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Ethiopia December 2009

The last trip of the year is always the most grueling. December is peak harvest season in Ethiopia and Kenya and we have lots of ground to cover with our relationships ranging East-to-West in Ethiopia and across Kenya’s Central highlands. These countries produce arguably the absolute finest quality coffee in the world so we are careful to make sure we look under every rock and open every door in search of the next gem. Of course we’re also looking to continue the progress of our East African Direct Trade projects as they grow into the next stages.

The first day was spent meeting with our trade partners of years past. Sadly the ECX (Ethiopian Commodity Exchange) has banned direct sales from privately owned washing stations, like our good friends from the Wondo Trading Group who have produced outstanding washed lots from Yirgacheffe and Sidamo for Stumptown for years, to buyers like ourselves. Their coffee must now be tendered directly to the exchange and bought back blindly by grade which, until this year, was a designation of defect count. A change to the grading system now categorizes lots by cup score and instead of grades ranging from 1 – 5 they now range from 1- 9. Although the privately held companies are still banned from trading coffee directly, producer associations that have lots scoring between 80 – 100, according to the Q-system, will be able to sell transparently and traceably through the new specialty auction arm of the exchange. The first specialty auction is aimed to be held this coming January or February and you can bet your bottom dollar that Stumptown will be looking to bring home something special. Even though we can’t buy Wondo coffees just yet, this is most definitely a step back in the right direction. We commend the ECX for listening to the voice of transparency. Hopefully the evolution continues.

It’s been quite some time since we’ve offered a coffee from the Eastern Ethiopian region of Harrar. Poor farm and processing practices in recent years have made top quality lots virtually impossible to come across. Keep your fingers crossed though as we think that something special may be headed our way come spring/summer 2010. After a couple of days touring Eastern Harrar and cupping samples things look to be on the up and up. The Messala and Hirna subregions had very healthy looking Mokka Harrar trees growing at an astonishing 2500 masl. Our Green Coffee Department will be sifting through dozens of samples over the next few months in hopes of pulling that needle from the haystack.

Flying back from Dire Dawa (the major city nearest Harrar) I started to get that giddy feeling. The dominant reason for visiting Ethiopia has singularly become, Mordecofe. Those of you who have tasted this coffee know exactly why. That sweet peaches and cream flavor is liable to hit you right up side the head from first sip sending you into a trance of coffee love. Haile Gebre has transformed what was once his grandfather’s land in Guji into an amazing coffee farm. After gathering my things I headed off to the airport only to find a deeply disappointing message. Our trip to Mordecofe had been cancelled. Violent conflict between farmers and the Shakisso goldmines in the Guji (aka Shakisso) region have become an annual trend. Farmers believe the goldmines to be continuously encroaching on their land. Sadly, violence has become the norm and westerners can easily be mistaken for goldmine engineers. It was just too unsafe to make the 12 hour trek from Addis Ababa to Mordecofe. Fortunately we were able to meet with Haile for a day in Yirgalem to discuss the current state of the farm and strategize for the remainder of the harvest. This will be the fourth consecutive harvest from which we buy Haile’s coffee. We’re proud to call Mordecofe our first Ethiopian Direct Trade coffee. See you at the farm next year, friend.

Shifting gears we ventured due south to Yirgacheffe as an alternative plan. The coffee harvest was in full swing so we had a chance to take in harvesting at 10 different washing stations over the course of the next few days. There was most definitely a large range of processing from good to bad so we’ll have to be at our most alert on the cupping table over the course of the next few months. I have to say though there really is nothing like smelling the otherworldly fragrance of Yirgacheffes. It’s a bouquet of sweet floral aromas so unique and beautiful that you remember it for the rest of your life.

Look for Mordecofe early in the spring and something special from Yirgacheffe come summer. Cheers and stay tuned for news from Kenya,

Aleco