Farm: Testi Ayla Washing Station/Managed & operated by Testi Trading
Altitude: 1,950 to 2,150 meters above sea level
Owner: 400 registered farmers
Town / City: Shantawene
Region: Sidama, Bensa Woreda
Overall: Strawberry, bubblegum, pulpy
Sidamo, Shantawene G1 - Ethiopia
This exceptional lot was processed, dry milled and exported by our good friends at Testi Coffee, a family-run business owned and managed by the Yonis family, who are making a name for themselves on the Ethiopian Specialty Coffee scene. For many years (see below on the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange - ECX), Mercanta was unable to secure good traceability information on many of our Ethiopian lots. As of 2017, all this changed, and we are very happy to highlight the great work that these valued partners are doing at origin.
The first person in the Yonis family to get seriously involved with coffee was Faysel A. Yonis. Faysel began working with coffee in the late 1990s, but at the time he was purely involved in supplying the local market. As the potential for specialty coffee in the country increased, Faysel saw an opportunity. Even though he was still constrained by the ECX, he had a feeling that things would change. Faysel established Testi Coffee in 2009 as a coffee exporting company, set about surrounding himself with exceptional coffee professionals, and hired his nephew, Adham, raised and educated in the USA, to help with outreach and marketing.
Today, Testi owns and/or operates washing stations in Guji, Yirgacheffe, Sidamo and Limu – all premier coffee producing regions. This lot was collected from farmers around Shantawene Township and then processed using the natural method at Alya washing station in Sidama. For this natural coffee, the fruit is first collected and sorted by hand, removing any under or overripe cherries. Next, the sorted coffee cherry is taken to the raised beds to dry. Here, it will remain for between 15-18 days, drying slowly and regularly raked and sorted to preserve the high natural quality of the coffee. The drying coffee is covered in the hottest part of the day to prevent over-drying. Once dry, the coffee is milled to remove the dried fruit, before being sorted again and prepped for export.
They work with smallholder farmers, intending to secure the very best prices for their coffee so that they can pay fair prices for the cherry delivered. They have also recently established a 250-hectare farm in the Bench Maji Zone, where they plan to experiment with organic practices. They are currently also building a warehouse in Shakiso where they can process natural coffees locally, in the region where the coffee is grown. This keeps more revenue in the communities where the coffees are produced.
Testi’s objective is quality and building long term business relationships. Their washing stations are very well run and they do diligent work through sorting and screening to get clean and quality beans for export. Testi always adheres to the very highest quality standards to prepare and deliver nothing but high-quality beans.
As of 2018, Testi has launched a quality improvement project at each washing stations that they operate. Their PCS (Premium Cherry Selection) Project fully controls all aspects of harvest and processing to ensure that the fantastic natural quality of the coffee is maintained at each step. They are also making the most of the market liberalisation to benefit the small producers that they work with. Social projects, such as building new classrooms for the local school near their Guji processing factory are also important, and with support from their importing partners (watch this space) they hope to do even more in the future. They also currently have a drinking/household water provisioning project underway in Guji, and they plan to extend this to other communities in the future.
The name ‘Testi’ means Happy or Happiness in Harrari language (it is also the name of Faysel’s middle son). Certainly, Testi is bringing happiness to small scale producers and roasters alike!
Alya Coffee Washing Station
You may not recognise the name, but this washing station is the home of our Sidama coffees. The Alya Washing Station was established and is run by Testi on behalf of one of their partners. Testi oversees all quality protocols, manages the stations during on & offseason, and mills and exports the products.
400 smallholder farmers deliver cherry to the three different Shantawene collection points, which in turn bring the coffee to the Alya Washing station. The washing station exports up to 5 containers annually.
About the Sidamo region:
Sidamo (or Sidama - the latter refers to the Sidama people, the former is what used to be known as Sidamo province) covers a large area in Southern Ethiopia spreading through the fertile highlands south from Lake Awasa in the Rift Valley. It is made up of over 20 different administrative areas, or ‘woredas’, with varying microclimates and altitudes; accordingly, there is a big variety of both grades and cup profiles that end up labelled as Sidamo. The famous Yirgacheffe region geographically lies within Sidamo, though it is ultimately classified as its own coffee region.
Much of the administrative confusion is due to various historical administrative designations and confusion between these and (often conflicting) modern ones. It is important to keep in mind that while all coffees bearing the name ‘Sidamo’ DO hail from the larger Sidamo territory; they may not hail directly from the Sidamo state (which is a smaller region). Most central-southern coffees from Ethiopia are considered ‘Sidamo’ and are then classified further using specific town names or micro-regions.
Even more confusingly, as of the 18th of June 2020, the official region of Sidama was formed after breaking away from the larger Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR). This was after the 2019 Sidama Referendum; found that 98.52% voted in favour of increasing their autonomy. However, the Woreda of Bensa is in fact located in the newly established Sidama region.
About the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange and Traceability:
For many years, Ethiopian coffee, some of the best in the world, was for the most part untraceable.
Starting in 2008, Ethiopia began the centralization of all coffee exports through the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX), where the coffees were ‘anonymised’, stripped of any information other than region, in the interest of the farmers, who were meant to receive top dollar for quality regardless of the ‘name’ of the washing station or farm. Coffees moving through the ECX were (still are) delivered to certified coffee labs, where they were cupped according to profile then graded and marked generically for export. This ‘equalising’ measure certainly benefitted some producers, but it had the negative impact of eliminating most roasters’ and importers’ ability to provide accurate information on the precise traceability of coffees. Even after the opening of the ‘second window’ (devised for direct sales of cooperative and certified coffee), as of the end of 2017, some 90 percent of coffees still moved through the ECX.
The end of March 2017 saw a huge overturning of this mandatory system. In a bill raised by the Ethiopian Coffee & Tea Development and Marketing Authority, Ethiopian coffee (even that sold through the ECX) can be marketed and sold with full traceability intact. 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.
In a bit more detail, the new system allows any exporter with a valid license 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 overseas companies will be able to plant and sell coffee, though this is still undetermined as of 2018/19’s harvest.
Update: As of September 2019, The Ethiopian government and the European Union have officially announced the beginning of a €15 million five-year program, designed to boost the Ethiopian coffee sector. The program, named EU-Coffee Action for the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (EUCAFE), focuses on Ethiopia’s primary growing regions, namely; Oromia, Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples (SSNPR) and Amhara. The project aims to tackle several objectives, including; food security and health for vulnerable populations, improving farmer access to credit, technical assistance and inputs, marketing and strengthening premium market channels, climate change mitigation and involving more women and youth.