Last November I had the opportunity to visit the Suke Quto farm and mill in the Odo Shakisso region in the south of Ethiopia. This is our second season offering this coffee.
Rather than writing a wordy article like I usually do, I thought I would let the photos from this trip guide the story. Ethiopia is a beautiful place.
|| Coffee in the Forest || Ethiopia is one of the few places where coffee grows wild in the forest. While Suke Quto and its sister farm are planted, the way that owner Tesfaye has preserved the natural forests makes it feel like you're in an untouched forest. Tesfaye holds degrees in Agronomy and Natural Resource Management, so ecological factors are a top priority for him when it comes to coffee.
|| Coffee Varieties in Ethiopia || When we talk about flavor and Ethiopia, we tend to mention the "heirloom varieties" that contribute to the unique floral characteristics of Ethiopian coffee. I wrote a little about this in a previous blog post. At the Suke Quto farm, the most prevalent varieties are native Kurume and Wolicho. The cherries taste floral with sweet passionfruit. As good as, if not better, than any Geisha cherry I've tasted in Central America.
|| Coffee Thievery || While we were wandering around just inside the forest, we heard yelling in the distance, beyond where we could see. The shouting increased and suddenly there were people coming from all directions, running past us down the hill. Tesfaye looked at our group and said "just a minute" and took off running in the same direction. After a few minutes, we followed and found him with a large group of pickers around this broken tree. Someone who shouldn't have been there had broken the top down and was stealing cherry by stripping the branches. Luckily they were caught in time. Cherry theft can be a problem anywhere, it was sort of exciting to see how rapidly the group collectively took care of it. Also, I think this broken tree photo is pretty.
|| Suke Quto Washing Station || Tesfaye's mill began operation in 2009. Previously, he sold cherry from his three farms to neighboring mill, Mordecofe. The washing station produces about 20 containers of coffee per season, mostly washed but some natural. The lots are a blend of coffee from his three farms and roughly 600 small land-holders in the Odo Shakisso area.
|| Kumure School Improvement Project || The school in the town nearest the Suke Quto station serves nearly a thousand children in a few, shabby dirt floor classrooms. In partnership with Trabocca, Tesfaye is raising funds to help improve the conditions of the school. I'm encouraged when I see that the people we're working with go beyond the business of coffee and have a clear vision of the importance of the lives of the people and environment along the way.
|| Suke Quto Nursery || From 1998-2004, a continuous forest fire destroyed much of the area where the Suke Quto farms are today. Tesfaye wanted to grow the area with coffee, but he had a hard time even giving the seedlings away because people did not want to wait four years to get a crop and were more interested in growing crops like teff which could turn into cash more quickly. Over time, things have turned around and now Suke Quto has a base of producers who deliver to the station, and several hundred hectares of coffee on his own farms.
Since the nursery began in 2008, Suke Quto has distributed 1,300,000 seedlings to the three farms owned by Tesfaye, and 1,500,000 to the coffee farmers in the area who deliver to the station. Renovating farms with new plants is important to quality and production and not many of the small coffee growers in the area have the resources to build their own nursery.
|| Just me being a weirdo with Tesfaye || Ethiopia is a complex place. It's hard not to feel distant from the people and the culture in any new country I visit, but it was encouraging to learn about all the great things going on behind a coffee I had already grown to love through the cupping table. We're looking forward to offering this coffee for years to come.
You can buy the Suke Quto online here.