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Ethiopia Origin Trip

Coffee Origin Trip - Ethiopia

An origin trip involves traveling to a coffee producing country to gain a more comprehensive understanding of where our coffee comes from and the various processes it undergoes before it is consumed. Coffee cultivation requires high altitudes and warm weather so travel is usually necessary in order to experience and fully understand coffee at origin. In December of 2017, Water Street owner, Mark Smutek, traveled to Ethiopia to experience and learn firsthand how coffee in Ethiopia is grown and processed. Our acquisition of our Organic Ethiopia Natural Alaka Hambela coffee is a result of this excursion.

About Mark's Trip

Why Ethiopia?

“Some of the best coffee in the world is coming out of Ethiopia, especially from the farms and co-op I visited.”

What was one of the best parts of the trip?

“The amount of physical hand work that is involved in getting a single coffee bean into a brewed cup of coffee was astonishing to see in person.”

What do you want Water Street customers to know about your trip to Ethiopia?

“The quality of any coffee comes down to the interaction of the human hand and the coffee bean. On the farms and co-op I visited each individual coffee bean was touched at least a dozen times before it was sent to be exported.”

Mark Smutek with group of farmers Mark Smutek standing next to large stack of green coffee bags
Mark with Group of Farmers Mark in Green Coffee Warehouse

About Ethiopia

Ethiopia is about twice the size of Texas, and it is the world’s oldest coffee growing region. It has a rich, deep history of coffee culture and production, unlike any other coffee-producing country. It’s the birthplace of coffea arabica and home to old-growth forests. These forests are home to 40,000 varietals of the coffee plant. The people, geography and boundless flora combine to create the intriguing, complex flavors one associates with Ethiopian coffee. 

Since Ethiopia is the origin of coffee, it is different from other coffee growing regions and it was not introduced as a cash crop. Producers have a very personal relationship with coffee. It is part of their traditions and daily routine. They grow coffee not only for export, but also to enjoy! Domestic consumption of coffee in Ethiopia is very high.

Development in Ethiopia

In the16th century, Ethiopia’s old-growth forests covered nearly 40% of the country. Today, there is only 4.4% of old-growth or wild forest remaining. The change in climate is resulting in wild coffee plants disappearing and being pushed up mountainsides where the climate is slightly cooler. But there is hope for a more sustainable future. Recently there has been a focus on putting a stop to or at least slowing deforestation in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government is encouraging this movement, trying to save old-growth. Despite this, Ethiopia is still rich with diversity in their landscape, plants, and vegetation.

The most exciting recent development has to do with the coffee market in Ethiopia. The market has been cracked open thanks to sweeping changes made by the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange. This exchange regulates the sale and marketing of Ethiopian coffee. Before these changes, farmers were guaranteed stable prices at the expense of traceability and transparency. You may have noticed that we have never had a farmer-specific offer from Ethiopia, only general regional and processing identifiers as well as grade. Now the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange rules have changed. Washing stations and mills can now sell coffee directly to buyers without going through the exchange. The hope here is to increase traceability, and in turn generate higher quality coffee, resulting in a higher return for producers.

Region and Flavor Profiles

Ethiopia produces 6.5 million bags of coffee a year! They export 3.5 million bags of coffee a year, and keep the rest for local consumption.

Coffee Cherry Racking
Coffee Cherry Depulping
Green Coffee Washing
Coffee Cherry Racking Coffee Cherry Depulping Green Coffee Washing

The profile of the coffee will vary based on the variety, process, and microregion. With the natural process of producing coffee, the fruit is left on the bean during the drying process. This results in coffee that has fruit, wine, and chocolate tones with a syrupy body. This process stems from Ethiopia. Ethiopia is also well-known for producing excellent washed coffees. This process presents a cleaner character in terms of flavor, with less fruit tones and a more refined profile, sometimes reminiscent of tea. Washed beans typically have a lighter, more pronounced acidity with more floral flavors.

Fun Facts: Ethiopia is the only coffee-producing country that solely grows Arabica species. No Robusta!

Two women carrying green coffee beans to sorting table
Green Coffee Sorting
Group of women sorting green coffee beans
Carrying Green Coffee Beans Sorting Green Coffee Beans
Group at Sorting Table

A light and flavorful roast

Our Organic Ethiopia Natural Alaka Hambela coffee is from Guji, Alaka District, Ethiopia. This coffee is also one of our Fresh Crop coffees! The coffee was grown on the Hambela coffee estate. The beautiful estate is operated by METAD Agricultural Development, which is a family-owned business.

When you are tasting this coffee, you can look for flavors of dried cherry and cocoa. This coffee also has a tart, bright acidity. The body of this coffee is smooth and milky. This Fresh Crop has an elaborate aroma with hints of raisin.

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