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An overview of the Ethiopian coffee industry

DRWakefield coffee trader Phil Searle is getting ready to embark on an origin trip to Ethiopia on January 11th – his third visit to the East African nation in as many years.

Here, he tells us what his plans for his time in the bean basket are, what he expects will have changed over the past 12 months and we'll also take a look at the country's coffee industry in general.

Ethiopian coffee history

Ethiopia is considered to be the birthplace of coffee, with several legends relating to goatherds and travelling monks discovering the energising effects of a cherry growing in the highlands by chance and passing on the news of the awakening properties of what we now know is caffeine.

The agricultural conditions and altitudes of the Ethiopian highlands make it ideally suited to coffee cultivation.

Today, the country is still held in high regard due to the exquisite cupping profiles of its coffee, with many believing it produces some of the best-flavoured beans in the world.

In particular, Ethiopia is famed for its Arabica beans, with the Longberry and Yirgacheffe varieties both highly coveted among the globe's roasters.

Harvesting and processing in Ethiopia

The coffee harvest in Ethiopia typically takes place between October and April. Although some of the cherries produced in the country are washed by the farmers and left to dry in the sun, others are simply dried as they are picked, allowing for more natural, earthy flavours to be present in cupping profiles.

However, floral and fruity notes are more common in Ethiopian brews, as is generally the case throughout the East African bean basket.

Ethiopian coffee tends to make its way to the UK by May or June, but logistics can be an issue in the country, making their international arrival date rather difficult to predict.

Phil's Ethiopia plans

Phil will be travelling to Ethiopia with one of DRWakefield's loyal customers to try to determine whether or not coffee grown in a remote area of Jimma is suitable for selling to roasters elsewhere in the world.

He intends to spend several days in the location in the hope that DRWakefield can be the first company to sell this particular coffee in the near future.

However, Phil first faces a long journey to the source, as a hired driver will take him on the five-hour drive from the airport to the part of Jimma he is visiting on the western side of Ethiopia.

When asked if he thought he'd see many changes in the country in comparison to his visit in January 2014, Phil explained: "The roads will have improved. There's more and more money invested in Ethiopia every year, so there'll be fewer dust roads and more tarmac in some areas. Others will still have mud roads, but they will have been rolled, making them smoother."

Logistical problems are prevalent in Ethiopia, with poor transport infrastructure, communication issues and frequent shipment delays, making it a challenging origin to export green coffee from.

Phil explained he will be meeting with some of DRWakefield's current Ethiopian suppliers to discuss how their working relationship could be improved in the future to ensure smooth transit of the beans from the source to the roasters.

"We also want to say hello to our current exporters, see what's been happening, see what's new and see what we can improve.

"We'll try to meet with the guys who manage the country's auctions too to see if there are any changes on the horizon."

During his January 2014 trip, Phil discovered significant issues at the nation's auction houses, with difficulties relating to buyers being able to determine the quality of the coffee they were purchasing.

However, there has been talk of introducing an online system to manage this more efficiently, but whether or not this will come to fruition, only time will tell.

We'll be catching up with Phil when he returns from his trip next year to see what he got up to in Ethiopia – watch this space.

Photo credit: Thinkstock/kjekol