What we tasted:
Sweet and well balanced notes of floral jasmine, blueberry and apricot with a sweet syrupy body.
Farmer: Various Small holders
Farmer: Legu Trading PLC
Town: Banco Gotete, Gedeo County
Region: Kochere Yirgacheffe
Ethiopia - Banco Gotete Natural (Single Origin)
This exceptional lot was naturallyt processed by Legu Trading. The coffee was grown by smallholder farmers living around the town of Banco Gotete in Gedeo County, Yirgacheffe region.
Most contributing farmers own less than a hectare of land, and they grow coffee simply as a backyard cash crop. Coffee will usually be interspersed with other subsistence crops, such as sweet potato, mangos and avocados. Varieties of coffee grown are usually interpreted to be ‘heirloom,’ as very little renovation takes place, and farmers simply inherit the trees of their parents. This is why the varieties are referred to as ‘heirloom’ by the industry. Locally, many farmers simply call them ‘Gedeo’ variety.
Income from coffee is important but minimal for most farmers due to the small size of their farms. As such, inputs are minimal – most coffee grown in the region is 100% organic, though not certified, as farmers simply don’t have the money to apply chemical fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides.
Legu trading tries to help with this situation by offering a premium price and by hiring as many individuals as possible in their mills and facilities. The company hires at least 300 people year round and up to 600 in the high season. All workers are paid a fair wage and receive full, 8 hour work days.
Coffee is selectively hand-picked before being delivered to collection points, usually within 10 km of the producers’ homes. Great care is taken upon delivery to separate out any overripe, underripe or damaged beans before consolidating with other lots for the road to the wet mill.
At least once a day, the collected coffee cherry is delivered to the mill, where it is pulped and then delivered to a fermentation tank, where it ferments for 12-18 hours depending on the climate at the time. After fermentation the coffee is fully washed through grading channels and is then delivered to dry on African beds. Once here, the parchment is turned regularly and protected from hot sun until it reaches the optimal humidity, at which point it is bagged and rested.
Varieties of coffee grown here are traditionally referred to as ‘heirloom’ by exporters – a catchall terminology which often masks the wide assortment of varieties that may be present within various regions…even, within farms. Many of these varieties will have been developed by Ethiopia’s Jimma Agricultural Resarch Centre (JARC), which, since the late 1960s, has worked to develop resistant and tasty varieties for the Ethiopian coffee industry and also to provide the agricultural extension training needed to cultivate them. The dual factors of Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) forced anonymisation of lots (see below) combined with the relatively low awareness of formal variety names outside Ethiopia has meant that the JARC’s work has historically been under-recognised by specialty importers and roasters, but a new book issued by Counter Culture Coffee in the USA (2018/19) has drawn new attention to the topic, and rightly so.
It is important to note that varieties in Ethiopia fall within two main groups – regional or local landraces (of which there are at least 130, 33 of which would hail from the Southern growing regions) or JARC varieties. It is still very hard to tell but it is highly likely that this lot contains a great percentage of JARC 740110 and 74112 varieties, developed in 1974 by the JARC, which are directly descended from local landraces indigenous to the Gedeo Region. Most farmers have a mix of both the improved and the indigenous landrace varieties (inherited from parents and grandparents) on their farms, though research by Counter Culture’s Getu Bekele does show that there is a strong concentration of the JARC ’74 varieties.
Our recognition of these processes as an industry, admittedly, lags behind. Though the argument made by Getu Bekele are correct and salient, it remains difficult to get information from mills and exporters regarding the exact varieties that go into various lots. Mercanta will continue to work with our partners in Ethiopia on this important issue, and we hope that in coming year we will be able to provide more detailed information on the distinct varieties being grown by the farmers contributing to our Ethiopian lots.
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.
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 of 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.
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