Sitting here, writing this blog post I start to realise the impact this trip has made on me, and my understanding of what it is we’re trying to do, on an everyday basis. I joined The Coffee Collective in the fall of 2011. At first, I fell for the flavour and atmosphere I was met with in the company; but as time went on I started to realise the depth of dedication and uncompromising demeanour that has defined The Coffee Collective from the beginning. Reading the above, I must admit, that it sounds a bit indulgent and exaggerated, but it was that realisation that got me hooked and made me throw away any future plans of further education and dedicate myself to this strange world, being specialty coffee. A barista position at Jærgersborggade, machinesto position at Torvehallerne and bar manager position at Godthåbsvej later I’m still here. I’m a bit older and a bit less `butterflies & rainbows´, but after a little more than a week spent in east Africa, I reunited with my early adolescence and found a new appreciation for the work I get to represent every single day. …Okay, enough reminiscing, let’s get back to Ethiopia.
I guess we have to start in 2011, when Casper went to Ethiopia to find a new partner for us to work with. The product of that trip turned out to be Yukro. A small cooperative located north of Jimma, close to the city Agaaroo, in the western part of Ethiopia – a trip you can read about here.
The coffee was amazing and we received the shipment in due time, which isn’t always a given, when it comes Ethiopia. We experienced that issue the year after, where Klaus(co-owner) and Casper had visited Yukro and our shipment came in quite late. This is unfortunately what can happen when it comes to Ethiopian coffee; as Klaus describes it in a blog post: Ethiopia is a tricky country and time and time again roasters have seen their containers full of fresh coffee sitting in a warehouse of being stuck at a port for weeks, due to different circumstances beyond their control (for example there were a general strike last year just after our container shipped). So you never really know. In any case we’re already looking forward to cup this years lots and continue our relationship with Yukro. – Read the full blog post here.
Casper went back the year after(2013) eager to continue and develop our relationship with the people at Yukro. Unfortunately the shipment kept getting delayed, which resulted in us having to cancel our contract, because we no longer could ensure the quality.
That meant a whole year without coffee from Ethiopia, a flavour profile you can’t duplicate from anywhere else in the world.
Part of the reason it can be so difficult to buy coffee in Ethiopia for a company like ours is, that we’re not that big and we want to buy directly from the source. The thing is though, Cooperatives in Ethiopia are part of unions. Unions are there to improve the farmer’s income by exporting their coffee and to regulate and stabilize local markets by providing farmers and clients with reliable services. This is not at all a bad thing, it provides opportunity, but with the amount of coffee we are able to buy, that is relatively small compared to the massive industrial entities that dominate the markets, we found that we got lost in the bottlenecks of the exporting system. Furthermore, with the Unions, being quite big and extensive in the amount of members and clients, we found it difficult to get transparency in our transactions.
Unfortunately our relationship with Yukro had to end, but while we were in Addis we got to cup their coffee, it tasted amazing, and when meeting up with our friend Mr Moata Raya, he could inform us that they are doing very well.
So, it’s the year 2014 and we’re craving some heirloom, enter Mr. Akmel Nuri. Akmel had met a former employee of ours, Rasmus Wibæk, in Jimma and invited him up to his farm to show him the goods. Through Rasmus he gained knowledge of us and decided to contact us via Instagram. Fast-forward a couple of months, and none other than Akmel himself is picking up Casper and me at the Jimma airport. It’s definitely encouraging, in times where the coffee industry is hurting, that farmers, through technology, are given new options to pursue buyers.
Before leaving for Jimma, we spent a day in Addis Ababa, where we visited Heleanna Georgalis at the Moplaco mill to cup coffees from different regions. Here we found a really nice washed coffee from Kochere – which is on our shelves right now. Later on, we found out that Heleanna also drymill Akmel’s coffee – strange coincidence.
When we arrived in Jimma, we(Akmel, Casper and myself), met up with Mr. Moata to discus our plans for the next couple of days. We decided to visit a couple of private farmers that Moata knew, on our way to Akmel’s farm.
When arriving at Akmel’s, we were impressed with how the place looked. It’s neat and well organised with a newly constructed storage facility, raised drying beds and employee housing. Akmel is a resourceful man and he strives to do his best in all aspects of his affairs. Whether it’s good housing and payment for his employees or supplies for the local school he believes, that investing in the people around him is an important part of a sustainable business. Akmel’s story is interesting in its own right. When Akmel was younger, his father had a coffee farm, but under the Derg regime the land got nationalized. He fled the country by attaining a scholarship to a university in Europe. After years of studying agricultural and working in the hospitality sector in the US, he returned to Ethiopia, where he bought his land in 2002. He immediately started planting out coffee trees into the thick forest – especially around the borders of his land. This was a priority, because he, in the early years, had to travel to the US to work 6 months out the year to finance the farm; and with undefined borders he risked outsiders stealing parts of his land.
Akmel have been working on building a coffee farm based on organic practices. Even though 30% of the land is covered with coffee plants its only about 10% of these plants that are being picked as of now. The plants have just been going through their natural rotation until 2013, when Akmel sold his first coffee to Europe. The whole farm is covered with shade-trees from the forest. Nothing is applied to the land. As of now all of the production is processed as naturals, Akmel plans on building a washing station at the farm when his business grows.
Akmel has a couple tenured employees. Agriculture/Technic manager Befekadu Nega, manager of security Tejani Kemal and Manager of Property Mehammed Kemal all live at the farm in houses year round. Pickers are offered rooms during picking season located at the farm as well.
While visiting Akmel, he not only showed us around his own farm, but his neighbours’ farms as well. One of his neighbours is Mr. Asheber Gosaye Feyesa, whom we have also bought coffee from this year. Walking around the farms, we were struck by the wilderness and organised chaos that echo through the whole area. Akmel’s farm, spanning from 1750 mas to 2050 mas, hosts a variety of microclimates; from dense and humid to hot and dry to airy and fresh. Further more the wildlife is very diverse which is a great indicator of a healthy and undisturbed ecosystem.
The coffee is now on shelves and it’s one of the cleanest naturals we have tasted.