Ethiopian Coffee: Fertile Ground for Specialty Buyers

Sunday, April 12, 2015
Cupping at the Ethiopian booth at the 2015 SCAA event. (L-R) Mekonnen Hailemichael (ECX quality expert and head cupper), Rick Reinhart (CEO of SCAA), Yakob Yella (State Minister of Trade for Ethiopia) and Craig Russell (VP of Global Coffee for Starbucks).
Bisrat Ermias, ACDI/VOCA


Under the Theme ‘Origin and Diversity’, SCAA Annual Conference Provided Ethiopian Co-ops a Chance to Court New Specialty Coffee Buyers

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — Over 11,000 visitors to last week’s Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) annual event could barely sleep after all the Ethiopian coffee consumed. The Ethiopian delegation—ranging from public officials to coffee farmer cooperative union leaders—ran out of coffee samples before the four-day event ended. However, thanks to the country’s deep ties to Seattle’s specialty coffee scene, the Ethiopian coffee family kept the jebena (Ethiopian coffee pot) full and the coffee brewing.

Ethiopia took center stage as the Portrait Country at this year’s SCAA event under the theme Ethiopia: Origin and Diversity. There to promote the East African nation’s coffee and the latest progress made in the coffee sector, Ethiopian State Minister of Trade Yakob Yella addressed coffee traders and aficionados in the opening ceremonies and invited everybody to come to Addis Ababa in March 2016 for the World Coffee Conference.

“It is a privilege and of great importance for Ethiopia to be this year’s Portrait Country and to be here in Seattle, the home of specialty coffee. In the United States, there is a growing demand for Ethiopian coffees. This event will serve to create synergies among major stakeholders of Ethiopian coffee and buyers,” explained the State Minister.

The Ethiopian delegation met with Starbucks at the company’s headquarters. As part of the push to promote Ethiopian coffee, Starbucks served Reserve Kochere coffee from the Yirgacheffe region in all of its Seattle stores.

Specializing in Specialty Coffee

One of several banners displayed at the Ethiopian booth at the 2015 Specialty Coffee Association of America annual event in Seat
One of several banners displayed at the Ethiopian booth at the 2015 Specialty Coffee Association of America annual event in Seattle, Washington.

Four major coffee farmers’ cooperative unions (FCU) and over 60 private exporters attended the event to promote Ethiopia’s number one export and network with specialty coffee buyers, who contracted to buy more than 16 containers, or some 5,120 bags (60 kg each) of coffee.

Ethiopian exporter Green Coffee signed a contract with Vermont-based coffee company Green Mountain for 10 containers of washed Grade II Limu with Rain Forest Alliance certification.

“Traceable coffee is so important to a company like Green Mountain. And traceable is not just knowing the washing station, but knowing the exact location of the farm,” explained Green Coffee CEO Tadele Abreha. The Green Coffee company started exporting in 2002 and is no stranger to the U.S. demand for specialty coffee. Last year, his company exported 40 containers to Starbucks and expects to export another 50 in 2015. Tadele added, “My company is the largest private exporter of specialty coffee in Ethiopia right now. Starbucks buy coffee from the cooperative unions as well, but a contract for 50 containers, let’s just say it’s a big deal!”

At the event, the Yirgacheffe FCU closed contracts with three new specialty buyers totaling an initial four containers of coffee. According to Tekele Mammo, the organization’s general manager, “As always, buyers are concerned about the price of our specialty coffees. But when they taste and see the quality is consistent, they sign up for more,” he explained.

In addition, the Yirgacheffe team met with buyers from specialty coffee giant Starbucks for the first time. If all goes well, Yirgacheffe FCU’s coffee could be in American stores and café lattes by next year.

The other major farmer cooperative unions—Oromia, Sidamo and Damota Wolayta—also found new clients and closed contracts.

Coffee Value Chain Development

For the last four years, USAID has assisted the Ethiopian government and coffee cooperatives to improve the production, processing and marketing of Ethiopian coffee. As partners, USAID and the Government of Ethiopia have improved the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange’s (ECX) ability to test and grade coffee beans before putting them on the open market. In addition to improved quality, the program has mapped the country’s coffee washing and hulling stations and installed the necessary technology to trace coffee purchased through the ECX.

Through the Agribusiness Market Development activity under the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative, USAID also trained FCU leaders on better management and business practices and have prepared members to prepare business plans needed to access capital from financial institutions and investors. Finally, the USAID activity partnered with targeted primary cooperatives to create coffee nurseries, which are fundamental to the future of Ethiopian coffee, as coffee trees grow old and produce less coffee. Nurseries also provide another source of income and create further employment for farmers, especially women. The activity has planted nearly two million seedlings over the past year.

See also

USAID Ethiopia Feed the Future

USAID Ethiopia Economic Growth and Trade

Ethiopian Coffee Generating More Worldwide Promotion

Something's Brewing in Ethiopia [FrontLines article]