Limu Natural - Ethiopia
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.
Today, around 90 percent of coffees move through the ECX and are cupped according to profile then graded and marked generically for export. Natural lots, such as this one, are usually the last pass (or passes) of the season and, thus, come onto the market later than the fully washed coffees. Natural process in Ethiopia is called ‘unwashed’.
It is clear that the ECX still dominates Ethiopian coffee. Only around 10 to 13 percent of coffee grown is now eligible to be purchased ‘directly’ through cooperatives or plantations, which is generally regarded as a step in the right direction for control of sale for farmers and traceability. However, this percentage has remained relatively stable since the founding of the ECX.
Recently, the Ethiopian Coffee Board has introduced a bar-coding system that will enable certain lots to be ‘traced back’ after the initial anonymised purchase on the ECX down to washing station and Central Processing Unit. This system is now, however, is in trial and has only been extended to insignificant amounts of coffee as of the 15/16 system. Even with this new barcoding system, it is important to keep in mind that:
- Prior to bidding the exporter will STILL not be given traceability details. This means that even with barcoding, the exporter purchases coffee in much the same way as they do now: with access only to an area and quality code, eg. Sidamo A4.
- Only after the purchase will the exporter receive traceability details. These details will be standardized and it is unclear to what extent they will, in themselves, add value.
Furthermore, the exporter has no incentive to bid a higher price for such lots since, at the time of the auction, he/she does not know yet whether the lot under the hammer is traceable. In light of this, it is possible that washing station owners putting coffee up to auction will fail to be incentivised to participate in the new program. This remains to be seen, however. We are watching results with interest, as the concept looks promising.
All of the Ethiopian coffees that we purchase at Mercanta are 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. We also believe in ascribing to the standards and laws set out by the originating countries and will always operate 100% within these.
We are monitoring the situation in Ethiopia with regard to traceability. But regardless of developments, we will continue to cup our way through many samples and offer only the best that we find.
About the Limu region
Limu coffee grows in the South-West of Ethiopia between 1,100 to 1,900 metres above sea level. The coffee is known and desired for its good cup, sweet, spicy/winey flavor and balanced body. Washed Limu coffee is considered one Ethiopia’s best highland grown coffees. The bean is medium size, has a distinctive rounded shape and green color. Natural (or unwashed) coffees such as this lot are often sold as ‘Jimma’.