Ethiopia Gesha Village Washed Special Selection
- May 2019
- Written by : Geoff Watts
Vice President of Coffee / Green Coffee Buyer
About as far west as one can get in Ethiopia, just a few kilometers from the South Sudan border in a forgotten region known as Bench Maji, there is an incredible coffee story unfolding. It is a tale of serendipity and revival that provides us with a glimpse into the future, foretelling the mouthwatering coffee flavors possible when the latent potential present in the genetic birthplace of coffee is unlocked. A deliberate, patient fusion of modern quality control with traditional respect for the incomparable talent of nature has enabled these heirloom coffees to show what they are truly capable of.
The more you know about Gesha Village the more remarkable it becomes. It is a paradigm-shifting, expectation-shattering revolution. It is as much a journey into the unknown as it is a return to the past. In the process of trying to create the best tasting coffee they can make, Adam and Rachel are subverting a stubborn and somewhat broken industry, and building a new global community while challenging everything we think we know about coffee.
Consider these facts: Although it sits near the historical origin of all Arabica coffee, Bench Maji was barely on the coffee map and was virtually unknown to coffee buyers until Gesha Village was started. Coffees from this area were widely considered among the lowest-value coffees in the country. Today, Gesha Village earns the highest prices of any farm in Ethiopia, and among the highest in the world.
Most high-end coffees from Ethiopia are only accessible to small roasters through the filter of importing companies and difficult to acquire without the right connections. Gesha Village air freights tiny quantities directly to roasters—and even baristas—all over the globe. Ancient varieties like this Gesha 1931 were impossible to purchase because they weren’t cultivated in any meaningful volume and were in danger of extinction. Today they are appearing on menus and in mugs, giving us access to long lost tastes.
The Meanit tribal community that populates much of Bench Maji was largely disconnected from the coffee trade and without access to any source meaningful income. Now many are cultivating coffee and taking advantage of a growing commercial interest in the zone.
The coffee world at large has moved away from agroforestry and organic production, believing that economic sustainability meant maximum yield per hectare and that heavy use of fertilizer inputs was the only way to get there. Gesha Village is grown under heavy shade canopy in a native forest, with minimal inputs and specific priority for quality over quantity.
Most farmers depend exclusively on traders and roasters to speak to consumers. The Gesha Village team has taken it upon itself to tell its own story, in its own voice, through its website and its active engagement in the industry.
All of that would be quite impressive even if divorced from the question of quality. But it would be a short-lived story if the coffees were mediocre or stopped anywhere short of great. Ethiopia is—and will always be—home to some of the planet’s most provocative and intrinsically delicious coffees. Ethiopia produces 85-point coffees in its sleep. To really stand out over time and command extraordinary prices from discerning buyers, an Ethiopian coffee must deliver a perceptible and reliable difference in quality. That’s where the exceptional efforts being made to control quality rise to the top in the narrative about Gesha Village’s success to date.
From the start, Adam and Rachel set their sights on extreme quality and left no stone unturned in the effort to make it happen. Early on they traveled to Panama and other producing countries to study production techniques and adopt ideas that might help them maximize their quality at home. They began experimenting relentlessly to test theories and discover ways to fine-tune their production formula. They built a system from scratch to track their harvest outcomes batch-by-batch so they could study their farm’s behavior and learn about where the outliers in quality were coming from, and they cupped religiously to develop their ability to be consistent evaluators of their own coffees rather than relying solely on outside opinion to validate results. This last part may be the most important lesson that Gesha Village has to teach other farmers aspiring to increase the quality—and price—of their coffees.
Systems for protecting coffee’s quality by standardizing post-harvest practices are becoming increasingly common at the top level of our industry, but the number of farmers who make a personal investment in data tracking and sensory analysis with the goal of constant learning and continual improvement is small. Most growers are one step removed from their coffees from a sensory perspective, and unintentionally deny themselves the pleasure of enjoying andfully appreciating the fruits of their labor. Some decide to commit themselves to becoming experts in quality analysis, and to immerse themselves in the process of knowing on a visceral, intimate level how their own coffees perform in the cup. These growers in a far superior position to take control of their farms and radically accelerate the process of improving their quality while at the same time having more meaningful—and more profitable--engagement with the marketplace. This stunning washed Gesha 1931 varietal lot is evidence of what is possible when they do.