Tikur Anbessa Ethiopia
- June 2016
- Written by : Geoff Watts
Vice President / Green Coffee Buyer
“ How do you create something of transcendent beauty? ”
For all of humankind’s talent and accomplishment, our best work still only approximates the raw beauty found in nature. In the coffee world, resourceful and motivated farmers around the globe put Herculean efforts into making coffees with exceptional taste and sometimes, when things break the right way, they succeed.
Producing greatness, it turns out, is very hard. But there is one place on Earth where extreme coffee quality occurs with unusual regularity and seeming ease, almost as though it were just a matter of throwing a seed in the ground and letting it grow. Ethiopia leans back and drops beautiful coffees the way the Splash Brothers hit jump shots or Robin Williams cracked jokes—almost effortlessly, with a smile and a wink. It’s really not fair. When we took a group of farmers from Latin America to visit Ethiopia for our 6th annual Extraordinary Coffee Workshop they couldn’t believe what they saw—scraggly, unkempt coffee trees that looked like they’d been abandoned, growing in an unorganized way on farms that didn’t appear to have been maintained in years. Washing stations with ancient, faulty equipment, crumbling fermentation tanks with cracked cement, weeds growing everywhere. All of these farmers had experienced the uniquely gorgeous taste of Ethiopia’s best coffees, and each had the same question; how can it be that a coffee so celebrated, with such effusive quality, comes from this? It is understandable that they’d be surprised and perhaps a bit envious; all of them know firsthand how much meticulous care needs to be taken merely to squeeze out a very good coffee, yet here there is great coffee that—wait for it—apparently just grows on trees.
They are right to be a little jealous; the game is rigged. Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, does have an unfair advantage. The combination of indigenous varieties, ideal climate conditions and fertile soils gives this place a leg up on everyone else. For that reason we expect more out of them than just about any other coffees we buy and hold them to what would be an unreasonable standard for most other places. With all the natural potential, Ethiopia should be leaving everyone else in the dust. Here’s the thing though—although quality in Ethiopia is unusually abundant, it is often erratic and inconsistent due to a relative lack of control over processing variables. That’s the missing link. The majority of coffees fall way short of their true potential because they are not handled with enough attention to detail.
Fortunately things are changing there and some ambitious new projects are helping to bring Ethiopian coffee to new heights, with greater consistency and clarity than ever before. Aman Adinew and his crew at METAD are a tremendous example: they have committed to using the kind of meticulous, detailed approach in post-harvest care and lot separation that countries in Latin America have pioneered in an effort to produce coffees that take full advantage of Ethiopia’s unique natural gifts.
Fittingly, their family’s pathway to reaching this point is marked with a number of groundbreaking achievements. Their grandmother, Muluemebet Emiru, was the first female pilot in Africa, and their state-of- the-art facility in Addis Ababa is the first private SCAA certified laboratory on the continent. The sites they’ve founded in Gedeb and Hambela are the first in the area to focus intensively on training farmers to improve quality as a means of increasing the value of the coffee, and their work just four years in has already attracted a huge following, in part because of the refreshingly transparent nature of the way they run their out-grower programs.
And as much as we talk about and celebrate the amazing quality they’ve achieved with the coffee, it is important to recognize that incredible taste is really not the true goal of this project—it is a means to a bigger end. A great coffee operation can—and should-- produce more than just great coffee; when done right it can be a vehicle that enables meaningful livelihood improvement and creates opportunity for many. The Adinew family subscribes to a definition of success that embraces this fundamental truth, and Aman and his team are committed to finding ways to make things better around them. They’ve already started with some early initiatives, using profits from the sale of coffee to fund development work in the area. In the first year of operations they sponsored an elementary school in Hambela and started working with local leaders to assist with building community centers. They’ve also made a practice of hiring mostly women. Historically in Ethiopia women have had fewer opportunities than men, and the Adinew brothers-- Aman and Michael-- were proud to point out that today more than 70% of the people working at their farm sites are women, a number they expect to keep increasing.
We are grateful to be partnered with people who share both our love for quality and a desire to do meaningful work that can have far-reaching impact. From the outset this project was designed to be ambitious, with the intention of producing some of the most exciting and most sustainable coffees on the continent and influencing positive change throughout Ethiopia’s coffee sector. That’s why we chose as a name for this coffee the most powerful icon we could find: Tikur Anbessa (Tey-koor Ahn-bess-ah), the Black Lion. King of the Forest. Conquering Lion, symbol of the strength of the Ethiopian nation. The Black Lion is unique to Ethiopia, and uniquely gorgeous. It represents the kind of traits we expect in coffee from Southern Ethiopia: mesmerizing beauty and grace, confident intensity, and fascinating complexity. Please enjoy it to the fullest.