Just Coffee / Roasters United Trip to Ethiopia
2 February 2014 – 10 February 2014
I arrived at 7 am at Addis Ababa airport. Overnight flight from Copenhagen to Frankfurt to Addis Ababa. I am travelling with Tolga from Quijote Kaffee in Hamburg. We are representing our green coffee buying cooperative project we call Roasters United. Last year Roasters United shared a container of green coffee from Ethiopia. Just Coffee did the import, and we kept 40 x 60kg of grade 2 washed coffee from the Schilicho cooperative in the Darra region of Ethiopia. Other Roasters United members (we were 5 members at that time) are also using coffee from this container, as is Rune from Kaffeværk in Copenhagen. Because one of our goals with Roasters United is trading directly with the coffee producers, and because Ethiopia is a really important origin for us, we made the decision to visit the country and the growers.
Our coffee is coming from Schilicho Cooperative in the Darra region of Ethiopia. Quijote is using Schilicho washed coffee AND natural (unwashed) coffee from Gorbe cooperative. Both cooperatives are in the south of Ethiopia close to the border between Southern People's State and Oromia. This area is often called Sidama. It is also close to Yirgacheffe, another well known Ethiopian coffee area. Both Schilicho and Gorbe cooperatives are members of the Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (SCFCU). This means that technically they sell their coffee to the Union and the Union sells the coffee to Just Coffee and other buyers.
So one of the reasons we are here is to learn more about SCFCU, and the two cooperatives, and what the relationship between them is. It is important to understand how it functions economically, socially and politically, and it is important to trace where the money goes and who decides where it goes.
Today we met with Dame (a man) from Sidama Union (SCFCU). We talked with Dame and Hanna from SCFCU about the logistics of the coffee they exported and we imported last year- what worked and what didn't work and so on. There were basically only small issues, but we learned some useful things which will make the process even better in the future.
Before lunch we visited the Central Ethiopian Coffee Processing Mill which is also in Addis Ababa. You can see some pictures from this visit on our justcoffee.dk facebook page. This is a really big coffee processing mill, and SCFCU uses this mill to process all their coffee. Other exporters also use this mill. It was really amazing to see how much coffee was in the warehouse at this mill! Just the coffee from SCFCU was enough to fill about 50 to 60 containers of coffee- that means something like 1 million kgs of coffee was in storage at that warehouse! I mean only the coffee from SCFCU- there was probably five times that much IN THE WAREHOUSE. And that coffee is being processed all the time, and new coffee coming in. So Ethiopia is producing a lot of coffee and we can all be happy about that because it tastes really good.
It was great to visit this mill for several reasons:
Later we learned that this mill has been sold, and is no longer state run! This is very significant, becuase:
All in all Tolga and I came away feeling that the mill is working very well, and all of the workers we met were friendly and smiling. They were very open about letting us see what we wanted to. And our visit was un-announced. After the visiting the mill we ate lunch. Ethiopian food is amazing and it has been great trying the many different dishes.
From there we went back to the offices of SCFCU and their cupping lab. At the cupping lab we tasted 8 different coffees from this years harvest- four naturals and four washed.
This was good for several reasons.
I feel like it was a good first day of meetings here in Ethiopia, and laid the groundwork for a good understanding of SCFCU as well as for the rest of our trip!
Travelled from Addis Ababa to Hawassa in Oromia region. The drive was about 7 hours, mostly through the plains of the east African Rift Valley. At this time of year this is mostly dry grass lands, in some areas speckeled with Accacia trees, goats, cows, small houses, villages or one of the 5 or 6 sizable Rift Valley lakes.
We stopped for coffee at a little local cafe... a boy of about 8 was pounding/grinding the coffee in a wooden morter when we arrived. We sat under a stick and grass shelter on little wooden stools while a women sat in the corner and prepared Ethiopian coffee in the traditional way. This takes a long time, but is a very pleasant and seemingly timeless tradition. She heats water in a clay pot over charcoal and adds coffee and water and water and coffee untill she deems the brew just right.
Adding to the atmosphere were about 6-7 guys sitting around chewing fresh Chat, a mild stimulant and addictive narcotive. They were in good humor and listening to ethiopian jazz on a little radio that was in the form of a can of Coke. It was all good fun.
Finally we arrived in Hawassa, and after checking into our rooms we went to find the ”Ethiopian Coffee Exchange” (ECX).
The government of Ethiopia set up the ECX system to control, classify, develop, grade and certify ALL coffees being grown in Ethiopia. There are ECX centers spread out in all the coffee regions. Before any coffee can be sent to any coffee mills in Addis or elsewhere, they must pass through and ECX center.
Our Land Cruiser drove into the dusty compound teaming with people and big trucks loaded to overflowing with coffee. This is coffee that has just finished being dried on the farms and in the local processing facilities. It was like the wild west of coffee- raw, rough and dirty. Everyone is waiting around for the necessary documention so they can deliver the coffee to mill and export it.
We were so lucky as to be permitted to wade through the waiting crowd and visit the facility to see how it works.
Samples are taken from EVERY SINGLE SACK on each truck.
The amount of coffee on each truck is noted, along with licence number.
The origin and type of coffee is noted.
The sample is taken into the lab. Here the beans are de-hulled and hand sorted. Defects are noted.
The sample is then roasted.
The sample is then cupped. The coffee is evaluted for it's quality and graded. It is basically this grade that determines this coffee's future for better or worse.
All this information is registered and the owner of the coffee is informed of the results and allowed to drive their truck outta there.
The whole thing was incredibly well organized especially given the level of chaos. In additon it should be noted that the team working at ECX manages to process coffee from up to 70 different trucks every day!
5 February 2014
We leave at 8 in the morning in the Landcruiser. The way out of Hawassa is typical- people crisscrossing the roads everywhere. There is a nice feeling in this town of perhaps 138,000 inhabitants... many young student types as there is a university, a business and a medical school here. We strike south on a good paved road... I remember seeing the road, or one like it, in the movie ”Black Gold”. There are some places where the pavement just goes on and on down and then on and on up, straight for many kilometers. We pass through small towns and villages teaming with life, everyone doing something, but nobody in a hurry. Donkeys, goats and cattle are everywhere. The donkeys are often pulling carts with plastic water jugs, empty on the way to the well and heavy and full on the way home.
This is also the road to Kenya, and there are minibusses going in both directions literally stuffed with people and piled with goods. The road is good- until it is suddenly not good. It is suddenly just not there because it has been torn up to repave, so for about the next hour we are mostly driving along a kind of a wide dirt shoulder with two-way traffic.
As we rise into the highlands, the land becomes more and more green. Lush, rich, vegatative and fertile looking. We turn off on a dirt road and continue straight through this opulant world. Small round thatch and mud huts sit in neatly swept dirt compounds. Also square stick houses plastered with mud with metal roofs.
We drive through river where young men are washing their motorbikes. Finally we arrive, two hours from when we started. Shilcho Cooperative.
The coops offices are on the slopes of a green valley, with other valleys leading off into the horizon. A truck is being loaded with sacks of parchment coffee on their way to the ECX (see 4 february) for grading, and then on to Addis Ababa. Maybe this is the same coffee which will eventually find its way to us in Denmark!
The Board of Directors of the coop is expecting us, and we enter their office and sit together. Here we all introduce ourselves and talk coffee. Tolga and I ask them a bunch of questions to help us fill out our profile of Shilcho Cooperative. We find out the coop is ”Shilcho” not Shilicho. Some basic info is:
Name: Shilcho Farmers Multipurpose Primary Cooperative Limited
Number of members: 2177 of whic 2038 are men and 39 are women
Founded in 1976
Structure: The coop has a General Assembly. Members vote and elect the Board of Directors. Term limits are 3 years with a limit of 2 terms. (Can be on the board maximum 6 years)
There is currently a 12 member board of which 9 take leadership duties and 3 are part of a controlling committee which supervise and assist.
Other functions of the cooperative:
Buying goods and selling them to members (staple foods for example).
Growing and selling vegetables on the local market including ”false banana”, avocado, and dairy.
Ect etc. I will save most of the details.
After the meeting we went for coffee in a small round house, painted in bright cheerful colors and and with a thatch roof. Coffee was served Ethiopian style, poured from a large clay pot with a thin neck and narrow spout, into small cups. Black and strong, smokey, woody and burned- not bitter, but very dark.
After coffee we went for a walk to see the drying beds, the nursery, the wet mill, and the water-recycling/pulp collection area. We walked down a grassy slope between hundreds of raised drying bed made of wooden poles and chicken-wire. This is where the coffee is dried after it is de-pulped and washed. It takes 9-12 days to dry depending on the weather. At the bottom of the hill ran a clear stream of water. We passed through vegetable gardens with chili, sweet potato, tomato and more.
And then the coffee nursery- here were rows on rows of 4-month-old coffee plants, about 20- 30 cm high. There were a couple of gardeners who watered and cared for the plants, and were employed by the coop for this purpose. When the plants reached 7-8 months, they will be sold to cooperative members at a low price.
We went to see the washing station. This is where farmers deliver their coffee cherries after harvest. The cherries are inspected and weighed and then dumped in the hopper to be de-pulped. The de-pulper is big iron beast, with spinning blades adjusted to crush the cherry fruit from the bean, separating the two. The pulp is pumped to the water-recycling area (read more below), and the beans continue to a series of concrete basins for fermentation and washing. Washed coffee is lightly fermented to remove the slimy goo coating the parchment, or inner husk. There is already sorting of quality here, with the lighter, lower quality beans which float higher in the water being diverted to a separate basin. After the fermentation process (up to 72 hours) the beans pass along long narrow channels where they are rinsed. After thorough washing the beans are carried to the drying tables and spread out.
From here we walked up to see the water-recycling areas. The water used during de-pulping and fermentation and washing is pumped up the hill to a holding tank. Here the pulp is filtered out to be used for compost, and the water flows downhill to a settling pond. Additional pulp and slurry that made it though the filter at the top of hill falls to the bottom here. At the end of the harvest and washing season, the water level here eventually drys up, and the cooperative can remove the nutrient rich coffee sludge from the bottom of the pond for composting.
Our driver, Masai, picked us up in the Land Cruiser, along with one of the farmers from the cooperative. We drove a short distance down a dirt road to visit his coffee farm. We climbed a short, steep bank and found ourselves among the coffee trees.
The farmers name is Ato Gisma Kabuto. He farms about 2 hectares of land, and last year had a yield of about 800 kg in Cherries. Ato says he cannot live from the sale of coffee alone, and he and his family also grow much of their own food. Many of his trees are about 7 years-old, the trunks measuring about 2-3 cm thick, and up to 3 meters tall. Scattered about are bigger trees, with trunks 10-15 cm thick and towering 5 meters. These are older trees, which have been allowed to grow wild. Many of the trees are getting full sun, although a massive avocado tree towers into the sky, providing shade for the trees which surround it. The farm is grown organically, but as far as we can understand, Ato only composts minimally, perhaps once a year.
All in all Shilcho strikes me as a coffee paradise. They produce fantastic washed coffee, and the land is both beautiful and fertile. There are little, if any, diseases and insects that affect coffee production. I am extremely happy to getting coffee from this cooperative!