Washed coffees from Western Ethiopia

Western Ethiopia was mainly known for low quality sundried (natural) coffees, and includes coffee areas (zones) like Limu Kaffa, Djimma, Illubabor, Wellega and others. There was previously some other washed coffees in Limu, where the state owned farm Kossa started with washed coffees about 30 years ago. There are other small farms in the area and private washing stations currently selling their coffees as non traceable through ECX (Ethiopian Coffee Exchange). Those are not very interesting for Nordic Approach!

We are currently working on buying coffees through transparent and sustainable Technoserve projects in the west. They are supporting the farmers in setting up washing stations and new cooperative structures. I have been surprised by the cup profile several times and think the potential is huge. The coffees from these areas have a great variety of flavors according to location and altitude. It’s a flavor range of everything from crisp citrus to deep red fruits and interesting spicy notes. They should not be compared to, or considered as a direct replacement for, the coffees in the south like Yirgacheffe and Sidamo, but should be seen as something different and unique according to where they come from. We are currently committed to coffees from about 7 different washing stations from Kaffa, Limu, Illubabor and Jimma and hopefully more to come in the future.

Western Ethiopia is as mentioned typically known for its low-quality naturals sold as Djimma 5. According to people in the trade Djimma 5 has become the name of lower grade naturals in general, meaning most naturals of poor quality from Ethiopia is traded through the ECX and private exporters as Djimma 5 no matter where they come from. At the same time a good quality natural from Jimma might be traded as a Sidamo 4 to get a better market price. I truly believe converting to washed coffees in this and other areas known for naturals can be a huge economical benefit to the farmers, as well as reveal a range of flavors not yet discovered in Ethiopia or the world in general.

Most of the coffees in the west are grown by smallholders. Except from a few areas in Limu, the average size of a farm is 0,5 hectares, and the average production is about 350 kg of greens pr hectare. That would be a little more than 0,5 kg pr tree. The current buying price this year was 75 cents pr kg of cherry. It takes about 6 kg of coffee cherries to produce a kilo, meaning they get about 4,5 USD for each kg of greens produced. If the cooperative does well they will get a dividend as a second payment. The best dividend last year for a Technoserve cooperative was 1.2 USD pr kg of greens. To be noted there is additional cost of processing coffee cherries in to green beans and the grading, sorting and current market price will determine the buying price.

Technoserve is an NGO funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation and has a tradition setting up new Cooperatives with washing stations in East Africa. They started in Tanzania about 6 years ago and have been successful in improving quality and management in countries like Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya. They started their work in Ethiopia in 2009.

Their work is based on tasks like setting up new coops and wet mills, helping farmers access financing and credit, farmer training programs and financial transparency. They measure their success in the value and quality of the coffees produced and the farmers’ increase in their coffee income.

Up until now they have been focusing on establishing washing stations in areas in the west. As they don’t have the same traditions and the “old” structure as in areas previously known for high quality washed coffees they are able to implement more “modern” processing methods.

For all the new coops they are setting up eco pulpers from Penagos. These machines use a minimum of water and are doing mechanical mucilage removal. The coffees are soaked after pulping and mucilage removal, before their skin dried and sorted under shade and then moved to the traditional drying beds. They are also helping the coops with wastewater treatment with new methods like planting vetiver grass in the water channels. The grass acts like a natural filter for the water. They will also provide agronomy training for the smallholders, and they help the cooperatives out with business management to make it more profitable.

The coffees are traded based upon a transparency model. The farmers will always know what they get back from a sale, and it’s based on a second payment as a dividend back to the members. A cooperative can buy cherries from individual non-members but they will not get the same dividend. This encourages the farmer to become members, and again the coops will be able to control the qualities of the cherries.

We are working closely with Technoserve in Ethiopia and can’t wait to see what will be discovered the next few years. Technoserve will still break new ground and establish cooperatives in both existing and new areas in years to come.

We have a great range of different coffees to offer from some of their most successful projects so far and will increase the amount and range of coffees for the next few years.