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The Kundi Gagi cooperative was formed in 1979 (1971 by the Ethiopian Calendar) near the towns of Metu and Gore in the far western province of Illubabor. The name Kundi Gagi refers to the two villages of its members, Kundi in the mist and mountains, Gagi near the river. The area is spectacularly beautiful and lush with dense forests, the natural habitat of coffee Arabica. For most of their history, Kundi Gagi has produced traditional, natural sun-dried coffee. This method is relatively simple and requires fewer resources and labor than washed coffees. Cherries are harvested and then sun-dried, on mats or the ground. The dried cherry pods, called jenfel at this point, would then be sold to a merchant at low market prices, and lost in the blending and trade that followed.
Then about 4 years ago, the game changed. TechnoServe, a Washington DC based NGO began a project in western Ethiopia with the goal of increasing the income of coffee farmers by providing technical and business assistance. At the advice of TechnoServe, Kundi Gagi took out a loan to by a Penagos 1500 Pulper and began construction of a new wet-mill. Now, equipped with the means necessary to pulp, wash, and sun-dry on raised beds, the flavor of their coffee was transformed. Concurrently, marketing opportunities arose from this partnership with TechnoServe and a sample of Kundi Gagi’s coffee was placed in front of Caffe Vita, on a cupping table in Jimma.
We were immediately charmed by the perfumed aroma and intricate sweetness. Since then, we have become the primary buyer of their coffee and couldn’t be happier with the relationship. As a result of the premium Caffe Vita has paid for their coffee, Kundi Gagi has paid off all loans and posted record profits for their members last year. 30% of this will be set aside for cooperative projects such as the construction of a health center, paving the road to the mill, and purchasing a vehicle, with the remaining 70% distributed among members based on their contribution.
With our recent visit to the cooperative, we were able to confirm all of our criteria for Farm Direct designation. Through meetings with cooperative leadership and members, we were able to verify traceability of payment and we witnessed a strong sense of economic and social responsibility. Though not certified organic, it was observed and confirmed that all farming is completely organic. In fact, much of the cooperative’s coffee is basically growing wild, in an ecologically stable and undeniably natural environment, with numerous species of birds, monkeys, and insects buzzing through the shade.
Every trip to this incredible land deepens our appreciation for coffee. It permeates the fabric of society and touches the hands of so many, treated with respect and admiration. In no other country can one pull over to the side of the road, just about anywhere, to a tantalizing ‘jebena bunna’ – traditional cup of coffee. Freshly roasted and prepared with pride, the cup reflects whatever region you are in. The top three so far:
We began in the east, Harar, home to the fabled sun-dried (natural) coffee that can smell of blueberries and exotic spices. The landscape was awe inspiring and we witnessed fascinating farms with sophisticated terracing and irrigation. Harar remains a challenging region to source coffee from, due to the decreasing land utilized for coffee, the convuluted system of trade, and lack of cooperatives. Some feel this coffee could be headed towards extinction.
The second leg of our journey took us south, to Sidamo and Yirgacheffe. Every five years or so there is an excessively wet year – this happens to be one. The downpours were impressive, but have delayed the harvest and made drying the coffee a concern. Still, by all accounts most are anticipating a good year, both in quality and quantity. I was able to visit a number of groups that Vita has purchased from in the past few years: the Yirgacheffe Union cooperatives of Konga, Idido, Koke, and Bele Kara. These are among the finest coffees in the world!
After Yirgacheffe, I set off to Amaro to visit Asnakech, the incredible woman behind the well known Amaro Gayo coffee.She welcomed me into her home where we prepared a tasty treat of freshly plucked Moringa leaves for dinner. The next morning Asnakech showed me her plantation and processing center. The meticulous drying technique left me impressed. Her attention to detail and dedication to quality have earned the respect of coffee professionals worldwide. A long ride back to Addis was followed by a day visiting friends and exporters before I set off for the final leg, way out west.
After another early morning departure and the long windy drive to Jimma, I met with the cooperative business advisor, Girma, who would accompany me to Illubabor. Until recently, this part of Ethiopia was only known for low grade coffees, but in recent years a number of cooperatives have been established or revitalized through the assistance of Technoserve, an NGO aimed at increasing farmer’s capacity for doing business through improving quality and access to the marketplace.
Kundi Gagi is one such cooperative and in our evaluation of the region last year, their coffee was the finest. We have purchased this coffee for two consecutive harvests and after my meeting with co-op leadership I feel confident our relationship will continue to grow. Thanks to the premium Caffe Vita has paid for their coffee, the cooperative has paid off its loans and will be using profits to improve road access to the washing station and build a health center for the community. After this visit we are pleased to report that Kundi Gagi now qualifies as a Farm Direct coffee !
Though the harvest is just beginning throughout the country, I am already eager with excitement at the prospects of this upcoming crop. We will be closely monitoring the coffee quality in the coming months and will be sure to bring you the finest Ethiopian coffee for 2014. In the meantime, you can enjoy the current crop from Bele Kara and Kundi Gagi, both of which are available at our cafes and online.
Editor’s Note: Our intrepid lead trainer Andy Kent recently spent three weeks in Ethiopia representing Caffé Vita while working on a project to shed light on the process of getting beans from farms to your cup. And will return to Ethiopia to continue the project one week and his dispatches will continue…
Now that I am home for the holidays, I am immediately looking back on the time I had in Ethiopia. There is no better way to learn about coffee and truly appreciate it then by experiencing first hand where it comes from. It is an incredible thing to witness all the hands that touch the coffees we drink daily. From our roasters at Caffé Vita spending the time and energy to highlight all the nuances in a certain bean to our baristas who scrutinize over every shot of espresso to the farmers who grow coffee – throwing 60 kilo burlap bags of coffee on their shoulders while they load trucks - to the way men and women at source hand sorting beans for quality. Each step in its journey from seed to cup is fueled by the human touch. Have you ever thought about this? I did occasionally, but never really deeply contemplated it until I met the men and women who help create our coffee.
I am sure some people (talking about germ-o-phobes here) when thinking of their coffees being handled by hundreds of beautiful fingers might get a little nervous bringing the cup to their mouths. To those people – relax - your coffee is roasted at temperatures from 200 to 400 degrees and then brewed in water anywhere from 185 to 212 degrees. To the people like myself who are fascinated by the steps from seed to cup, here is a little insight on our industry from our side of the world: find a roaster or a cafe that takes the time to perfect their craft. A roaster that travels to source to better understand where their coffee is coming from by building relationships and buying Farm Direct. A cafe that prides itself on quality and well trained baristas to help better educate their community and highlight the final step of the coffee chain. Find that unique, simple, and cheap (or expensive) brewing device that lets the coffee you purchase really shine. Step away from the instant/ k-cup fad (if you want good coffee prepared quickly see a well trained barista and have them pull you an espresso). And finally find a coffee that fits your pallet and drink the crap out of it, but don’t ever forget about all the other amazing coffees in this world.
All specialty coffee at one point or another has been (again) fueled by the human touch. This, in our world of cars that park themselves, is something we should not forget or brush aside; but instead, we should highlight. So the people who are ‘truly’ doing the hard work get the recognition they deserve: their just desserts.