Back from the Road: Ethiopia, November 2011
Ethiopia is getting some heat again. More than two years ago, the Ethiopian government put in place the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) which radically transformed how coffee was traded, bought, and exported. This decision brought a storm of criticism especially from the specialty market. Now, just a week or so ago, rumors are spreading like wildfire that the Trade Minister is going to make all commercial shipments go out in bulk packaging and no more 60kg burlap bags. The hail storm of criticism has started once again, and again Counter Culture is wondering if this is going to have any impact on us. (From what we can tell it won't, but who knows.)

On one hand it seems like another hoop the Ethiopian government is making people go through, and people don't understand why. Unlike the ECX, I personally don't understand the "why" of this move. Is it the whole issue with the tainted burlap bags that delayed exports a few years ago? Is it cost savings? Lack of burlap in the country? Will this help coffee move faster out of Djibouti (from which Ethiopian coffee ships)?

Though I do not know "why," I am going to assume there is a reason, just like there is a reason people in the US and other places are not happy about it. The thing I am taking away from this – and the thing I respect – is that Ethiopia once again is not afraid of change. I also feel that this concept of not being afraid to change goes down to the producer level, as well … or at least with the producers we are working with. This change of the coffee market landscape (and the way producers we work with are pushing forward in quality) was certainly the theme of this trip.

In my photo set, you can see the places I really focused on. I didn't post photos from half of the places I went – I visited 14 cooperatives in less than a week – but you can see the places we have partnered with the most.

This year, in the spirit of Ethiopia, not afraid to change things up, we are doing quality separation and experimentation with 3 cooperatives: Haru, Idido, and Biloya. Each will be not only be trying different processing than they have ever done before and different drying techniques they haven't tried before, they will be separating coffee out exclusively for Counter Culture. This puts a lot of trust and risk on both parties. We are trusting these cooperatives to do the very best processing possible for us, and, in return, we are committing to these coffees before they are made. This, we feel, is how real partnerships are formed and how quality is made instead of found – which are two very different ways of thinking and buying coffee.

Check out the photos to see a lot of these things in depth. I even spent some time in the Southwestern part of Ethiopia visiting some cooperatives and projects out there that I included in the set, as well


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