Bale Mountain is a very interesting project for both its size and location. It is a relatively new, private farm, owned by Israel Degfa, who also owns several washing stations. The farm sits at 1900-2000 masl and they currently have about 100 hectares of coffee production, and are still planting new trees.

This area is not as common for coffee as others in the south, but there is a lot of development. The name is Bale Mountain, however the farm is actually situated in the “new” administrative area of West Arsi, formerly a part of Guji.

The farm has been recently planted with coffees that are just now coming into full production. Currently they only process Naturals that are truly distinct and unique. The farm currently has 52 drying tables, but they use the facilities at a nearby washing station when they need more space.
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. They now have 100 hectares currently producing coffee and an additional 30 hectares of newly planted Gesha trees that will have their first production in 2019/2020.

Bale Mountain Farm only produces Naturals, but the nearby washing stations of Bulga Mokonesa and Solena produce Washed coffees from cherries cultivated in the same area.

Bale Mountain Farm also purchase coffee from outgrowers located near the farm. About 400 farmers deliver small amounts of cherries to the washing station. In 2017 the private farm produced about 400,000 kg of cherries, and purchased an additional 100 kg which they process separately from the farm’s own production.

About 300 pickers are employed at the farm, 150 of them are experienced pickers tasked with training the other half of the workforce. rnment requires the company and station to follow up.

Many of Israel’s washing stations are great 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.

We buy improved Naturals, Honeys, and shade-dried coffees from select washing stations.
We have been working with Israel Degfa for several years, a young business man with a sure and steady focus. When the Ethiopian Coffee Exchange (ECX) operated in a way that obscured the origins of coffee, Israel was more focused on producing high volumes. However he predicted the eventual opening up of the ECX and several years ago shifted his focus to quality. He hired a separate team dedicated to specialty, and built a dry mill specifically to process specialty and micro-lots. Finally, in 2017, the coffee market in Ethiopia was opened to allow businessmen like Israel to sell directly to importers like Nordic Approach, and Israel was ready with high quality and fully traceable coffees.

Israel runs more than 30 washing stations in Ethiopia, and after several years of working together we have narrowed our focus to a handful of specific regions and washing stations where we know we can expect quality, and Israel gives us priority. We pre-contract and book coffees at the start of the harvest to both demonstrate our commitment,  and to increase our access to the best coffees. With up-front investment, the producers are able to budget and invest more in quality control and improved processing and selection.

Many of Israel’s washing stations are great 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.

We buy improved Naturals, Honeys, and shade-dried coffees from select washing stations.
Mountain Bale Farm grows a mix of local varieties from the research centre, plus native forest varieties that have been transferred to family smallholder plots. The varieties are referred to collectively as Ethiopian Heirloom, which is a myriad of local native Typica hybrids, plus new and improved varieties based on the old strains.
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.
Fermentation 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.
Warehousing at the washing station After drying the coffees will be packed in jute bags and stored in the local warehouse onsite, separated by process and grade. Lot sizes can vary from 100 – 300 bags. This process helps condition the coffee and achieve a more uniform humidity. They will normally be stored 1-2 months before they are moved. In some cases the parchment will be hand-sorted in the warehouse.
Transport and logistics After the harvest season is over the coffees are moved to warehouses and dry mills in Addis. Trucking is expensive in Ethiopia. The coffee trucks must pass a local ECX checkpoint where its contents are graded and registered as an exportable product, before it continues to Addis Ababa.   
Warehousing and dry milling The coffee will sit in parchment in a warehouse in Addis. This is when our team will go to the warehouse and collect the samples from the specific stock lots. It remains in parchment until it is contracted and the destination for shipment is confirmed.
Tropiq Lab and quality control Our team on the ground in Addis personally collect samples which we cup and grade, and measure humidity and water activity. When the specific lot is selected for purchase we register the contract with a shipping destination and approve it for milling and shipment. We are present at the dry mill during processing, grading and bagging, and we immediately take a PSS sample for approval.      
Container stuffing and transport We generally try to get our containers stuffed in Addis at the dry mills and moved to the port and straight on a vessel in Djibouti. This way we reduce the risk of delays or mistakes at port that frequently happen when moving coffee by truck for stuffing in Djibouti.
Besides the ability to produce great coffees on a good scale, we 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.

Education
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.

We strongly support education, both in general and in coffee, and we invest in educational projects that help increase yield and quality, and those that prepare the coming generations of coffee farmers for climate change and the developments in the market. Nordic Approach supports Israel’s school projects as part of our buying program which means when you buy coffee from the Boji washing station, you are supporting these school projects too.

Farmer Premiums
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.
There is a lot of coffee in Ethiopia, and many good lots, but things are not always as straightforward as they seem. What you cup is not always what you get. With most washing stations, this really depends on the relationship to the suppliers, at what stage you draw the sample and the local warehousing and dry milling facilities used. Tropiq is a Nordic Approach company providing supply chain management services for transparent and traceable coffees direct from origin. Our team in Addis Ababa visit producers, washing stations and warehouses throughout the season. In the peak of the season we are daily in dialogue with the millers and exporters. Having people on the ground gives us early and direct access to samples, first-hand information on coffees, immediate entry to warehouses and timely quality control.  

Gallery