Caffe Vita is in the midst of an exploration of one of the oldest of coffee origins; the gateway of Arabica to the rest of the world, the region commonly known as Harar, or more accurately the vast mountainous area of eastern Ethiopia called Hararghe.
Beginning at the farm level, the family cares for an average of 500 trees with the utmost care- composting, pruning, and shade maintenance through traditional organic agriculture. The region is arid, with the tradition of sun-dried coffee the only option for preservation. Fortunately this process leads to the complex, fruity aromas and heavy mouth feel that Harar coffees are so prized for.
Unfortunately for the lovers of Harar coffee, much of the land has been transitioned into the cultivation of khat, the stimulating shrub enjoyed by so many in Ethiopia, Yemen, and beyond. With an average of three harvests per year, the khat farmer is able to enjoy a steadier income than that of the coffee farmer with only one harvest each year. Some inter cropping of the two is taking place, but I imagine that the competition for soil nutrients leaves the quality of both compromised.
These small-holder farmers will typically sell to the local market, who in turn sell to the ECX, or Ethiopia Commodity Exchange. The coffee is graded and then sold to exporters as a broadly categorized type; for example Harar A4, which corresponds to East Hararghe, Grade 4.
As soon as the coffee is in the possession of the exporter they are able to visually inspect the coffee and depending on their experience, recognize the coffee as belonging to a specific location within the region. Meticulous sorting then takes place via machinery and hand to remove stones, full dried cherries, and various other debris before the coffee is ready for export. This is likely the most mysterious, convuluted, and labor intensive supply chain in coffee.
|The first man to bring coffee to the region.
Our green bean buyer, Daniel Shewmaker, is currently traveling in Uganda. While Internet access is spotty, here’s what he passed our way today.
Uganda, Rwenzori to Elgon
We’ve been travelling for the past week through the beautiful and diverse land of Uganda. First, we visited the Rwenzururu Kingdom of the Bukonzo people, where a remarkable effort is under way to improve the quality of coffee in the region. Needless to say the potential is huge, where the dark volcanic soils of the Rwenzori mountain range running through the Congo border represent a vast land of prime coffee terroir.
After a brief stop in Kampala we headed east, towards the Kenya border and the towering Mount Elgon. Visiting washing stations and farms in the region, we learned of the challenges which face the community looking forward to what they hope will be a bumper crop. The weather of the past season was difficult for drying and transport of coffee from the mountain, but investments have been made to address some of these problems and I am excited to see what this upcoming year has in store for the quality of these coffees.
Tomorrow I am off for Ethiopia, the motherland of Arabica coffee, for what is sure to be an inspiring journey.