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Kenya and Ethiopia January 2014

‘Sponsored’ by Toyota Land Cruiser


This was my first trip to Kenya Since my training in 2010 but this time I knew where I would be going and that  I wouldn’t have to be running a warehouse with 150+ workers most of which only spoke Swahili.

Nairobi has for some time been one of the most prominent cities for forward thinking businesses and political reasoning. New roads are ever present throughout and make visiting coffee farms a ‘dream.’

This was a first in DR Wakefield’s history that someone other than a member of trade has gone to an origin and it was great to show Helen (logistics controller) how different coffee growing regions can vary.

A single estate which really caught my attention was Rioki Estate in the Kiambu region. The estate is 243 hectares and has stumps that are close to 100 years old. We were taken around by Henry and Casper who manage the whole estate. Their farm management is very impressive; each stem is cut every 7 years as they believe this is the optimum time for a branch to produce coffee. This, along with careful pruning limits any problem with leaf rust and any damage that the bora beetle might cause.

As the weather this year has been good, the main crop had already been picked and most of the coffee has been moved to the dry mills to be prepared before being brought to auction (or shipped).

On our penultimate morning, we arrived at the auction for an African 9.30 start – typically late due to Nairobi traffic.

Two weeks before an auction, pre-auction lot samples of 200g are sent to different exporters, this is to ensure that quality and cup matches expectation.

Each coffee is represented by a marketing agent such as Sassini who will in turn have their own catalogue if they have enough coffee to offer.

Prices are based on $/50 of green coffee. If bought these are actually packed into 60kg.

Farmers sit in the top left and right hand side of the auction room and buyers/exporters fill up the gaps in the middle.

Each buyer has a button which once pressed sounds a Star Wars film! Once a final buyer is found, the electronic screen states that the bid is either confirmed if the price is agreed or noted if the price does not match the marketing agent’s price. The price can be discussed at the time as the different marketing agents host the auctions.

Coffees when on sale are descripted by lot number, catalogue number, grade, bags, kg and area.

The computerised system has not been in use for long as it was first brought in 1998, but has so far been very successful and should set an example to the Ethiopian auction system.

During the auction the acting president made a short speech, she mentioned that the average price of last year was $166/50. As the market is lower than the previous year farmers are not happy, and therefore the next generation are not willing to come into coffee when prices are low. She advised the exporters to help increase the prices so that the youth would be willing to enter into coffee, rather than selling the land which would later become real estate.


After a short but insightful 3 day trip in Kenya, we flew from Nairobi to Addis for what would be a slightly more strenuous travelling experience than what we had experienced in the past few days. Like most flights within Africa, the journeys are full of turbulence but the South African wine ‘Balance’ did just enough to calm the nerves.

The growth of Addis (2180masl) is something to behold since my last visit, which was only a year ago, I could already see further changes. A city tram is being built in the centre with more roads also being built in every nook and cranny there is.

Addis has 40% of the total population with an annual increase in GDP that is close to 10%. There are 90 million people with 90 different languages that are spoken – this will remain my reason for not learning the language….!

Last year with a falling market and the ECX staying firm, several exporters were forced to take a loss as coffee cannot be stored for longer than 2 months in warehouses and for exporters who believed that the market would rise wasn’t the best situation.

The auction system is made frustratingly confusing for a first time visitor, so on my second visit it was a relief to finally understand what was going on within the hustle and bustle of the auction system. Unlike the Kenyan one where each lot is sold in a regimented way. Here representatives from washing station and exporters come together in a circular ‘arena’ and discuss (more like shout) prices that each party is happy with. Coffee is priced in bir/17kg which 17kg is a feresula (fere meaning horse).

Washed coffee is sold in parchment form and physically is in a 60kg bag. Sundried coffee comes in green and is in an 85kg bag.

Our first washing station visit in Ethiopia was in the Jimma area. Coffee is pulped during the evening, to offer parchment coffee for handpicking/drying throughout the day.  It was the first time that I saw Djimma being processed. The Limu is the ‘same’ coffee as the Djimma but the Limu is washed and the Djimma is sundried. To make it slightly confusing in the Limu area you can buy Djimma and in the Jimma area you can buy Limu.

This season we will see a good crop for Djimma and Limu as the rains (have) arrived at the right time during the season and have caused the fruit to arrive at the perfect time.

The birthplace of coffee is situated in Jimma (1555 masl. N07.53.897 E0.36.40.618), so it would have been rude not to visit where the famous story of Kaldi and his goats came from. We met with a 7th generation farmer who was 92 years of age who ‘claimed’ to be in the same family as Mr Kaldi.  If he was related, we shall never know but he was a very welcoming man and it was nice to meet him.

After an insightful trip in Jimma we headed back to Addis, as there is STILL no connecting road to Yirgacheffe. Our trip to Yirgacheffe was my second visit to the region, but to mix it up a little we decided to go along with an alternative exporter to see some different washing stations whose coffees come through the auction system.

The washing station that we visited whilst in Yirgacheffe was a reassuring experience as the quality control was on the forefront of their processing. For washed coffees, the parchment is covered from11-3pm as the sunshine is too strong and would rush the drying. They would reopen the covers at 3 until the end of the working day which is 5pm on the dot.

Yirgacheffe Gr3 in Ethiopia is still classed as sundried. Unlike the sundried Djimma which is most of time over-ripened whilst on the tree, Yirgacheffe grade 3 is picked while the cherry is red and dried on the Africa beds until black, which roughly takes 20 days.

Final thought

Kenya is still producing some great coffees and the way that business is conducted is still consistently proving to be successful. The government in Kenya are still causing issues within the whole supply chain. Exporters are not happy and they hope that something will change in the near future.

However, the Ethiopian auction needs some improving as for commercial exporters it is very hard to decipher which qualities will be better than the rest without a sample to grade and try beforehand.

It was good to hear the crop in Ethiopia will be very promising as the right weather came at the right time, stressing the plant to produce some great cherry.

As I settle back into work after a fantastic trip, it is nice to see that from what our exporters were saying is coming through in the cup. In my opinion the new crop tastes great and we should expect some promising coffees from both Kenya and Ethiopia this year.

Asante Sana