One of my personal motivations for starting Coffee Collective with Klaus and Casper in 2007, was an experience that dates back to 2006 in Ethiopia.
In my then job we had sourced an amazing Natural from a Yirgacheffe Cooperative, Hama. Never before had I tasted such a beautifully, fruity Natural. Once in a while, Casper reminisces about this coffee as the best strawberry-like Natural he has had to this date.
Hama Cooperative had won 3 out of 4 National Coffee Competitions in Ethiopia in 2005 and 2006 and we paid a European importer well-above the normal price for a lot of Coffee from Hama, as the quality was so high. It was therefore with great expectations I went to Ethiopia for the first time in 2006. It’s a pilgrimage for a coffee lover like me and I was even going to visit Hama Cooperative that had produced some of the best coffees in the country.
It is worth mentioning, that Ethiopia is not only the birthplace of arabica coffee but also by far the largest exporter of arabica coffee from Africa, exporting more than 3 million bags of coffee each year (Kenya being the second-largest exporting less than a fourth of Ethiopia).
Driving through Yirgacheffe heading towards the Hama Cooperative, we passed by luscious coffee trees with clusters of ripe cherries and wet mills filled to the brim with coffee. Arriving at the mill of the Hama Cooperative we were welcomed by the mill management. But other than them the premises were empty – no workers, no pickers delivering cherries and no coffee at all… The management explained that they didn’t have the finances to pay the farm members for their coffee cherries, so the farmers went and sold them elsewhere.
This came as a shock for the young and happy coffee professional who had traveled here with the sole purpose of visiting the amazing Hama Cooperative and maybe start up a new business relationship with them.
I already knew, that the general coffee market was broken and that farmers weren’t reasonably paid. But experiencing it firsthand was a true epiphany and it put everything into a new perspective; if a producer who had produced some of the best coffee in Ethiopia wasn’t even paid enough to keep their business running, how would good coffee continue to exist in the future?
This was the same year that Klaus won the World Barista Championship. We couldn’t have been prouder of Klaus, but at the same time it showed two extremes; we were at the end of the coffee chain celebrating the craft of the barista, whilst the first people in the chain who actually creates the raw material could not even make a living from their craft.
This is a real-life example of the Coffee Paradox, and it for sure helped push Casper, Klaus and I to make the decision that we had to start our own business. A business founded on the purpose of creating exciting coffee experiences that bring better returns to the farmer.
Cup of Excellence has existed since the beginning of the new millennium and is to this day the most thorough and objective coffee competition in the world. In 2015 and two years ahead, I served the board of ACE (Alliance for Coffee Excellence,) the organisation that runs CoE, it was my dream that one day Ethiopia could compete.
However, it was no easy task for ACE to be able to put together a national competition for Ethiopia. It is a big task to find the right local partners, reaching out to producers who would participate and convince national authorities and their government to support the transparent and comprehensive work Cup of Excellence. Sadly, it just wasn’t the right time for it back then, and it turned out to take several more years before becoming a reality.
To make a change, you have to start with yourself. And to this day, Coffee Collective have some wonderful partners in Ethiopia, we have worked closely with for many years. Every producer is directly paid a Quality Bonus for the coffee we are sourcing from them for the immense quality they provide. You can learn more about Quality Bonus and what difference it makes for the coffee farmer here.
It is my impression, that Ethiopian coffee is still (and maybe even to a greater extent today) very popular in the Specialty Coffee industry. Walking into a third wave coffee shop, you will find at least one coffee on their menu from Ethiopia.
But even so, to this day very few producers in Ethiopia are paid reasonable prices for their coffee. Meanwhile, it can be a challenge to achieve a close relationship with Ethiopian farmers and make sure they’re recognized for their product in the prices paid to them.
It was therefore with great appreciation we heard the announcement that this year for the first time Cup of Excellence would be held in Ethiopia. Finally came the chance for the farmers of Ethiopia to put their coffee forward in the light of the international Specialty Coffee scene and to see what prices their coffee was really worth.
When the day came for the historic event, we had been waiting for decades to arrive, the COVID situation was about to shut down all hopes. Thankfully ACE was able to come through and we hooked up with Geoff Watts of Intelligentsia Coffee and joined a buying group to support this event and managed to get our hands on the best washed coffee of Ethiopia in 2020!
Not only did we get one of the highest-scoring coffees in the auction. We also paid the highest price we have ever paid for a coffee. The bidding price came to $108 per pound for the coffee, Rumudamo. This gives the Rumudamo Coffee a Quality Bonus of 11,590 percent. Which equals a price of $81.80 per pound to the farmers.
The coffee we ended up buying from Rumudamo is a washed coffee. It is grown in the South Ethiopian region, Sidama by a small group of shareholders who works with 35 growers in the nearby area. Rumudamo Coffee has practiced Natural processed coffee for the past five years but has recently expanded with a wet mill to process washed coffee as well – quite an amazing job to produce such a fantastic coffee on such a new setup. We have roasted it quite aggressively to bring out its sweet and tropical fruity aromas. We instantly taste the beautiful complexity in the cup followed up by a pronounced yet delicate acidity. This coffee might be one of the best coffees we have ever tasted, and we look very much forward to sharing it with you.
We are very happy about this auction, that broke all previous records and raised 1.3 million dollars for the farmers! This tops the previous record of $830,245 from El Salvador in 2011. Hopefully, this is just the beginning. The beginning of changing a broken market, and securing new hopes for farmers, that make an effort to grow high-quality coffee. We will let the general manager of Rumudamo Coffee have the final word about the changes this auction might bring for the future:
“It’s a powerful lesson and beyond what we could have had imagined. We sell our coffee for less than a dollar at times and it’s been discouraging for growers,” says Ato Bogale Woledehana. “Now we see there is a market we can tap into if we can guarantee the quality.”