2018 Update from the Field

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2018 Update from the Field

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So far this season, our team has logged well over 10,000 kilometers in Ethiopia, making treks to the communities where we work throughout the country multiple times. It is important for us to check in with each community and when possible, with each producer. Our commitments are mutual, we and the groups we work with. We look out for each other. We work hard to make sure we are all in good positions for sustainability. 

One of our closest personal connections is with seasoned coffee veteran Getachew Tefere, who was appointed by the Prime Minister to form the committee which presented cases to support the establishment of new legislation in coffee trade. Last year, we had the privilege of preparing a case study which Tefere shared with the Prime Minister, and which directly influenced the traceability-centered legislation which has recently taken place. Over Habesha beer and with the joy of long term friendship we have discussed with Getachew the implications of this new legislation, and the impact it will have on the producers, washing stations and exporters alike. 

Opportunities and Challenges with New Legislation

While the impact of this legislation is far-reaching, some of the biggest opportunities we see ahead are price impact at the farm level and delivery impact at the export level. This dramatically opens the door for more significant buyer engagement/involvement and in general more vertically integrated collaborative projects. For one, producers and washing stations can realize more significantly the impact of premiums. The other major impact is lot-specific delivery to export processing facilities, entirely bypassing ECX offloading. That is to say, buyers can identify specific lots/micro lots at the washing station, and those lots can be delivered directly to the exporter, no ECX accounting or warehousing. We hardly need to emphasize how important this is to all of us who have loved, purchased, and supported Ethiopian coffee for years.

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Negative impact will be realized (of all things!) in the recent devaluation of the birr. The idea for this recent legislation was to promote Ethiopian coffees as a legitimate contender on the global commodities market, and to coax buyers away from a more value driven washed, mild like Peru, Mexico or Honduras, of which clean cup commercial grades can be acquired at a significantly lower cost than any Ethiopian coffee. It was intended to impact the market such that if a buyer spends the same 3.50/lb this year on the same coffee type as last year, that same price would provide a $.52/lb greater value. This would be a remarkable improvement for buyers. 

However, the local prices in Ethiopia for goods and services has inevitably been raised in order to offset the devaluation. In one dramatic example from one of our friends, powdered milk went from 700 to 900 birr overnight, following the devaluation, which is significantly greater than the actual 15% increase. The overall impact of the devaluation will be measured only at the outcome of the season, but in most reports so far, prices of cherries have been so high that washing stations have been hesitant to purchase. This has made offering premiums for selective harvesting very difficult to implement. It is unfortunate, but in a world of inherently outstanding coffees, the production of upper end Specialty is what will suffer the most, while the lifestyles of the people continues to get squeezed under the weight of regression.

The best way to combat this is for buyers to deepen engagement of collaboration. Come to Ethiopia with us. Learn about the day-to-day challenges each producer faces. Tell your producer about your own daily struggles of paying rent, employees, taxes. This coffee trade thing really is a partnership. It does not have to be relegated to a transaction. Producing high end Specialty coffee is a gift, and Ethiopia has global market domination in producing some of the best—look at 2018’s Good Food Awards, and every year previous for that matter! 

Another major potentially negative impact will be felt by exporters racing to get coffees from specific washing stations. Many exporters will attempt to exercise control over the market participation through brokers and monopolizing coffee from specific suppliers. There will be a greater deal of “noise” to work through. Everybody is going to want a slice of the pie, complicating the already-complex system further.

Success in the Gedeo Zone!

We also recently learned that our collaborative article about Gedeo Zone (published in Daily Coffee News) was received very positively in Ethiopia. It was picked up by several Ethiopian newspapers and magazines, translated into Amharic and distributed to a readership audience of multiple millions. We are happy to report now going into this season that there has been nearly 145,000,000 birr invested into rebuilding the infrastructure of the coffee industry throughout the Gedeo Zone as a direct response to our article. We were also very happy to see even the Mahalet Hotel is back to its genial self. There is a great deal of rebuilding that needs to continue, but in our recent visits to Yirgacheffe, Hafursa, Adame, Chelba and Kochere, it is clear that the resolve of the Gedeo people is steadfast and the spirit is set on hope. A couple of kebeles sustain crop damage from the frost that occurred. Unfortunately, this impacts not only coffee production (income), but also food and forage for cattle, since most of the enset in these areas was badly damaged as well. 

Tiret Cooperative members

Tiret Cooperative members

Gololcha - Tiret Cooperative Update

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In one of our recent visits to Gololcha we sat down with several members of the Tiret Cooperative along with local government officials, and had a roundtable discussion. We tackled challenges, limitations and aspirations. This year is not short of hardships for everybody and we find that every time we do this our conversations grow in depth, commitment, and urgency.

The Arabian sector (2nd largest global buyer of Ethiopian coffee) is propping up a false market in Harar. This is fortified by poor and vicious cycle where producers are getting very high premiums for coffee cherries and for already dried coffee cherries, regardless of quality. This year, with the devaluation of the birr in full brutal effect in this area, coffee producers are getting the same prices this year for what Abebayehu was paying last year for coffee producers to implement extremely selective practices. This means that farmers producing commercial grades 4, 5, and 6 coffees from this area are getting the same prices this year as Tiret Cooperative got last year for Specialty grades 1 and 2. This does not mean that those same buyers are able/willing to pay more of a premium for the top quality coffees from Tiret Coop. On the contrary, all the neighbors and producers throughout the district are highly critical of the extra efforts of the Cooperative. This promotes an attitude of laziness, and those attitudes are inherently repulsive to the members of the Tiret Cooperative. Their very name means “best effort/hard struggle”, the antithesis to the lazy mindset.

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To make matters worse, the exporters that buy these coffees and sell to the Arab markets are summarily convinced that the coffee business is a losing industry, and so the aim for them becomes generating foreign currency above financial sustainability. To elaborate on this inconceivable concept, one needs to understand the dynamics of Ethiopian economy and where coffee fits in this puzzle. First, Specialty Coffee from Harar does not feature in the least in this picture of Ethiopian coffee. Harare coffee is commercial grade, 99%, and the farmers in Tiret Cooperative are dedicated to producing beautiful coffees, micro lots, nano lots, Grade 1, Grade 2. Think about it, how often do you come across a stellar Grade 1 or even Grade 2 Harar? This dynamic alone creates an impossible scenario for the community, because it is very challenging to place value on such high quality coffee from these areas. Also, the general approach to export preparation of coffees throughout Harar is very poor. Laborers dump coffee on the floor, walk on it, and have an overall lazy approach to sorting. The global market is not accustomed to paying the justifiable prices that top quality Harar coffees can produce, because “top quality Harar coffees” have not existed, mostly since the time of Mohamed Ogsadey and well before the ECX. Instead, Harar coffees have been happily replaced in roaster’s coffee lineups with stunning naturals from Sidama, Kochere, Yirgacheffe, Guji, Keffa, Gesha and so on.

All these issues are at play against the quality mindset in the Tiret Cooperative. Add to this the fact that exporters regularly sell commercial grade Harar coffees at a loss: the allure of generating foreign currency has a higher value than even selling coffee at a profit and fortifying sustainability. This is largely due to the fact that the US dollar is Ethiopia’s “gold bullion”. Generating loads of it for the economy brings lots of favor and benefits, namely, the ability to import goods at a massive markup. Exporters often take their coffee sales contracts to the bank to gain access to funds to invest in imports, which can be sold within Ethiopia at a huge profit. For example, a 2005 Toyota Corolla with 150,000 and in good mechanical/cosmetic shape will set someone back a good 675,000 birr. At today’s (December 2017) birr value, that equals about $25,000 USD. Bring in an entire shipment of those, and who cares if you lose money on coffee? This practice expands to new cars, trucks, fuel tankers, etc., while groups whose primary focus is fixed on specializing in awesome coffees (or who maybe have no choice but coffee), tend to get pushed aside. This creates an impossible scenario, and pulls out all framework for a realistic market expectation.

Tiret Cooperative producer Alme with photos Emily took last year. We printed out hundreds of photos to share with our friends who were delighted!

Tiret Cooperative producer Alme with photos Emily took last year. We printed out hundreds of photos to share with our friends who were delighted!

How is Abebayehu supposed to work with this? How are we supposed to build something impossible and unrealistic in the real world? We certainly don’t have all the answers, but we are committed to exhausting all options together with this outstanding community. Discussing these dynamics with members of the Tiret Cooperative, their resolve is to work harder to produce even better coffee. If a model does not exist for this expression, then we simply must create our own models and define our own paths. 

Producers in this cooperative are continually committed to trying new practices. Some are implementing parabolic drying into their raised beds. Some are finding creative ways to implement floating tanks. Some farmers are even beginning to separate coffee varieties in sections of their farms. In one case, Tegene, who has an expansive farm, each section implementing different intercropping in order to observe coffee tree performances. He is also experimenting with harvesting under moonlight. Theoretically, coffees harvested at these times would possess greater organic contents and moisture, due to lack of stress imposed by sunlight. We are tasting many samples from different sections of his farm, and the results are quite promising. We will be excited to see the other end of harvest with these lots. 

Nansebo Worka, Dale, & Garamba Mountain Washing Stations

We have shared lots of time with Zenebe Genale discussing our shared vision and our goals for quality. He served for years as the Manager for the famous Shanta Golba Cooperative, and now operates 3 of his very own washing stations in Nansebo and Auroresa. His voice carries a gravelly authority, and his hands and arms bear the scars of someone who knows the cost of a hard day’s work. He is no stranger to quality, and we are stoked to expand our collaborations with him for the coming years. 

Heading southward into the heart of coffee lands from Awassa, we have hiked and toured several farms throughout Dale. Nigusse used to be district manager for the Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union. He is now working with a small group of producers, all committed to excellence. The rows of coffee trees, under shade of wanza, eucalyptus and banana is quite a sight. If the coffee from this producing group holds any small reflection of the smiles in the people here, and the natural beauty of this area, we are all in for some very special coffees. 

Another growing relationship is past Dale, whirling through Yirgalem town and climbing higher until we perch out on the highest mountain in the area Garambe. Here at 1900+ MASL, we find the beautiful Garamba Mountain Washing Station. Filate is a seasoned veteran in careful pulping and fermentation. The staff here is full of smiles and lots of hard work. We are invited into the parchment storehouse only after careful scrutiny of our clothes for potential contaminants. Remove your shoes, and you can enter too—and we are happy to accommodate and do our part in promoting the preservation of such stellar coffee!

Garamba Mountain

Garamba Mountain

Reko Koba & Semalo Pride washing stations

It is always joyful to bounce our way along the familiar path between Aleta Wondo and Dilla. It was incredible to see the tribal councils coming together for rebuilding peace on one of our recent visits. We had the privilege of seeing people from all tribes throughout Ethiopia, Gurage; Gedeo; Oromia; Keffa; Sheka; Guji; Sidama; Amhara; Tigray cultures were coming together in Dilla to reaffirm that they are all committed to building and sustaining prosperity for each other. Though different tribal cultures and languages, they came together to acknowledge that they are all Habesha (Ethiopian national identity), and more importantly, all humans, and that is most sacred. 

Every year we share lots and lots of coffee, tons of stories and hours and hours of training sessions with the staff of Pride and Reko Koba. They are inspired by the hard work that everybody is pouring into their coffees, from Happy Cup carrying the banner of Pride with Happy Heart and Vertical Coffee representing the only existing Peaberry nano lot in the world, to Archetype throwing down Reko Koba screen 13 at Nationals and rolling out the iconic presentation and Van Rossum doing everybody proud in the Netherlands, promoting Reko Koba at the judges’ calibration. These crews are fired up and inspired to keep creating stellar lots this season. We are implementing several new process control points, so we are amping up for some of the most beautiful Kochere and Gelana Abaya coffees we will have tasted yet! We anticipate complex layers of pineapple, jasmine tea, lemon soda, chardonnay, spearmint, sweet herbs and tangerine to thick cherry cordial, passionfruit, peach soda, watermelon candy, raspberry jam and coconut. 

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Exploring the highland areas throughout Yirgacheffe, we were quite surprised this year to find cherries still green, even into December. While there are exceptions,  areas of Yirgacheffe, Kochere, Gelana Abaya and Guji are ripening later this year. This is not a sweeping pattern, however, because Sidama, Limu, Keffa and many other areas followed the expected harvest pattern. Ethiopia is simply quite the cornucopia for diversity in micro climates. 

Jimma, Keffa, and Anderacha

Driving from  Dilla to Jimma is quite the drive! We pass through Gurage lands, where we climb and climb up a mountain to get a breathtaking panoramic view of the valleys and hills below. We always try to miss the intense heat Jimma city is known for, by using it as a stopping point at night and kick off in the morning. At one time, Jimma was the second largest city in Ethiopia, and it still holds its charm in the mingling of old world and new economy. Nowadays, Jimma is displaced by Awassa as the second largest Ethiopian city. 

Past Jimma, we wind into the stunning wild shade canopy that equips Keffa with lush mystique. As we swerve and climbed deeper into the Keffa Biosphere Reserve, we are greeted by families of Baboons, each hoping we would be enamored enough to share an easy meal. 

Another 3 hours onward through the jungle, and we pause to take in the layers of cultivated hills with tea, intercropped with banana and local shade trees. We know now we have arrived in Wush Wush. Oh, lovely town, you are so good to us. On our first visit, we were actually trying to find a particular washing station, but we had had no luck reaching the owners. We opted to ask around town. Imagine our utter surprise, when we stop a gentleman and inquire if he knows Dinkalem Ademe. “That’s my son!” he says. Dinkalem is well loved throughout the Bonga, Wush Wush and Chena villages in the Keffa Zone. It is easy to observe why. For one, he treats his workers like family. There are about 130 laborers who earn a living working for Dinkalem, and they are all proud to be part of the team of professionals working to produce exceptional coffees. Secondly, he operates what are perhaps the cleanest and most well organized washing stations we have ever seen. We are experiencing cupping tables bursting with grapefruit, nectarine, angostura bitters, white tea and honeydew. We are trying to implement special prep honey processing with Dinkalem this season. We certainly look forward to experiments and exploring opportunities in the coming years.  

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Further still into the expansive, wild forest, we venture into the Sheka Forest Biosphere Reserve. The road to Anderacha takes us down to about 900 MASL, the lowest spot I have been yet in Ethiopia, before we climb the grade back up to over 2000 MASL. In this part of Ethiopia, thick greenery hangs over the roads and the trees drip with moist condensation and rainfall. It rains 10 months out of the year here. Rivers cut out deep segments of the land.

We leave pavement behind in the town of Teppi, and then after another 40+ kilometers of gravel roads, we arrive at the farm and washing station site in Anderacha. Not too many visitors make this trek. In fact, recently we were the very first buyers to visit….ever! We're about to take our third trip of the season. It sits near the center of the Unesco World Heritage Forest, and the land here is held as very sacred. From coffee and honey hives to lots of fruits and spices, the farm uses its 540 hectares in the heart of the forest to promote healthy biodiversity.

The farm and washing station provide work to a whopping 400+ people throughout each coffee season, and the washing station provides seasonal housing for many of the workers who live farther from the area. Hopping on the tractor and exploring the different parts of the farm, you can see many people working the harvest and spreading out coffee cherries on blankets for meticulous sorting before delivering them for pulping.

We have been purchasing coffees from these producers for the past couple years, and this year, we are helping implement mechanical floating tanks and parabolic drying for the raised beds. This will allow for much more controlled experimentation for washed and honey processing. Naturals are very challenging to do well in this environment, due to the fact that it is so moist. Still, current samples of both washed and naturals this season give us a taste of bergamot, candied apple, lemonade, and champagne to jasmine, blackberry jam, died fig and tamarind, respectively. This area is absolutely one of Ethiopia’s little known gems, and we are proud to be working alongside such an amazing group of professionals.

— Michael McIntyre

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Introducing Lance Nichols

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Introducing Lance Nichols

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I'm delighted to announce that as of January 1, Lance Nichols has joined our team as our Green Coffee Specialist.

Catalyst Coffee Consulting is a lean operation, and so is Dominion Trading (our importing partner). We don't hire people lightly. 

Since Andrew Russo pivoted from coffee to focus on earning his Master's degree in nonprofit management (and, guys, he's crushing it!), we've needed to replace him. Lance Nichols has been at the top of our list for almost a year, for a lot of reasons.

One reason is his relentless pursuit of coffee understanding, the kind that only happens when passion intersects with curiosity over and over for a decade. Lance has traveled to a number of coffee producing countries on his own dime, to better understand how coffee processing works in those particular settings and to teach coffee classes in English and Spanish. He put himself through the Q and other certifications. When he and Michael get on the phone together, I prepare for hours of discussion, because they both have minds that grasp the tiniest detail and its relation to the whole, whether we are talking about building better systems for releasing coffees for customers or the intricacies of the Ethiopian coffee grading system.

When I think of Lance a goofy grin inevitably wiggles onto my face. I remember meeting him in Lima in 2015, the three of us possessing about one high schooler's worth of Spanish between us, and showing up at a pension that, yes, had our reservation, and yes, had given it to someone with cash. It was midnight and our only contact was in another state of Peru. We ended up in a sketchy hotel in the worst part of town called Los Molinos ("the grinders") that sold rooms by the hour. Next morning, we ventured across the city and stumbled across one of the best coffeehouse/roasteries any of us have ever experienced (I wrote about it for Sprudge here) in a complete fool's paradise of luck.

I also think of Lance playing with puppies on the top of the world at Kuelap, a walled city c. 700 AD found high in the Peruvian cloud forests of Amazonas, hours of terrifying road along sheer cliffs from the misty city of Chachapoyas. I remember the sun on my nose and the smell of the chamomile in the grass there.

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2016, Atlanta, Lance and Michael almost single-handedly constructed the cupping program and organized/ran the pourover and espresso bar at the SCA booth for Cafés de Peru, the Peruvian national coffee organization, with less than a month to prepare. Later, we shared fingerfoods and incredible inter-cultural conversation with fellow supporters of the Cameroo Boyo project in the home of a man who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior. Lance talked to everyone, but everyone, and afterward we shared midnight Waffle House "hash browns" with Michiel Lampers of The Coffee Quest, who has since become our European partner. (Michiel—who's from The Netherlands— had never had hash made with potatoes...)

SCA 2017, 11 pm, I'd entered the kind of fugue state that trade shows induce in me, and we had walked to an Italian restaurant off the water in Seattle. Lance is the slowest eater I've ever met. He chews each bite with relish, thinks it over, goes back for more. There was a half-drunk bottle of wine on the table. I glanced at Michael, at Lance, at myself, and realized it was a moment of sheer happiness, complete with tomato sauce breath.

Us in Peru, April 2015. 

Us in Peru, April 2015. 

There's a lot happening in Ethiopia and around the world in the Catalyst community, and we struggle to communicate it, to take good care of our wonderful customers, nail sourcing, quality control, and training, to stay as immersed as we must be in Ethiopian and global coffee trends, politics, and projects, and to handle the endless travel that this work entails. Bringing Lance onto the team is a big moment for us.

Lance is beginning to apply his analytical approach and attention to detail to the complex job of working with our sourcing team to find the best Ethiopian coffees, celebrate projects and communities, and connect said coffees and communities with our roaster partners in the United States, Europe, and beyond. We are bubbling with plans and ideas, as we always are. For now, we are carefully connecting our roaster partners with Lance for everyday needs such as coffee releases and spot purchases and also for 2018 plans and big dreams.

Reach Lance at lance@catalystcoffeeconsulting.com or (607) 220-9968 and tell him hello!

— Emily

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Nano Lots within Micro Lots

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Nano Lots within Micro Lots

We have been able to explore our coffees in many ways this season. Picking cherries, tracking drying progress on the drying tables, cupping results with coffee producers, and spending endless hours in the Quality Control lab, we certainly have a more complete picture and understanding of the entire process, start to finish. 

One unique approach we took with our coffees this season came in breaking down each lot by screen size and exploring where the focus lies for quality intensity. This has been quite educational to us, and we have decided to prepare several lots by individual screen size this year! 

It is difficult to prepare lots in this fashion in Ethiopia (just one lot done this way can add at least a couple days of heavily-intensive work and 14-hour days, and we are paying each worker 3x her usual fee for each day) but we feel the reward is worth the effort for several special coffees. The dynamic cup complexity this approach offers us is remarkable. 

For example, screen 16 of our Guji Kercha Dubisa delivers a lovely dose of watermelon soda, lemon balm and vanilla cream, while screen 15 sharpens that focus to a watermelon candy, lemon zest and warming vanilla. The character in screens 13/14 intensifies into regional Ethiopian herbs like tan’adam and koseret. Separating and experiencing each screen size expands the variation and concentration, and each screen becomes its own unique cup profile. On the roasting end, you will be able to isolate variables and maximize consistency in development due to the extreme regularity (both screen size and density) of these tiny lots. Additionally, by preparing many of our coffees by screen size this year, it creates opportunities for nano lots within micro lots. Many of our customers already in the know on these projects are securing lots but we have some still to be explored, so get in touch for details! We absolutely recommend forward booking on some of these very limited lots.

Quality Control Manager overseeing screen size sorting in Addis

Quality Control Manager overseeing screen size sorting in Addis

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New Ethiopian Coffees Arriving Soon (Info + Booking)

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New Ethiopian Coffees Arriving Soon (Info + Booking)

Eyachew Zinabu

Eyachew Zinabu

Get Ready!

This coffee season in Ethiopia is not disappointing. In fact, I dare say that this has been one of the most incredible seasons for Ethiopian coffee in many years. Since we spent the entire harvesting/processing season working on site, we have been able to implement detailed protocols and progressive experiments, from better cherry acquisition for washing stations and process control points, to storage improvements and dry mill procedures. We have some ridiculously sparkling naturals coming in from all over Ethiopia, including some crazy tricks from our partnerships with Reko Koba in Kochere and Semalo Pride in Gelana Abaya.  We just cupped the first warehouse samples of Honey lots from these washing stations, and we are all in for a treat. 

Tiret Cooperative

On the other side of the country, in the Gololcha District of Harar, the Tiret Cooperative has come through many difficulties this season. Unseasonal rains have diminished harvest returns by up to 60% for some producers. Deribe Wubayehu, one of the cornerstones of quality in the Cooperative, lost 20% of his coffee farm from a major landslide. This event shifted the flow of a mountain spring river right through the middle of his land. He used it as an opportunity to build a water-powered mill for his corn production. The coffee that he was able to produce is tasting better than ever. These producers are incredibly hard-working and resilient, and their coffees are increasingly better each year we have the privilege of partnering with them. Community leader Abebayehu is currently in Dire Dawa with Zelalem, our Relationship and Quality Manager in Ethiopia. They are preparing farmer lots for export, and the first reports of micro lots are coming back as Grade 1!!! (This is a big deal FYI, and shows a huge improvement in their production over last year.)

We still have a few bags of current crop microlot coffees from the Tiret Cooperative: contact us to check them out for yourself.

Stay tuned as many new lots begin leaving Ethiopia.

Forward booking is available and encouraged for anybody interested in securing these coffees. 

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2017 Ethiopia Origin Trip Recap

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2017 Ethiopia Origin Trip Recap

Yep, folks, we made history last week.
Not such a bizarre claim when it comes down to it.
See this face? 

That's Shimelis Abebe, a coffee farmer in Gololcha, Harar, cupping coffee for the first time. (That's his brother Tegeney next to him. Tegeney won a goat in a bet from Ytegessu: his coffee scored higher.)

This historic cupping, the first ever in the area, is just the beginning of the excitement from our 2017 Ethiopia Origin Trip. So buckle up and grab some coffee... here we go!

The Who

Yeah, it's crooked. I don't think the mill worker quite had the knack yet. L-R (Front row): Mike Stemm (Dominion Trading), Neal Mead (Extracto Coffee Roasters), Emily McIntyre (Catalyst), Bonnie & Brent Kennedy (Bend Roasting Co.), dude with a great shirt, Eshetu (Qonqona mill management), Michael McIntyre (Catalyst). Back row: gentleman with killer suspenders, David Biller (Extracto Coffee Roasters), Matthias (Operations manager), Charley Austin (Happy Cup), Dean Falleti (Upper Left Roasters), Tom Kennedy (Kennedy Coffee), Chris Alspach (Upper Left Roasters), and Zelalem Girma (Dominion Trading).

Yeah, it's crooked. I don't think the mill worker quite had the knack yet. L-R (Front row): Mike Stemm (Dominion Trading), Neal Mead (Extracto Coffee Roasters), Emily McIntyre (Catalyst), Bonnie & Brent Kennedy (Bend Roasting Co.), dude with a great shirt, Eshetu (Qonqona mill management), Michael McIntyre (Catalyst). Back row: gentleman with killer suspenders, David Biller (Extracto Coffee Roasters), Matthias (Operations manager), Charley Austin (Happy Cup), Dean Falleti (Upper Left Roasters), Tom Kennedy (Kennedy Coffee), Chris Alspach (Upper Left Roasters), and Zelalem Girma (Dominion Trading).

Sidama

For only 8 days on the ground, we crammed an enormous number of miles, smiles, and cupping vessels in. Our first leg of the trip focused on the Bensa region of Sidama, where we visited several wet mills and had the chance to introduce our American friends with the folks who've been caretaking and processing their coffees. For several folks in our crew, it was a first origin trip, which made everything extra-special and gave real weight to moments like this one, when the Upper Left crew met Samson, the manger of the mill that produced their Aleta Wondo coffee.

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As a coffee person, I can make a safe bet you have either visited or seen photos from the Aregash Lodge near Yirgalem, Sidama. I just wrote a long and poetic essay about the place for Fresh Cup Mag so I won't lay the whole thing on you here, but suffice it to say that the Aregash is not just a place where you can count on the salads not destroying you (a big deal here!) but also a place full of love and welcome and careful attention to detail. We held a dance party and a cupping here.


Yirgacheffe / Kochere

If you follow Catalyst at all, you'll have heard us talk a lot about Reko Koba and Semalo Pride mills, two projects in which we are providing many services, including efficiency analysis, experimentation and process control, training, and photography/storytelling. We will be bringing these coffees to our customers this year, so sit tight.

The drive is long and wild—ill-made, unfinished asphalt roads give way to rough gravel... the body grows weary and the mind reels with culture shock and the constant high-pitched, "You you you!" from local urchins hoping for a handout. After the road winds deep into the country, we climbed past the symmetrical lines of trees in forest reserves and to the marvelous field—that's Field with a capitol 'F'!—that leads to Pride Mill. Check it out!

We visited Reko Koba and Semalo Pride mills in the same day; the management team from both mills met us in the city of Dilla, where we held a cupping; for each, it was their first. The coffees were MIND-BLOWING and the afternoon was incredibly special as American roasters and Ethiopian coffee workers got to share in a mutual appreciation and evaluation of their coffee.

Gololcha, Harar (Tiret Cooperative)

And then it was time for us to drive (and drive, and drive) up over the beautiful skeleton of the earth to the remote community of Gololcha, Harar, where we held the cupping mentioned above. I could go into so much detail, and probably will in future writings. It was definitely one of the 'you had to be there' moments that will bear important fruit in the world.

75 farmers and government coffee workers gathered together with us in an overcrowded, hot hall and we cupped 19 TCPCA coffees together. We had brought all the cupping supplies with us, and Abebeyahu rented a generator to power the hot water tower we brought. (Chug, chug little engine... it took forever with the weak current to get to temp!)

As we cupped, we walked them through each part of the process, explaining what was happening and most importantly, WHY it mattered to them. And everybody who wanted to took a turn before we lifted the lids and learned the names on each lot. There were some surprises. A few farmers had lower scores than expected. A few, much higher. For each there was a reason which we discussed, calling out and recognizing each individual's hard work and tiret, or best effort.

Lots of other stuff happened on this trip. Eire made friends on the coffee farms. (This one is Ytigessu's)

We posed for cheesy coffee photos.

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And we drank lots and lots of Habesha beer.

You should join us next time.

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Tips & Tricks from Catalyst Coffee (#1)

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Tips & Tricks from Catalyst Coffee (#1)

Greetings and Happy New Year from Catalyst Coffee!

2017 is here. Let's start the new year with some tips and tricks for coffee success!


Marketing/Blogging Images
We've all stumbled upon images such as this in our travels on coffee websites,  blogs, or marketing material. Poor quality, uneven roasting, roast defects, oh my. Don't be that company! Get yourself some high quality, marketable, images to use for your various media formats. Where? Pixabay (Free Stock Images)Flickr Commons (Attribution Only), and of course we fine folks at Catalyst have hundreds, if not thousands, of images you can use (like this one, which Emily took a month ago in Yirgacheffe). Do me a solid too and do not Google Gank your images (you wouldn't steal a car...you wouldn't steal a purse...you wouldn't use Google Image Search to steal coffee photos). Give credit where credit is due and use high quality, beautiful, roast defect-free images.

Building out that New Space or Just Starting

I wrote a series of articles from Daily Coffee News on starting your first roasting operation. For those of you looking to expand into a new space or legitimately starting a shop, have a read and get off on the right foot with your favorite health inspector. If you have any questions, reach out. I've seen it all. A roaster falling through the floor of an old warehouse? Check. HVAC not aligning? Check. A natural gas ready roaster being hooked up to a propane tank? Check (Don't do that).

SASNANS and SASNAR Oh My

This article from my friend Andy Newbom (Dropbox Download as the original article is gone from the IP Coffee Blog) gives you a wonderful overview of contract terms. If you have questions about your contract or want to learn how to book coffee ahead, let me know, or email at andrew@catalystcoffeeconsulting.com.

The Futures Market

I'm one of those weird roasters who also loves spreadsheets and futures markets. If you want to learn a little about this market, increase your negotiating and buying prowess, and become a market nerd like me, visit Khan Academy. They have a series of free classes that explain the futures markets, options, hedging, and other concepts you will want to know and understand as your company grows.

Finally, Safety First

Did you know OSHA offers free, no fine or punishment, inspections? They do and I highly recommend you contact your local OSHA office and schedule one. Industrial Hygiene and Safety inspectors will visit your facility and provide suggestions to improve worker safety, maintain your equipment, and keep your ears and lungs performing at their best. At the very least, get yourself some N95 masks and ear plugs. You'll thank me 30 years from now (preferably with a bag of coffee).

Happy New Year from all of us at Catalyst!

- Andrew Russo

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Coffee (Buna) Ceremony

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Coffee (Buna) Ceremony

Every culture is unique: Ethiopia's is more so. Over the years in this Eastern Africa country, many cultures have touched and exchanged motifs, phrases, food, and ideas, while still preserving the truly autonomous culture that refused colonization, alone in the continent. Next to the old man sitting beneath his vibrant purple shawl to guard a gate, patience writ across his face and a dazzling white lace prayer cap on his head, is a Land Rover of a new model and a driver with Ray-bans. Young men talk on their cell phones while driving donkey carts.

One cultural motif that appears everywhere—as insidious as frankincense in the wind–is the coffee, or buna, ceremony. Here in the land where coffee was discovered growing wild many centuries ago the ritual of preparing coffee has reached a fine point. In every home, from dirt floor to marble, you will find the charcoal burner, jabena pot, and tray with sini cups that form the ritual.

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"Here, we always drink coffee together." my host tells me. "We are very connected with our neighbors, and we have buna and talk about life." Ceremonies can last for hours as the coffee is roasted, ground, brewed, and drunk. It is an essential safe place for the new and the old to meet, with nearly all 82 tribes uniting in ritual around Ethiopia. In rural areas it is part of witchcraft ceremonies, the smoke an offering to the spirits.

This week I had the privilege of experiencing my first Ethiopian buna ceremony. As a coffee professional of 8 years and counting, to spend the winter with my husband and daughter in the birthplace of coffee is highly romantic, a rich coming-home that I little expected when I said yes to the opportunity. 

Our friend is a busy man in the export business. He first took us to his home to share white honey from his origin-place in the north of Ethiopia, Tigray. And then he offered us coffee. I said yes out of instinct: I had forgotten what that means here. He pulled up chairs for us in the courtyard and his wife began to drag out the geometric green-and-white mat, the white cupboard with six small white cups and saucers, the frankincense burner, the charcoal stove (medijah), the skillet filled with green coffee, and the straw fan for waving away smoke. She had a faint smile on her face as she began the ceremony.

I've been around a lot of roasting coffee and I'm familiar with its smells, sounds, and presence. But this experience was far more visceral. The beans rustle in the pan, back and forth, back and forth. The occasional flip of the wrist sends them into the air and collapsing back into the shallow skillet. The fire crackles and thick grey wisps of smoke rise to blow into our eyes, heavy with the chunks of frankincense, til now to me merely a mythical spice and now an unforgettable olfactory memory. We talk peacefully among ourselves, the sun dappling the children's cheeks as they run around us. When the coffee hits first, then second crack, it is startlingly loud. Our hostess begins fanning rapidly with a circular woven straw mat as the coffee darkens, oils surface, and finally it is held out to each guest to wave the smoke to his or her nose and nod approvingly.

In our brewing we emphasize keeping coffee from overextraction: we recommend using a timer, and brews are usually between 3 and 4 minutes. In buna, though, the coffee is boiled, poured into another vessel and back into the ornate pot, boiled and poured again, and over and over until the kadami (buna maker) deems it finished. A tiny amount of coffee is poured then from one small cup into the next until all have been coated with oily brown liquid, and then they are filled to the brim and handed with grace to each guest to be enjoyed at leisure.

The coffee is thick with particulates, especially at the bottom of the cup, and has a bracing woody hit on the palate. I know I'm lucky that this time around, the coffee is drawn from a Grade 2 Yirgacheffe sample our friend had on hand from the recent harvest cycle: often the coffee is local reject market (the scrapings of the quality barrel, in other words). White sugar is offered with each cup. Popcorn is eaten by the handful while the ceremony proceeds.

For me, coming from my hometown of Portland, Oregon, where I spend my days emailing, making hard decisions, interfacing with businesses, and trying hard to juggle the labor with parenthood and a healthy life, the buna ceremony offers a window into a kind of leisure I find I value more than I knew: a sweetness in everyday life and a magic found in familiar moments. Over the next few months I know I will partake in many more buna ceremonies, and each will be different while still calling forth the countless other ceremonies around this beautiful Ethiopian community worldwide. And further, the grace of buna will bestow an intention on my coffee preparation at other times. As I sleepily grind my coffee, measure and brew through my pourover, and drink with the day's first batch of emails, I will breathe a little deeper and remember the hard and beautiful lives of my friends in the Horn of Africa. The grace of buna, like the grace of the Ethiopian people themselves, can suffuse us in every facet of our lives, if we let it. 

— Emily McIntyre


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Andrew Russo Joins Catalyst

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Andrew Russo Joins Catalyst

Welcome to Catalyst's new blog!

origin updates - customer & producer profiles - technical exploration


In the time I've known Andrew Russo, I've never seen him boast or put someone else down. In an industry full of blather, that in itself is a recommendation.

But there's a lot more to Andrew than quiet competence, as you will see in the months to come. We've been trying to recruit Andrew on the down-low for a while now, following his innovative foray into online coffee education (Craft Coffee Institute), his well-researched writings on Probat's history and the pitfalls of planning a roastery, and his Save Lekali foundation, for which he raised $23,000 single-handedly and got every penny through to the village with 100% traceability for donors. We're impressed by his coffee cupping and roasting skills, his selfless volunteering in times of disaster through Team Rubicon USA, and his devotion to his family. We're excited that he's pursuing an advanced degree in nonprofit management and that he's a relentless history buff. We're vaguely intimidated that he's an endurance athlete and casually "runs 10 miles" on an average Friday.

As Michael and I spend more and more time at origin, we know the beautiful Catalyst community of roasters, green buyers, baristas, and US-based coffee pros also deserve focus and attention. Starting today, Andrew will be transitioning into handling coffee orders, sample requests, and followups. He'll also share aspects of Quality Control and roast profile analysis with Michael. He'll take on the occasional consulting engagement. And he will apply his strong ability with systems to the sprawling, well-intentioned origin projects we are engaged in, increasing accountability and ensuring the right checks and balances are in place as we connect more and more roasters and producers who share visions.

In the days to come we will be reaching out to introduce you to Andrew and fill you in on ordering and support protocols to ensure you are well taken care of while Michael and I head to Ethiopia for the winter (more on that soon). For now, if you have the time, please take a moment to email Andrew at andrew@catalystcoffeeconsulting.com to wish him well in his new position!

- Emily McIntyre

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