Our recent trip to Ethiopia was an amazing success, as you would expect when visiting the birthplace of coffee. To most coffee professionals visiting Ethiopia is the Holy Grail, and it certainly lived up to its expectations for our fifteen trippers. Ethiopia is Africa at its most exciting, energetic, enthralling, shocking….and frustrating! With a population around 120 million Ethiopia is the world’s most populous land locked nation, and its capital Addis Ababa is the world’s third highest capital city, standing at over 2,200 metres. Coffee is its biggest export, accounting for 30% of foreign earnings, despite the fact that very uniquely, Ethiopia consumes about half of its coffee due to its high cultural importance.

Whilst in some respects the coffee industry in Ethiopia is frustrating, there is clearly so much potential to enhance its position in the global coffee community. Here Colin reviews our enthralling trip.


November / December 2019
Representatives of nine different countries met in Addis Ababa to experience the coffee scene in Ethiopia. As a group they were able to exchange their own experiences in the coffee world …. an education in itself.

Spending the first day in Addis Ababa we were escorted by Dagi (Dagmawi Iyasu Eminetu) of Ya Coffee to the ECX – the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange. All coffees pass through here as a control and it has its own grading system which identifies commercial to speciality grades in nine different divisions. On my previous trip the market was an open auction, but for the last three years it has been computerised. We tasted in their grading room, experiencing one washed and two naturally processed coffees. Visiting the Coffee Exporters Association, the General Manager, Mr Gizat Worku, met us in his office to explain the sales system. Coffee growing falls into four different categories: Wild Forest coffee, Farm Forest, Small Holdings, and Commercial.

20% of agricultural land in Ethiopia is used for coffee, from which 30% of GDP is achieved from its sale. The sector employs 13 million people.

We then visited Ya Coffee, and Dagi gave us an understanding of the industry and shared the “Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony” with us, which we were to experience quite a few times on this trip. Any visitor to the country will see coffee made this way in shops, stalls and even on the street. It involves the brewing of a dark-roasted, finely-ground coffee in a ‘Jebena’ (a closed, round, spouted pot ) to create a thick, strong and bitter brew. Our day ended with a an evening of splendid traditional Ethiopian food and dancing.
An early rise the next morning to miss the heavy city traffic set us on our way in five landcruisers, under the leadership of Benti Adugna of BNT Industry & Trading to travel south to stay the night at Dilla. An experience not to be missed is the route through agricultural land and villages, avoiding goats, donkeys, cows, camels…ox carts and tuc tucs, none of which obviously had any knowledge of the Highway Code! En route we stopped at Sidamo Dara washing station, which is supplied by 160 farms. The drying parchment is sorted for defects by 21 ladies. This coffee is grade 1, and the cherry defects are separated to dry naturally and are sold commercially. The dried parchment will be sent to BNT for milling and export. Continuing our journey south to Yirgacheffe we stopped at Aricha Washing Station at 1900m.
Where the washed parchment and naturals are laid out on African Beds to dry. Ladies sorted the parchment for defects to assure quality at this stage. In 2018 they produced 1.7 million tonnes of parchment to be sent to the dry mills, their aim is to produce 15 containers of 20 tonnes of parchment this year. Our next washing station was Edido, a sister company to BNT. The sorting ladies looked very smart in their green BNT tops, singing welcoming songs on our arrival.
Here we had the opportunity to taste, what was for me – a lovely cup of coffee, prepared in the traditional manner.

We had lunch in a restaurant in Yirgacheffe…Leonardo was able to get the WiFi password….. but constant efforts to log on – we found out there wasn’t any WiFi anyway ! Back to Dilla for dinner, then off to a washing station at 10.00pm to see red cherries that had been picked today arriving for pulping.
Off next morning to the Oromia Region to Gelana Abaya where Robel and Solomon Getu have laboured to convert an area of 135 hectares of savannah to coffee plantation. Now in its third year they have a 30 hectare area planted and are hoping to get one container of 19,000kg of natural processed coffee this year. The coffee is shade grown to improve the quality. With 2500 trees per hectare, they are aiming for 5-7kg of cherries per tree after five years. Here we saw picking, and had the opportunity to taste the sweet fruit of the cherries !
On our return to Dilla and then onto Hawassa, we stopped at Darra washing station, run by Aptamo (Solomon’s brother). This station was supported by 700 farms.

At Hawassa we stayed in the luxurious Haile Resort and enjoyed a day’s R&R…. relaxing by the lake, taking a boat trip to see hippos and many birds, (which were identified for us by Joe who had spent a long time in South Africa). Our lunch was fried fresh fish from the lake.

The long trip back to Addis was broken by a visit to BNT dry mill. The coffee received here in parchment from the washing stations is stored until ready for export. Here the parchment is removed and yet more ladies hand sort the green beans for defects. When we arrived they had finished for the day so we were given a table of coffee to sort…
I hope it was re-sorted by the professionals later – We finished the day with a coffee ceremony and returned to our Hotel in Addis.

Our last day gave us the opportunity to cup a selection of twelve coffees at the BNT offices. An excellent line up of washed and natural coffees which enabled us to assess and compare how much variation there is in coffees from different regions and with different preparation methods.
After lunch, we split up to visit tourist attractions in the city before enjoying a farewell dinner at a local Italian restaurant.

This was a very successful trip in a most interesting country. The group bonded well, and were happy to share their knowledge and experience during the trip. We owe many thanks to Phil Schluter of Olam Soeciality Coffee, Tewodros Yilak (Teddy), Managing Director of BNT, who organised the tour; to his colleague Benti, who was our guide; and to Dagi, who gave us such a comprehensive day of introduction.

Colin Smith 31.12.2019

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