Farm: Various small farms
Processing: Fully washed
Altitude: 2,000 to 2,200 metres above sea level
Owner: various smallholder farmers
Town / City: Various
Overall: floral, honey, lemongrass, lilac, sweet
Yirgacheffe GR 1 - 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. G1 lots, such as this one, are the highest grade and are in limited supply.
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 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.