and to start our six hour journey south to our first processing site, Huntuke. Driving though a city before it wakes up always gives you a different perspective. Part of it might be seeing the late night bars sweeping out the final casualties of a long night or the folks slowly walking to their temples but it's intimate seeing a city so rested.

As we sped through the pot-holed highways out of town we drove under makeshift aqueducts bringing water to collections of houses. The country came awake over the next hour or so and I remembered this country lives on the road. In those six hours towards Yirgacheffe I don't know if a minute went by without passing people walking on the side of the road; this place is on the move and with warn out sandals, bicycles and an endless supply of donkeys.

Driving through the country in a car of coffee people the subject matter is pretty single-minded. At one point I think we were saying the word ‘coffee’ on an average of nine times a minute. I spent the long hours staring at the beautiful country and picking the brain of Seffie our kind guide who answered my questions about the Ethiopian coffee industry. It's one of the reasons why a lot of us come to Ethiopia - not just to find amazing coffees or to act as a bridge between the final cup and its producers, but to answer all the questions that we had. The coffee industry is tough, there are no real schools or degrees only experiences that give you knowledge.

As we approached the end of the six hour drive we turned off onto what could only be loosely termed a road through the forest. Here there was no dodging pot holes; the ride was almost fun in its endless bumps and jolts. 

Arriving at Huntuke, the first of the dozens of mills I visited on the trip, we got to work. Piling out of the car I shook hands with the co-op manager and a handful of people that just seemed to be keen to shake the hands of strangers. 

What I was looking for at this stage in the harvest was an insight into what I could expect from the coffee. First I looked at the pulper. The pulper is massively important. The pulper's used in Yirgacheffe are an old style disk type. Basically two disks with ridges are calibrated to rub the fruit off the bean which is then channelled to a sorting bath which separates the coffee into grades. This is done through weight with the dense beans dropping to the bottom of the water filled channel (grade 1) and then the slightly lighter into grade 2. Finally the floaters are separated into low-grade coffee. 

The coffee is then washed for 12 hours in tanks to remove sugars to stop any unwanted fermentation occurring. The coffee is then emptied from the tanks and put into channels where it is raked and more sugar is removed. After being in the tank and passing through the raking the coffee is then laid on raised beds.
I touched the recently laid out coffee and looked for coffee that isn’t sticky meaning that all of the sugars have been removed and consistently. As it dries a parchment separates from the bean and you can see how well the pulping was done. The parchment is hand sorted by workers, picking out any defects to ensure a consistent lot. Once sorted we take a look, we’re looking for consistent, pale, almost white parchment and although the absence of this doesn’t mean a bad lot it is a solid indicator of quality.
Going to origin is as much about seeing the quality of the coffee and finding delicious beans as building a connection between the people who produce the coffee and the people who serve the coffee. This connection is often romanticised in our industry, maybe a bit too much, but I believe it’s crucial in developing a culture that appreciates the people behind the coffee. You don’t really look at throwing out coffee or spilling beans in the same way when you’ve met the people who individually picked the coffee, the people who raked the submerged coffee with heavy wooden tools to free it of its sugars, the people who stood over the coffee in the hot Ethiopian sun to select which beans made the cut and which didn’t. The people, they’re why we really should go. We go so that our morning coffee, the coffee we meet friends over, the coffee we love, doesn’t lose its connection to the people who produce it.
And the coffee those people make is delicious. We cupped it a week later back in Addis and it killed. These folks are making something spectacular.

Read the final article here