Super fruity and clean. Tropical fruits and syrupy body. Mango and Cola.
Here we go folks. Our first natural Ethiopian of the season and this time it's from Bale Mountain, a new station in a relatively unknown region West Arsi owned by Israel Degfa. He is a young businessman who owns thirteen washing stations and a farm across the South and South West of Ethiopia. In previous years the production at these washing stations has been focused on volume but recently Israel has shifted his focus, and is working on the quality of processing across his washing stations as priority.
In 2014, Israel and his company, Kershanshe, became the majority shareholder in a land lease contract in the national park of Bale Mountain. They rehabilitated and replanted 75 hectares of coffee. The first harvest was in 2017, so far only with naturals. They now have 100 hectares currently producing coffee and an additional 30 hectares of newly planted Geisha trees that will have their first production in 2019/2020.
Bale Mountain also purchases coffee from approximately 400 out-growers located nearby. The station has 300 pickers are employed and 150 of them are experienced pickers tasked with training the other half of the workforce.
Many of Israel’s washing stations produce high quality coffee simply due to their location and altitude, and he is building on this potential quality by investing in better systems and protocols. To maintain quality standards Israel has invested in a modern warehouse and dry mill in Addis. There he has separate areas for washed and naturals, as well as for specialty and for the normal commodity. He also purchased high-tech colour sorters, and built a quality control lab, all to produce and maintain high quality lots.
Every day of production Israel’s team differentiates what goes into the improved and better qualities (Grade 1) from the normal preparation for Grade 2 and Grade 3. Flotation systems separate some of the coffees on-site for better performance. These coffees are assigned a quality team to carefully tend to their processing. They generally do lot separation based on 150 bags of parchment, equal to 100 bags of greens, but they also do smaller lot sizes, especially for honey, shade-dried or other improved preparations. The coffees are separated according to the days and areas of harvest as well as by preparation.
Harvest and cherry selection:
Coffee cherries are harvested by family members, then hand-sorted to remove unripe and overripe cherries before they are delivered to the washing station for processing. Israel generally pays a higher price for good quality cherries, normally 2-4 Birr/kg on top of the general cherry prices.
Soaking and pre-sorting:
The cherries are soaked in water. The healthy cherries will sink, while the diseased and damaged cherries will float and are skimmed off and removed. The cherries will then be moved to the drying beds. Underripe and defective cherries will be sorted out by hand during the first days.
When producing naturals the level of fermentation will be determined by the thickness and layer during the first days of drying in combination with temperature. Fermentation is slower at higher altitudes as temperatures are generally lower.
Drying and handsorting:
The cherries are dried in a relatively thin layer at about 3-4 cm the first days. They will build up the layers to 6-10 cm after a few days. The coffees are moved frequently and they will be covered during the hottest hours of the day to protect the cherries from intense sunlight, then again at night to protect against humidity. This will also help improve quality as the coffee is rested and the drying more homogeneous. Drying naturals at these altitudes can take up to 20 days.
Besides the ability to produce great coffees on a good scale, our importers work with Israel because he genuinely cares about the farmers. He grew up in a coffee producing area, and he shows great respect for the farmers, both as business partners and as people.
Israel builds schools to support the local communities. He contributes the land and pays for the construction, and ensures access to clean water for the students. The government is in charge of managing the school and paying its teachers, and Israel provides school materials on occasion. Israel has already built schools in Adola, Kercha (Mokonesa and Mokonesa Bulga) and is currently constructing schools in Gelana Gesha and Kilenso Mokonesa.
In addition to paying premiums for quality, Israel has registered some washing stations as Rainforest Alliance and Organic. That means means some producers earn two premiums, one for the certification and another for quality. Boji and Adola washing stations are both certified organic, and organic certification for Uraga is in process.