22 Feb ETHIOPIA Trip to Origin: Coffee ceremonies and camping
Last month Janey, Carol and myself flew out of the depths of a Highland winter into the dust, sunshine and heat of Ethiopia to meet the producers behind one of our favourite coffee origins. We were joining 15 other roasters and coffee professionals on the Origin Approach 2019 Ethiopia Trip to Guji and Sidamo kicking off in Addis Ababa.
You can’t help but love Addis. The moment we stepped out of the hotel we were plunged into a chaotic maze of dust and diesel fumes and crazy traffic, hustlers and street stores, potholes, bamboo scaffolding, goats everywhere and a city of three and a half million inhabitants. Restful it isn’t but the buzz and the energy of this city are just brilliant.
Our departure from Addis to the coffee lands of the south started long before dawn and we left the city in darkness in a convoy of Toyota trucks like a scene out of Sicario. But the early start was worth it. Seeing the sun rise over the Great Rift Valley lakes was a moment of pure magic.
Driving in Ethiopia deserves a blog of its own but suffice to say goats, cows, crashed vehicles, weaving Tuk Tuks and trucks coming straight at you are all par for the course. This is also the only place in the world that I’ve seen traffic nonchalantly drive the wrong way down a dual carriageway to avoid sitting in a jam.
Thanks to the awesome skills of our driver Sami we arrived safely at the Sidama Co-operative Farmers Union washing station where we were given a fantastic tour. With over 2,000 members, this massive co-operative produces 3,500 bags of green coffee a year. As well as being triple certified, co-operative members also benefit from social benefits with the co-operative helping the maintenance of the roads, supplying drinking water and building schools in the local area.
The following day we headed further south still, until the earth turned red and the vegetation became lush and green. We had arrived in Guji. We’ve been roasting Guji coffees here at Glen Lyon for a few years now and have all fallen in love with their delicious floral, bergamot, lemon and honeydew profiles. Nordic Approach’s main export partner in the region is Kerchanshe and the welcome we received from them at their Adola Washing station was second to none.
With two nights of feasting and music, fires and yes, a goat barbecued in our honour, we danced so much that our bodies ached in the morning. It was here that I learnt wine and beer are considered soft drinks and many (many!) shots of local gin are the thing you are expected to do at parties in these parts. Kerchanshe had arranged for us to camp at the washing station itself and our tents were pitched on the patios where the coffee often dries. We ate heaped platefuls of pasta at long tables in a warehouse sitting on ancient camping chairs next door to mountains of green coffee bags.
In the morning we set off to visit the fantastic washing station at Anasora which only started operating this season. Anasora processes 100 percent speciality grade coffee and not only is this the youngest of Kerchanshe’s coffee in Guji – with the cherries coming from recently planted trees but at 2400m above sea level it is also the highest. Employing 30 full time staff and hundreds of part time workers from the surrounding communities, Anasora eventually hopes to work with about 1500 producers.
Back at Adola we were treated to a cupping table of some phenomenal coffees from Guji and Ethiopia’s other coffee producing regions, By far the largest coffee producer in Africa – Ethiopia last year exported some 7.5 million bags of coffee but there is also a massive domestic market in the country. In fact a constant highlight throughout our trip was the amazing coffee that was roasted, brewed and served to us in the traditional way.
Coffee ceremonies are a way of life in Ethiopia but we were incredibly lucky to be invited by the elders of Adola village to join their special Buna Qalla ceremony. The ceremony which lasts the best part of a day culminated in us being blessed by a mixture of coffee cherries, milk and butter that had been cooked over a open fire while the village elders talked and prayed and recounted stories from the past . It was one of the most precious moments in all my coffee adventures and one that will stay with me for a very long time indeed.
Our return journey to Addis coincided with the Timkat celebrations – also known as Ethiopian Epiphany – during which the streets are covered in rushes and the entire community sings and dances in a progression through their towns following a replica of the Ark of the Covenant. Our drive back seemed to take us through pretty much every Timkat parade between Guji and Addis and although it meant the journey lasted forever (and Sami was once again beyond heroic) it was so much fun to be in the midst of all the smiles and goodwill of the Ethiopian people.
This is clearly a country that is as complex and as beautiful as its coffee. We returned inspired to work with people devoted to not only producing phenomenal coffee but also committed to investing in and protecting their workers and future generations, something which is so important to us at Glen Lyon.
Posted by Fiona Grant, February 2019