Farm: Various small farms
Altitude: 17,00 to 1,900 metres above sea level
Owner: various smallholder farmers
Town / City: Abaya, Gelana (Borena)
Gelana Abaya Grade 1 - Ethiopia
For many years, Mercanta has been telling you the same, old Ethopia story:
In 2008 Ethiopia began the centralization of all coffee exports through the newly established Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX). This eliminated most roasters’ and importers’ ability to provide accurate information of the precise traceability of coffees. Until December of that same year, growers could also sell direct to export markets, but this was subsequently reigned in. Since that time, the difficulty of determining precise provenance in Ethiopia – a corner stone of specialty coffee – has been a tremendous frustration to buyers in consuming markets.
As of the end of the 2017 harvest season, around 90 percent of coffees (including this Yirgacheffe lot) continued to move through the ECX, where they were cupped according to profile then graded and marked generically for export. G1 lots, such as this one, are the highest grade and are in limited supply. When purchased through the ECX, however, the only traceability information that has been given even to these highly sought after lots is the area code of production, such as ‘Sidamo’ or ‘Yirgacheffe’, which are coffee producing regions, or Kochere, Yirgacheffe, which denotes that this coffee comes, generally, from the town of Kochere and its surrounds in the Yirgacheffe producing region.
As of the end of the 2017 harvest season, only around 10 to 13 percent of coffee grown was eligible to be purchased ‘directly’ through cooperatives or plantations – a percentage that had remained relatively stable since the founding of the ECX. All of the Ethiopian coffees that we have traditionally purchased at Mercanta were selected on the basis of their exceptional cup profile first and foremost. This remains our guiding principle in Ethiopia and in all origins where we source coffees. But despite our equal commitment to traceablity, we have abided always by the standards and laws set out by the originating countries (and will always operate 100% within these).
HOWEVER! ALL OF THIS MAY BE ABOUT TO CHANGE.
As of end of March 2017, a bill has been drafted by the Ethiopian Coffee & Tea Development and Marketing Authority that will entirely overhaul the way that Ethiopian coffee is marketed and sold. The aim is to limit black market dealings, to demand higher prices and to enable Ethiopian producers to share in a greater piece of the pie. As an added bonus, it will hopefully make it easier and entirely legal to get traceability on the coffees that buyers purchase.
In a nutshell, the new system proposes that any exporter with a valid license will be allowed to sell directly to buyers without placing the coffee on the ECX first. There is a slight caveat – the parchment coffee will have to be sold within three days of arriving at the processing plant in Addis. If it is still unsold after three days (which is quite likely), it must be sold through the ECX: BUT with its traceability info intact rather than being deleted. Additionally, it is proposed that oversees companies will be able to plant and sell coffee.
Experts have commented that the reforms will actually create a system very like Ethiopia’s before the 2008 changes. Quoted in the financial times, Arkebe Oqubay, the government minister overseeing the reform, said he expects Ethiopia’s annual coffee exports to “soar”. (see https://www.ft.com/content/020bc846-393a-11e7-821a-6027b8a20f23)
The new system is being trialed now (the end of the 2017 harvest season), and it is almost certain that tweaks will be made. Hopefully, however, this time next year you will have in your hands a full story on the delicious coffee you are about to roast. Watch this space!
About the Yirgacheffe region
Yirgacheffe is actually part of the Sidamo region in southern Ethiopia, but its exquisite washed coffees are so well-known that is has been sub-divided into its own micro-region. This steep, green area is both fertile and high – much of the coffee grows at 2,000m and above.
At first glance Yirgacheffe’s hills look thickly forested - but in fact it is a heavily populated region and the hills are dotted with many dwellings and villages’ growing what is known as ‘garden coffee’. There are approximately 26 cooperatives in the region, representing some 43,794 farmers and around 62,004 hectares of garden coffee. The production is predominantly washed, although a smaller amount of sundried coffees also come out of Yirgacheffe.
Around 85 percent of Ethiopians still live rurally and make a living from agriculture; each family usually lives in a modest home (often a single round mud hut) and farms their own plot of land, where they grow both cash crops and food for their own consumption. In Yirgacheffe, coffee is one of the main cash crops – covering from half a hectare to 1.5 hectares (the latter is considered big). This is usually planted alongside a second cash crop – often a large-leafed tree used in making roofs for (and also shade provider for the coffee) known as 'false banana'. This looks like a banana tree but isn't - instead its thick stem is used to produce both a nutritious flour and a fermented paste that are staple ingredients (particularly across southern Ethiopia).
There is only one main harvest a year in Ethiopia - this usually takes place in November and December across all of the country's growing regions. There are, on average, 4 passes made during the harvest period, and, in regions that produce both washed and naturals, the last pass is used for the natural coffee. Washed coffees are then generally pulped on the same day that they are picked (usually in the evening/night), sorted into three grades by weight (heavy, medium and floaters), fermented (times vary - usually between 16 and 48 hours), washed and then usually graded again in the washing channels. The beans are then dried on African beds, where they are hand-sorted, usually by women.