Ethiopia’s Forest Coffee guide unburies country’s hidden coffee treasures

Ethiopia’s Forest Coffee

TechnoServe and Partnerships for Forests has released Ethiopia’s Forest Coffee: An Illustrated Guide unburying the country’s hidden coffee treasures.

Ethiopia is famous for being the ‘birthplace of coffee’, and it has a reputation for quality that lives up to its lineage. Despite this reverence for Ethiopian coffee, TechnoServe Global Coffee Director Paul Stewart says there is still much the industry does not know about the country’s coffee.

“Over the past 15 years, there’s been great advances in the processing of coffee in regions across Ethiopia. Many of the coffees are growing in and next to natural forests, with microclimates that create unique flavour profiles,” Stewart tells Global Coffee Report.

“These forest coffees have great genetic diversity with many of the varieties yet to be mapped, and high levels of shade result in the coffee maturing much slower than in other parts of the world. These are two of the factors we know that contribute to these extraordinary and complex flavours, but there are other reasons we don’t fully understand.”

Cooperatives and community members harvest and sell these forest-grown coffees, which together with forest garden coffee account for 70 per cent of Ethiopia’s coffee production.

To raise awareness of Ethiopia’s forest-grown coffee, TechnoServe worked with Partnerships for Forests to publish Ethiopia’s Forest Coffee: An Illustrated Guide, detailing the stories and practical information of Ethiopia’s wild-forest and semi-forest coffees.

“Our goal with the guide is two-fold. First, to share this wealth of information about these unique coffees with roasters and retailers around the world, so they can promote these amazing coffees to their customers,” Stewart says.

“Second, is to help producers tell their stories – how they protect the ancient coffee forests that support their communities, where they harvest honey, cardamom, long pepper, and many other products from among the trees.”

Ethiopia’s Forest Coffee: An Illustrated Guide contains cupping scores and flavour profiles for samples from nearly 100 cooperatives and private mills in the zones of Illubabor, Jimma, Kaffa, Bench Sheko, and Bale. It also features maps and photographs from Ethiopia’s forest coffee regions, as well as contact information for the cooperative unions that can facilitate coffee sales.

The Fanika Cooperative in the Bench Maji zone is one of many producer groups highlighted in the guide. As parts of the local Sheko Forest were cleared to make way for agricultural expansion, the livelihoods of coffee growers who depend on the forest’s natural resources came under threat. The Fanika Cooperative banded together with members of the community to establish rules that would protect the forest. Stewart says farmers stopped clearing land, started reforesting cleared area, and the forest is now coming back to life.

“The guide profiles one of the members of the cooperative [Wosenech Koyse], who depends on coffee income to send her five children to school. She dreams of them getting master’s degrees in the future,” he says.

“The conservation of these forests is not only important for local communities, but the global coffee sector and whole planet. These forests are a natural genetic bank, home to countless varietals. We lose the forests, we lose these varietals. As we look to find new coffees to improve flavour, yield, and climate resilience, we need these resources. And to combat climate change, we need to protect forests like these.”

The Sheko Forest is not the only region in Ethiopia under threat of deforestation. As rural populations in the country grow, there is a greater demand for timber and agricultural land. Through the guide, TechnoServe hopes to drive demand for forest-grown coffee, highlighting and increasing the value of these natural resources.

In the Kaffa forest, rumoured to be where the invigorating properties of coffee were first discovered, this value is already recognised. These forests are preserved as a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) biosphere zone, are home to hundreds of species of mammals and birds, and are crucial to the livelihoods of the local community.

TechnoServe has made Ethiopia’s Forest Coffee: An Illustrated Guide available for download on its website and partnered with coffee trader Falcon Coffees to print and distribute the guide to its roasting partners. The development organisation will continue to share the guide and its contents with the coffee community at every opportunity, including the 2021 Specialty Coffee Expo, taking place in New Orleans, United States, in September.

“We hope the guide piques the interest of the coffee sector and fosters new relationships. We want people to read the guide, sample the coffee, and reach out to these cooperatives to be a part of preserving these coffee forests,” Stewart says. 

“In the Bale Mountains resides the Harenna Forest and one of the farmers [Abdul Hasak Adem, Chairman of the Badhatu Kunbi Cooperative and PFMC] we spoke to captured the essence of the importance these coffee forests have to the local communities and the world. He said: ‘trees can live without people, but people cannot live without trees.’”

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This article was first published in the September/October edition of Global Coffee Report. Read more HERE.

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