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Tega & Tula – December, 2008

Sometimes I feel like I lose myself along this path I’ve chosen. Between the myriad of trips, flights, booking the next one and trying to remember to breathe, I forget why I’ve chosen this life. It becomes way to easy to lose focus and eventually plummet into a grey area where you forget what your initial purpose was. Tega & Tula made me remember.

I’m writing this particular log from the guest room in Wush Wush, Ethiopia not far from Bonga and the glorious Tega and Tula farms. It’s Thanksgiving and I’ve found mine. For those who are not familiar Bonga is located in what was once known as Abyssinia’s Kaffa Kingdom. Coffee was originally discovered in the virgin forests scattered across this kingdom. Membratu decided to purchase some of this wild forest in 1999 and discovered acres and acres of decrepit coffee trees under the soaring canopy of palm trees and other jungle vegetation. Tega & Tula are the sites traceable to the wild forests where we’ve read so much about in coffee history books! Tega and Tula is a jungle and is infested with the creatures we’d all associate with that notion. We saw white-faced monkeys and baboons. Haggos, the farms’ manager, told me stories of Abyssinian lions stealing cows from the farms as well as jaguars (or tigers as Membratu says) feeding on their calves and goats. This place truly is where the wild things are. It’s harvest season now in southern and western Ethiopia, which is reason enough to be excited about this particular trip. I found myself, however, in a bit of a lackluster state as I made my way back to the airport in Addis, this time headed due west to Djimma and eventually, Tega & Tula.Our Ethiopian Airlines flight touched down an hour or so late but somehow I managed to wait another hour for Membratu Kidane, owner of the farms, in the desolate parking area outside of Djimma’s airport. Luckily a shack serving cold St. George beer is also conveniently located in that parking area!

Eventually Membratu and his assistant Nedgar, arrived and we made our way into town for a quick meal of fasting food. Wednesday and Friday are fasting days in Ethiopia, the world’s second largest Coptic Christian country. Personally I love the wide array of lentils and vegetables. They, like a scorching hot day in Djimma town, happen to go remarkably well with a cold St. George. Things were looking up but particularly due to the new conversation struck up between Membratu and myself regarding the history of the country.

So now the three of us are hopping along a gravel road through the towns of Sacca, Sheeba, Gimbo and Bonga before we arrive at Tega. The conversation weaved through Membratu’s stories of having to replace the under-producing trees with new Ethiopian varietals plot by plot over the course of the past 8 years. We walked the farm for hours looking at the different varietals, (all seeming to have Typica roots) and taking in the outrageous scenery.

We put quite a bit of pressure on Membratu after our visit last year. The quality of the cherry they were selecting as first grade was adequate, but far from outstanding. Haggos, Tium and the management crew have certainly put that ship back on course this year! The cherry I witnessed them pouring into the washing station the past three days was extraordinary! Couple the ripe cherry with a Kenya-like process and we’re on to something special here people. The cherry is delicately depulped with a 2-disc depulping machine, fermented for up to 48 hours, cleaned and density sorted in channels and soaked for 24 hours!

The coffee is pre-dried, or skin dried as the Kenyans say, in half-inch layers for 24 hours before being taken to raised beds where the remaining drying time takes between 7-9 days. That short of a range correlates with consistent sunshine, something most equatorial producing countries would kill for.

When Tega & Tula is hitting on all cylinders, it is one of the most extraordinarily unique coffees in all of the coffee market place. It’s flavor profile is laden with a sweet melon flavor complimented with sweet spice and bergamot notes that are not found anywhere else. The Tega & Tula lot we have on offer now is as good as the initial lot we bought two years ago and leagues ahead of last year’s lot. If what I saw these past few days is any indication, we’re all in for a treat next year.

We’ve worked out an agreement with Membratu to cup through all of his day lots from this current harvest. This means that we will be tasting every day of harvest/process from his farm and selecting what we believe to be the crème de la crème. This requires more work from all parties involved, but we are poised to pay and even better price than last year for Tega & Tula and thereby make it Stumptown Direct Trade. That’s right, our first Ethiopian Direct Trade offering is within sight. How many of you have tasted an outstanding Djimma or Bonga or Kaffa coffee before? How many have even seen one offered from another roasting company? I’m always one for encouraging the celebration of deliciousness.

A November spent relearning the fundamentals in Indonesia and making the pilgrimage back to the sacred home where this journey began over a thousand years ago has brought my focus back into alignment. For that I’m thankful on the day where my friends and family are doing the same back west.