A day or two ago our news story featured the Brazilian trend toward mechanization. Today we go to the other side of the world and the opposite side of the issue, to Ethiopia, where the farmers pride themselves on hand harvesting. Today’s story follows the coffee from the fields of Ethiopia to the roasters in the US, a journey that involves more than just miles. Ian Crawford’s description of the journey of the Ethiopian coffee bean - which is similar to that of many other coffees the world over - is a journey to make us really appreciate what goes into our daily brew. Many of Ethiopia’s coffees carry premiums, or extra charges. The organic ones have the organic premium, for example. There often is a fair trade premium and a “social” premium that helps the farmers through a cooperative. Ethiopians also carry out extensive quality control procedures. All of these procedures, when added to the hand harvesting, raise the price of the coffee. But to the Ethiopian farmer, in a country that takes coffee seriously and relies on it as the top export, that’s how it has to be. Ethiopians pick their coffees several times a season, harvesting only the ripe ones at each picking. After picking, the beans are put out to dry by hand, very painstakingly, with care to avoid overlapping. They also are turned over regularly for even drying to ensure quality aroma and flavor. This is all very labor intensive, but it doesn’t end here. After drying, samples are tested several different times by different agencies, until a cupping is done to ensure the highest quality. At this stage it must be accepted by the buyer’s agent, but there’s still a final test as the bags are ready to be shipped. When they reach their destination, the buyer conducts yet another cupping to make sure the quality meets his expectations. The Ethiopian cupper commented that the coffee market is controlled by South America because of the large-scale use of mechanization there. He states that coffee is a sensitive plant, so the hand-picking results in the best quality. He said, “Ethiopian coffee is more expensive because of the process. But that leads to quality and traceability. There’s no mixing. You get what you want.” For seriously good coffee from serious coffee farmers, Ethiopian coffees need to be experienced. Any of the examples below would be a good sampling of quality gourmet coffee. Enjoy!
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