From a marketing perspective, we tend to emphasize our award-winning blends as they are — simply put — crowdpleasers (and delicious!). That being said, we are very proud of our single origin program and wanted to take some time to highlight our Ethiopia Sidama specifically, an organic natural processed coffee grown at 6,900' and sourced from our friends at Catalyst Trade. This beautiful medium roasted coffee is a fruit bomb of flavor: some describe it as blueberry pie, but we typically taste decadent notes of blackberry jam and chocolate ganache. The aroma is just as heavenly as the taste!
How We Source
An agricultural product grown within the 30° equatorial belt around the globe, coffee is seasonal. Our Latin American coffees land later in the spring and early summer, then shortly after, fresh African coffees make their debut. We receive green coffee samples from independent farms, co-ops and importers throughout the year, which we test roast on our SF-1 San Franciscan sample roaster and then integrate into our weekly quality control cuppings. When cupping a new coffee, we are looking to accomplish a few things: initially, we want to determine if the coffee would make a good blend component or a good single origin, and we are always looking to continually refine our palette so it is helpful to taste new coffees regularly. We work with several specialty coffee importers we've established longstanding relationships with — we tend to source coffees from these same importers as we trust their sourcing methods, and it's helpful to keep in touch throughout the year as we seek specific kinds of coffees to fulfill specific purposes.
Ethiopia Sidama Kellenso Mekonissa
We love working with our friends Michael and Emily McIntyre of Catalyst Trade, based part-time in Ethiopia and part-time in Portland, Oregon (fun fact: Nick learned to roast years ago under Michael's Q grade tutelage!). Michael and Emily are our "boots on the ground" in Ethiopia — here are their (paraphrased) words about this beautiful African coffee:
Coffees in Guji are grown under shade trees that include enset (false banana), bamboo, avocado and wanza (an indigenous African tree that grows near water sources and is used for fuel, tools, and furniture, with its leaves being used to fertilize crops). Rather than being grown on single-producer estates, coffee in the Guji Zone is purchased from nearby farmers who pick from their back yards, where coffee flourishes wild as a cash crop among mangos and bananas. As such, farm size is small: generally .5 hectare up to 2 hectares, which results in a typical multi-generational family producing from one to three (60 kilo) bags of coffee. Unlike in many other coffee origin countries, producers do not hire a mix of transient and year-round workers to pick cherries. Instead, coffee farmers pick their own crops, aided by family members. Washing stations often pay a premium to the producer for selling ripe cherries only.
Aklilu Kassa owns a number of coffee washing stations in Kellenso Mekonissa in the Oromia Region in West Guji, where this beautiful coffee lot was processed. The washing station is accessible over black gravel roads that run milky red with the heavy rains. This washing station is sizable, and possesses one of the most beautiful, spacious warehouses to hold milled coffee that we’ve ever seen. An office for the manager has a map that details Aklilu’s various washing stations, as well as a list of the smallholder producers who bring their cherries here for processing and an outline of the C.A.F.E. Practices certification that Mekonissa earned — this includes gender equity training and no child labor. Natural processed coffee is lovingly placed on the raised beds and delicately embraced by the sun under mesh shades for controlled drying. Mekonissa is twenty years old and sits on 2.5 hectares of land. The rainy season in this part of Guji lasts approximately from June to October, and then the harvest begins and the washing station swings into movement and song while 170 seasonal workers join the 12 full time employees to process coffees.
Aklilu is a fourth-generation coffee professional in Ethiopia for whom coffee isn't just an afterthought. His grandfather received a grant of 500 hectares in Guji decades ago, during the reign of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie. Eight wives and countless children resulted in that land being split, and split again down family lines. Aklilu's father made history in Guji by founding the very first privately-owned washing station in the area, after years working as a cherry collections agent. This first washing station was established in 1995 (1987 by the Ethiopian calendar) and went by the name of Kassa Chirressa. Aklilu, then 28, went to work for his father, who still operates the mill.
"At that time, Guji, along with Yirgacheffe, Kochere, and dozens of other now-distinct districst, were known as Sidama coffee," remembers Aklilu. "All my brothers and sisters worked at the washing station with me." Every year new challenges appeared with metronomic regularity: without roads, the workers had to resort to transporting coffee on the backs of mules. Over 4-5 years, the siblings and the staff at Kassa Chirressa and Aklilu's first washing station, Hegar Mariam, physically brought rocks from various parts of Guji to build their own road, and eventually were able to bring trucks in to the remote washing stations to transport the cherries to ECX warehouses without risking the coffee's integrity.
It's truly remarkable to think about all the hands (and the history!) that play a part in growing, processing, producing and shipping green coffee before we receive it months later. Once the coffee lands in our Truckee warehouse, it's up to us to carefully roast and package the coffee in such a way that honors and respects the endless tiers of tradition and sweat equity poured into each and every coffee seed. And perhaps most importantly — it's up to you! Each time you choose a single origin coffee like Ethiopia Sidama, as the final step in an incredibly long supply chain, you are supporting Ethiopian farmers and independent roasters.
Plus, it's just a damn delicious cup of coffee.