Ethiopia Diaries: Part III
Irving Farm’s Coffee Director, Dan Streetman, travelled to Ethiopia earlier this year as part of his ongoing coffee journeys. Here is the final installment of his adventures.
Morning came early, especially for a Sunday. However, today was the day we were going to visit Yirgacheffe. After being in Amaro the gilding was slightly off the lily, but there was still plenty of excitement to go around. The itinerary for the day included two washing station visits both of which are members of the Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (YCFCU). The YCFCU is significantly smaller than the Oromia Union, but still sizeable. The YCFCU however only has members in the zone of Gedeo where Yirgacheffe is, and a lot of famous coffee gets sold under that name. The first mill we would visit is called Koke and sits just outside the main town of Yirgacheffe. Upon arrival it is clear that the mill sits directly in the center of a community of small farms. We met with the leader of the cooperative, who was dressed in his Sunday best, to explain to us the history and plans of the Koke washing station and YCFCU.
There were a lot of questions about how the cooperative works within the union, and how that impacts the small farmers. It took us several hours to comprehend how the Unions and Cooperatives vote on the distribution of money, and how that gets back to the individual members. I think most of the confusion was centered around paying for coffee specifically: we the buyers being obsessed with how money paid for coffee gets back exclusively to the people who grew it. But it would seem the Union functions more as a business with the cooperative members as share-holders, returning the profits to them at the end of the year. After our questions were sufficiently answered we toured a few of the farms. Very small plots, and clearly outlined around the houses in the village, these producers were growing root vegetables like cassava along side their coffee. We were led to believe that most of the people here were subsistence farmers living off their vegetable crops and animal herds, while selling coffee for cash.
After Koke, we headed to another mill/cooperative called Harfusa. We encountered a very similar structure, and this time, equipped with our new knowledge, we were able to much more easily digest how things worked. Afterwards, we toured the wet mill and got more information on how coffee is processed in this area. Before we left, the community kids insisted on getting their photos taken. They were very entertaining and seemed to consider posing and viewing the photos an excellent game.
Another early morning, this time bittersweet, as it marked our trek back to Addis and the beginnings of my journey back to New York. The trip to Ethiopia had conjured more questions than it answered, but there is nothing like a long drive to digest events. We stopped mid-day to visit an ECX warehouse. The operation was pretty intense, as there were many trucks waiting to get unloaded, and people everywhere. We were taken inside a cinder block building that functioned as the lab and offices. Inside we were met with the certificates of six Q grader licensed cuppers posted on the wall. It was pretty incredible to see that the QC functions of this lab halfway around the world used the exact same standards. We were taken through the entire process, and I was amazed at the sheer volume of coffee and work that got done in this small lab.
Last day of the trip, and with an evening flight, we had time for one final cupping. It was great to bookend the trip with this, as we cupped many of the same coffees as the first day, but we also had an opportunity to taste coffees we had picked up along the way. It was especially surprising to see that a coffee we had bought on the side of the road scored an 84/100. We ate a late lunch and then went to the airport. I couldn’t but help shake the feeling that this would not be my last trip to Ethiopia.