In December we decided to re-visit Mekuria Merga at one of his stations called Wote, very close to Gedeb. We sat down and shared a traditional cup of coffee in a hand made hut and discussed his operational strategy. Because of the high prices, long rains and overall lower yields in recent years, Mekuria decided to pivot to focus solely on high quality Grade 1 coffees. He processes a limited amount of both washed and naturals from his stations, and wanted to find a partner that would be able to distribute his coffees around the world. Knowing that his Hambela coffee was one of the best selections of the year, it was natural for us to commit to buying this coffee.
Washed: intensely floral, apple, lemon.
Naturals: cherry, raspberry, bright acidity.
Mekuria Merga is one of four washing stations with this name. This particular washing station is located in Gedo, in the woreda of Gedeb and it receives cherries from around 500 farmers. All of these washing stations are named after their owner, Mekuria Merga, a highly respected coffee professional with 23 years experience in the industry. Mekuria Merga decided to establish his own export company “Wete Ambela” in 2018 to export coffees from his washing stations, which are renowned for their high quality coffees. Our sister company Nordic Approach has been buying Mekuria’s coffee through different exporters since 2014. Now we have a chance to buy directly from Mekuria, further strengthening an already great relationship.
Origin name: Gedeb
Mill name: Mekuria Merga
Altitude: 1950-2000 masl
Sub Region: Yirgacheffe
Number of farms: 500
Farm size: 1-2 hectares
Wete Ambela was established in 2018 by Mekuria Merga, a well known coffee professional. Mekuria has been working in the industry for 23 years and is renowned for his high quality washing stations that have been supplying to several exporters over the last ten years. Mekuria Merga decided to establish his own export company to take advantage of his well–earned reputation in the industry as a supplier of high quality coffee.
The company has three washing stations, two in Yirgacheffe and one in Guji. The washing stations are supplied by 500-600 farmers and have a track record of supplying some of the highest quality coffee in Ethiopia. Before establishing his own export company, Mekuria’s washing stations served as bridges between the community and exporters, and Mekuria assisted exporters in their social responsibility programs. Now Wete Ambela manages its own social programmes. For example, the exporter registers the farmers that supply to the washing stations along with their kids. The company uses this information to supply school materials for the children of the farmers. “This is our first year as an export company, we started very basic, but we plan to engage in community support projects in a way that is not generic and a way that actually addresses the most practical problems,” said Ato Elias Yifter, the export manager of Wete Ambela. Wete Ambela produces about six containers a year, around half of these are washed coffees. The company employs about 65 people in its washing stations and export office.
Tropiq has been buying Mekuria Merga’s coffee through different exporters for years and we have been thoroughly impressed with the quality of the coffee. Naturally, when Wete Ambela became an exporter, we began working to export coffees directly.
Average lot size of farmers: 1-2 hectares
Number of trees per hectare: 1200
How much cherries per tree on average: 3 kgs
Average selling price of farmers per kilo of cherries for 2019/2020 harvest year: $0.8/25 birr
|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. Cherry prices reached as high as 28 Birr/kg this season.|
|Soaking and pre-sorting||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 hand-sorting||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.|
Before establishing his own export company, Mekuria’s washing stations served as bridges between the community and exporters, and Mekuria assisted exporters in their social responsibility programs. Now Wete Ambela manages its own social programmes. For example, the exporter registers the farmers that supply to the washing stations along with their kids. The company uses this information to supply school materials for the children of the farmers. “This is our first year as an export company, we started very basic, but we plan to engage in community support projects in a way that is not generic and a way that actually addresses the most practical problems,” said Ato Elias Yifter, the export manager of Wete Ambela.
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.