Have you talked to Miguel at Paradise Roasters? He has been and in fact sourced a few of the yummy coffees Barefoot has been rocking the last few years. Guess it's your turn now! Are you going to be gone during Regionals?
During the last week of February I had the honor of attending a round table conference in the birth place of coffee. Going to Ethiopia is an experience most roasters can only dream about so you can imagine how excited I was. Taking part in a conference designed to connect roasters with the farmers who grow their coffee was unbelievably perfect. My deepest gratitude goes to USAID/FINTRAC and Boot Coffee Consulting for organizing such an event and Barefoot Coffee Roasters for sending me.
Monday started with a series of presentations followed by the round table discussion. All sectors of the coffee world were represented. We heard from U.S. coffee importers, Ethiopian coffee exporters, coffee farm managers, governmental officers, foreign aid representatives, coffee roasters and CQI. One of the key presenters was Ted Lingle, possibly the largest force in the US specialty coffee industry.
The second half of our day was spent cupping at the Ethiopian Coffee Exporters Association. The ECEA had a huge presence at the conference and I suspect that many of the developments in Ethiopian coffee, especially in the way of promotion, will have to come from them. We had some pretty funky tasting coffees and some very pleasant ones as well. There were Limmu's, Sidamo's and a couple Yirgacheffe's. I have to admit though that I was pretty much shot for this cupping due to the travel, the altitude (Addis is around 8000 ft.), and a lingering flu I had the week before I left.
Jimma found me in much better health. This was the second stop on our journey and the locale of the major part of the conference. Jimma is about 45 minutes by plane south of Addis Ababa. The first day was very relaxed with only a trip to the Jimma Agricultural Research Station on the itinerary. The rest of the time was spent mingling at the Central Jimma Hotel. Everyone attending the conference ate all three meals together so there was plenty of time to get to know people.
Day 2 of the conference brought together opposite ends of the coffee chain. We heard from roasters on one side and farm managers/exporters on the other. Filling in the middle was representatives from CQI and Boot Coffee Consulting speaking on the importance of cupping. It was so nice for me to see the presentations by Abdullah Bagersh of S.A. Bagersh (think Idido Misty Valley) and Dante Vilones of Dominion Trading Company. The passion for growing coffee that was displayed reminded me of home and the passion I share with the roasters and baristi in the cafe.
It was a special treat to meet Dante of Dominion Trading Company. We shared many meals together and had lots of time to talk. I brought some of Barefoot's DTC coffee and we were both delighted to see the coffee go from grower to roaster and then back again. I was also very excited because Dante had some new samples for me. This year DTC is also venturing into natural Yirgacheffes. Their washed coffee is some of the best I have ever had so I can't wait to try the natural. I was also able to establish contact with Abdullah Bagersh. Barefoot wasn't able to get any coffee from them last season but I have tried the Idido Misty Valley from other roasters and it is awesome.
The whole conference was set up to give buyers a chance to meet with farmers and exporters to try and set up direct relationships. I now have many contacts. That first day in Jimma I was sitting next to Mr. Getachew of IPS. IPS is the largest specialty only coffee exporter in Ethiopia. I have already received samples from them and was delighted to find out that our new Ghimbi is from them but purchased through one of our importers. I also met a number of farmers and exporters who are on the cusp. They are in the process of raising quality and entering into the specialty market. Two of these coffees stood out and we will be keeping an eye on them in the future. Guji coffee and Tepi coffee will be the next great regions of Ethiopia I think.
As we strolled through the coffee trees under the canopy everyone noticed how many birds were there and people started asking about “bird friendly” certification. They are not certified but only because they haven't applied. This should change soon. Giday samples? Yes. One of the nicest wild forest Limmu's I had while in Jimma.
Day four. The most special day in a coffee lovers life. Today we go to Bonga! We did get some work done in the morning though. This days conference allowed me the chance to address everyone on the process that Barefoot goes through to source coffees (Cupping!!) and what we try to offer our customers in the way of great coffee, education, and service. We also heard from USAID/Fintrac on what they were trying to accomplish in Ethiopia. Their goal is to raise coffee production in Ethiopia by 74% in the next 3-5 years and they are succeeding. Phenomenal! We also had a surprise presentation from a young couple from Holland who happened to be at the Hotel. They had just finished getting Jimma's first public radio station online and were offering it as a resource to get education to the local farmers.
The rest of the day was spent primarily on a bus to Bonga in the Kaffa district. Yes, Kaffa the birthplace of coffee. Where it all started. Our first stop and resting place for the night was the Wush Wush tea estate. Even though I have been to many tea estates before I am still overwhelmed at the great swaths of green that tea fields are. We arrived with just enough time to take a walk through town at sunset before dinner.
Taking the bus to Bonga and the coffee farm the day after Wush Wush was another unforgettable experience. Not so much for the dusty roller coaster ride that it was but for the scenery. I have never seen so many shades of green. All kinds of vegetation overlapping and competing with each other to form a dense web of life. I found out that Kaffa gets rain ten months out of the year and it certainly showed. Also delightful for those of us who reside in more northern regions was the baboons and monkeys. One thing I noticed was, what I later found out were, beehives in many of the trees. A little added income for the local coffee pickers. And what makes that honey so damn good. The coffee. The bees feast on coffee blossoms. Okay, so whatever amazing forested farms I saw in Jimma...forget it. These Bonga farms were truly like walking into the jungle only the under story was comprised of thousands of coffee trees. It was funny, all the seasoned coffee pro's who have been to origin before duly minded the tour. The rest of us got lost taking pictures in the coffee jungle. The only downside to todays trip was that this farm too had already been targeted by the Japanese. Why must the Japanese have such good taste in coffee.
We arrived back from Bonga in the late evening. Dinner, a beer, and bed. The next day would be a late morning flight to Addis and the end of my new friends and my time together. The next day back in Addis left plenty of time for the last chance souvenir shopping and one last dinner.
The excruciatingly long trip home left me with much time to reflect on the whole experience. There is no one thing that impacted more than another but many things that have further formed me both as a roaster and a person. Ethiopia is an amazing country both for its land and its people. The sheer beauty of Ethiopia and the relaxed happiness of its people had me wanting to live there. The many people I met in the conference validated my choice of career and I hope I can develop a personal relationship as well as business with those that I met. Coffee is a truly amazing thing and attracts truly amazing people.
Are you enjoying Barista Exchange? Is it helping you promote your business and helping you network in this great industry? Donate today to keep it free to all members. Supporters can join the "Supporters Group" with a donation. Thanks!