Back in black (from Harar)

The title? Well, I am just humoring myself. I have one clean t-shirt left and it’s black. The fact is, I arrived in Addis Ababa on the unlikely on-time Ethiopia airlines flight from Dire Dawa completely covered in fine dirt from the soils of East Harar. We headed out at 5:30 am, before sunrise, to see the “raised bed project” we have been supporters of in a place called Choma, way off the main road in the prime East Hararghe growing region. It was one of those days in “coffee travel” that seemed perfect from beginning to end. How many coffee buyers go to Choma? Zero. Were we the first there? Definitely, aside from our partner in Harar coffee, Rashid Ogsaddey. How many cars come down this road? About 1 every 2 months, and that is the local government official. In fact, the road was completely constructed with hand tools by locals – no engineering, no machines, and it sure felt like it, too. We arrived to see how the raised bed program was implemented, if the dry-processed Harar coffees would benefit from this method, and if the farmers liked it. The answer to all was a resounding yes! They want more raised beds, they feel the coffee dries faster, better, and in fact, I have never smelled whole dry cherry pods and sensed sweet floral (rose-like) notes. With traditional Harar DP coffees, laid out on mats on the ground to dry, it took 3 days longer … which means that much more time from musty, earthy flavors to infiltrate the coffee. It was an amazing day, with all of Choma descending on us, so excited someone cared so much about their coffee to come from America to visit! I admit to some egotism here – I felt like a bit of a celebrity. But, through translation into the local Oromo language, I think I conveyed the real appreciation we have for Harar Longberry coffee, for the local culture and local cultivars, and for their willingness to embrace the raised bed drying idea. it’s a small crop this year, and that will be hard on the farmers, but they are still willing to try something new. and in the normal crop cycle of these heirloom, ancient Ethiopian cultivars, next year promises to be a bountiful coffee season, and the raised bed program will be in full effect, yielding better drying in a shorter time, and ultimately better coffee in the cup! I am off to Yirga Cheffe tomorrow, hoping the next place I stay can wash a few shirts for me … we’ll see. -Tom

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