A great ten days in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, East Africa to start the new decade 2020. This is the country where coffee comes from. Specifically the wonders of the wild Ethiopian mountains. The very popular drink drunk everyday on mas is made by beans and the coffee plant is grown and originated from this part of the world. It is the area where you will find the most diverse coffee plant varieties. The word ‘coffee’ derives from ‘Kafa’, a region in south west Ethiopia. The story goes that one day a shepherd wandering the Kafa region saw that his flock of goats acting strangely after eating red berries, so he took some home to his wife – and lo the wonders of coffee were discovered. Does this mean coffee comes from Kafa? It is hard to know.
On arriving in Addis Ababa the first thing I noted was that the flight was excellent. A black airline wonderful. The national airline is fabulous. #African. This made me happy. On the first day I did however feel the effects of the altitude. Known as the Roof of Africa, much of Ethiopia sits in the highlands, between 1800-2400m (5900-7900 feet). It is above 1500 meters that people feel the effects of low oxygen. On walking up the stairs three flights I was wondering why I could not breath. It took a day or so to acclimatise. The trip was fast paced which meant we immediately met the owner of a coffee cooperative for a cupping session, ‘cupping’ – the process whereby coffee is tasted to categorize its qualities, at Sibu Coffee Exporters plc. The business has set up a cooperative to cut out the middle traders as to bring farmers together to sell direct to exports of US, Europe and Asian markets. Businesses in the global coffee trade. In the evening we visited a culture house to watch traditional musicians and dancers performing different tribal dances, and to sample ‘tej’, honey wine, before dinner at a local restaurant.
Bonga Forest Coffee Farm
The next day we took a short one hour national flight to Jimma and then a two hour trip to Bonga, here we spent five nights in a guest house called the Kafa Development Association Guesthouse, located just outside town, amidst beautifully maintained exotic gardens. We could see Colobus monkeys and hear in the gardens. The first day in this part of Ethiopia we visited Tatmara Kafa forest coffee farm, very hilly and densely forested. The farmer Neguissie Tadesse showed us around his farm and how coffee is cultivated in this environment. What a wonderful farm full of wildlife, diverse vegetation and life. They have created a balance between nature and man and wish to keep it that way. When coffee plants are not maintained, they grow into huge trees which still bear the caffeinated fruit. They want and are committed to sustainability and are looking for investment to stick to this objective. Lots of coffee tasting and eating †injera then took place. The group I was touring with organised by *Yellow Wood Adventure on their origin of coffee tour were not experts in the food or drink of the country so some shied away from the food. I however love trying new foods. The region exports cardamom, ginger, corn, honey, beeswax, timber, sugar cane, bananas, mangoes, and other fruit.
An Ethiopian Coffee Experience
On our next day we visited ECX, a tea plantation and a national tea producing farm. We were shown all the processes of how the green tea leaf is picked from the bush, the top three laves are chosen, the tips are cut, the stalk is removed, the leaves are chopped and separated, then chopped again ground down, dried by heat which allow it to undergo oxidation and fermentaition, more grinding down occurs, then the teaf powder is dried and graded into fine tea for export. Before the tea is sent out however it is tested by standard international methods which involve check, the look, brightness, the colour, the moister content, cupping as in tasting using 5g of tea and 28ml of boiling water. At the plant we tasted their tea. So this is how tea is grow, harvested and processed into the ground dry product everybody knows.
We were hiking during the tour. This was great as I like to be active, exploring the forests on foot, then learn about the various processes to prepare the beans for international. We took a two hour walk to the spot where coffee was first harvested. There is a third generation elder who informed us of which tree was picked many years ago. The small red beans collected and used to eat at first and used in drinks later. I really enjoyed this insight. The walk to this location meant we saw monkeys and other wild life. In Bonga there are other attractions such as Barta waterfall fountains and wild Mirutse organic bee farm at again we visited these places.
One of the biggest treks was on our 4th day. This was to a coffee plantation called Lemkaffa. The journey was atrocious, one of the four by four trunks got stuck in the mud. The local people however come to our rescue and dug us out. Our host Addisu was very welcoming on our arrival at his coffee farm. Coffee is Ethiopia’s national drink and they celebrate it in style. We had the famous ‡coffee ceremony and local food before the tour. Here we were shown the heavy process of how coffee is process. Once the coffee bean is dried the husk must be separated and either sun dried again or washed. I was impressed with his story since Addisu used to live in America, New York. He wanted to return to his home country and make a difference. He knew nothing about coffee. This was twenty years ago. He studied all about the business. For four year, there was no harvest and he had to borrow money from family to keep the business going. After his first harvest he had international tasters try his coffee.
The joy on knowing this team of white coated experts gave his coffee a high grade equaling the other famous names Yirgacheffe, Sidamo and Harar was one I understand must have given him a great relief.
Coffee Elders Of Jimma, Ethiopia
Our last visit was to the honored elders of Jimma, Ethiopia. They said they wanted more money for their valued drink. So I am passing this message on to you. The people are full of reverence, pride. Yes we must be more fair trade and value their drink. We must also appreciate the organ story and single source coffee. One final visit in Jimma was to the museum of Abba Jifar King of the Gibe Kingdom of Jimma. The largest and most powerful of the five kingdoms of Gibe.
I spent two more nights in Addis, a short guided tour of the city, stopping to visit the national museum where the bones of the first humans are laid out and then the church of Haile Selassie, goff at the cathedral.
The trip is of course, for coffee enthusiasts, but if you love touring in small groups in Africa you will love visiting this country too. Which leaves me returning to the UK and contemplating the African year ahead, 2020 and beyond. Forget #brexit and think Africa.
West Africa Cooks
†injera. The staple of every Ethiopian meal is injera, a spongy, pancake-like bread made from the local grain, ‘teff’ (gluten free!) which is mixed with water and allowed to ferment. This gives it a slightly sour taste (not dissimilar to sour dough bread). It is cooked on a flat plate over a fire and is laid on a large platter with the main dish on top. Small pieces of injera are then torn off and used to pick up bitesize portions of the main dish. Dishes eaten with injera include a variety of meat (beef, lamb and chicken), stews (known as ‘wat’, they may be spicy or mild), lentils and vegetables.
*Yellow Wood Origin of Coffee Adventure with Sam and Anteneh of Ground Control Coffee shop. Importing their beans from wild coffee forests to their shop, in Islington, London, The Ethiopian Coffee Company joined forces with Yellow Wood Adventures to create a coffee tour.
‡Coffee Ceremony. The coffee ceremony, is very integral to social gatherings in Ethiopia. The coffee ceremony starts with green coffee beans, which are washed and then roasted over a fire. The roasted, smoking beans are passed around to ensure the guests take in the pleasing aroma. The beans are then ground and boiled with water in a traditional Ethiopian coffee pot, called a ‘jebena’. Three rounds (known as ‘abol’, ’t’ona’ and ‘bereka’) of coffee are served in small cups while incense is burned over the fire.