Earlier this month, I attended the first annual Ethiopia Origin Approach expedition presented by green coffee importer Nordic Approach and its sister company, Tropiq, along with Addis-based Kerchanshe Trading.
The event brought together a small but diverse group of actors throughout the supply chain for intensive education on Ethiopian coffee, exploring numerous innovations and challenges locally, regionally and countrywide. The Guji zone of the Oromia region, where some of the world’s finest specialty coffees are produced, provided an ideal location for the experience.
With Origin Approach partner Hortensia Solis of the Viaje Con Café, the event offered an immersive tour experience, enlightening even people who weren’t there strictly to taste and buy coffee. Yet the trip provided a range of opportunities for potential coffee buyers, too.
For Yu Wako of the small Japanese roastery Le Koppi, the trip represented a rare opportunity to travel with an importer. Other travelers, like Jean-François Leduc of Montreal’s Saint Henri, have been on many origin trips, yet this presented an opportunity to more deeply explore the recent changes of the 10-year-old Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX). All guests were treated to educational sessions on the ECX, Ethiopia’s coffee grading system, a Technoserve-led water pollution initiative and much more.
Kerchanshe Trading helped guide the group through all steps of the supply chain from the origin perspective. The organization employs more than 1,000 people while processing some 60,000 metric tons of coffee annually. It owns three farms of its own, while cherry from many more farms pass through Kerchanshe’s 36 washing stations and dry mills. The company also has an ownership hand in transportation, quality control and other infrastructure.
We visited two of Kerchanshe’s washing stations in Anasora and Adola, as well as one owned by the Sidama Cooperative. Kerchanshe’s Adola Washing Station served as the base for the expedition. Camping on the grounds provided an intimate familiarity with the processing. We slept earshot of the washing station, where we saw natural and washed coffees being processed, and parchment coffee stored. Between excursions, we took advantage of the onsite cupping lab to sample coffees. We even visited the primary school adjacent to the station, which was built by the charity founded by Israel Degfa, the owner of Kerchanshe. According to him, the school resulted from the group’s fairness of distribution policy, which involves profit-sharing with producers and numerous community-based projects.
The expedition provided a holistic snapshot of this slice of Ethiopia’s renowned Sidamo region, including the significant social and economic reverberations involved with coffee production and trade.
Mark Shimahara works in online marketing and is a photographer for Roast Magazine. In 2011, Mark went to coffee growing communities in Guatemala to volunteer with Coffee Kids and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Institute. Later that year he placed second in the World Siphonist Championships in Tokyo, Japan. In his free time he enjoys bike racing, and hitting up the coffee bars en route to his various destinations.