Hunkute and Bokasso coffees have always amazed us with their unique flavor complexity and brightness. They are both from the Sidama Cooperative Farmers Union, and located in more-or-less the same area. By default they are always different than most other coffees we are buying. The washing station sits in an area with extremely high altitude compared to most sites in Sidamo. They have proven over time their ability to consistently produce great coffees. The challenge with these coffees is that they are closed and tart immediately after harvest and can take several months to open up. When cupping recently harvested coffees, it can be hard to see through this freshness.

Hunkute mainly produce Washed coffees, and only lower grade Naturals. The Washed coffees are processed traditionally on an Agaarde discpulper which removes the skin and fruit pulp. The coffee is then fermented under water before it is washed in channels, graded by density, then dried on raised beds in the sun. Daily lots are processed seperately, and they have systems for maintaining traceability and quality control. They also recently invested in a water treatment system. Many of these improvements have been implemented with the support of Technoserve, through the NGO’s coffee initiative. We have been working with Hunkute since 2011, and they consistently deliver high scoring coffees.

This coffee is from Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (SCFCU). The cooperative supports more than 50 washing stations with technical support and finance. Hunkute is one of them, and among our favorite cooperative washing stations in Ethiopia. It is located in the Wonsho woreda, close to Yirgalem town in Sidamo. There are two washing stations under the same management. The first was established in 1997, and the second site was built in 2010. Coffees from both sites are marketed as Hunkute and sold through the SCFCU who are also responsible for the dry milling, grading, bagging and export. They have a newly built warehouse and dry mill in the outskirts of Addis to better control their supply chain and qualities.

We currently work with the Sidama Union in southern Ethiopia, and Kata Muduga Union in the west, which represents an area around Agaro Town in Jimma.

Throughout the changes and reforms to the ECX, cooperatives have always been allowed to sell coffee directly as a fully traceable product, outside the ECX. Usually the coffee is marketed and sold by the cooperative representing farmers in that particular area. For example, coffee from a cooperative in Limu will be sold and exported by the Limu Union, coffee from Oromia by the Oromia Union, Sidama by the Sidama Union, etc.
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.
The wet mill receives daily deliveries of cherries from approximately 1900 smallholder farmers in the area. Farms here are less than 1ha in size. Most coffees are organic by default. Organic compost is common, pruning less common. A typical farmer will have fewer than 1500 trees per hectare, and one tree produces cherries equal to 100 – 200 grams of green coffee.
A mix of local varieties included a local cultivar called Sedancho. These varieties are mixed with native coffee of forest origin transferred to family smallholder plots. These varieties are referred to collectively as Ethiopian Heirloom, which is a myriad of local native Typica hybrids and new 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.
Pulping and pre-grading The cherries are pulped by a traditional Agaarde Discpulper. Skin and fruit pulp are removed before the machine grades the parchment in water as 1st or 2nd quality, determined by density.
Fermentation The parchment is fermented in water for 36-72 hours. Fermentation is slower at higher altitudes as temperatures are generally lower.
Washing and grading in channels Coffees are washed in channels, and graded in water by density. The lower density (lower quality) will float and are removed, leaving only the denser and therefore higher quality beans which are separated as higher grade lots.    
Soaked under clean water Parchment is then soaked in tanks in clean water for 6-12 hours before it is moved to the drying tables.
Drying and hand-sorting Parchment is dried on raised beds in the sun for 12 – 15 days. The time depends on the thickness of the layers and temperatures. For the premium grades they will continuously sort the parchment at the drying tables. Coffees are piled up and covered in shade nets or plastic during the hottest hours of the day and overnight.
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.
The unions work with hundreds of thousands of smallholders across the country. They give producers technical support, help them with finance, and maintain traceability of day lots. They also have sustainability programs like water treatment systems at the washing stations, protocols for environmentally friendly farming etc. Many of the coffees are Organic and Fair Trade certified.

Farmer Premiums
All farmers delivering to these washing station receive second payments based on the quality preiums we pay for Grade 1 and Grade 2 lots. Certified producers earn an additional premium for the certification. Both Hunkute and Bokasso, our two primary cooperative washing stations in Sidamo, have consistently produced high-grade coffees in the last few years, meaning many farmers have received two premiums, one for quality and one for the certifications.
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.