In December while the people in Zurich are busy searching for Christmas presents in the shopping streets, the coffee farmers in Ethiopia also go through their busiest time of the year: The strong branches of the coffee trees are over and over covered with green, yellow, and red coffee cherries. During the two months of harvest time, the smallholder producers roam their coffee forests day after day to pick the coffee cherries per hand.
Ethiopia calls itself the birthland of coffee because the Arabica plant – which makes up for 60 percent of the world production of coffee – originated in the highland forests of South West Ethiopia. And we are importing coffee directly from smallholder farmers in these highlands.
That’s why this winter we headed from Kloten towards Addis Abeba, the capital of the huge landlocked country in the horn of Africa. After another two days of travelling in busses and on bumpy dust roads we finally arrived in Bufeta Gibe close to Limmu where our coffee comes from.
At the heart of the coffee cooperative – its washing and drying station – the work is in in full swing. After a long day of harvesting the farmers arrive to deliver the carefully picked fruits of the coffee tree. On the back of donkeys the farmers bring huge jute bags of red cherries from their forests that are often more than ten kilometers away from the cooperative: The first ten kilometers of the far distance the coffee must cover to finally make the way to your cup.
Once arrived at the washing station, everything goes very fast. The cherries roll into a machine where the precious beans are separated from their pulp: Underneath, two beans per cherry are tightly snuggled against each other. And as the dark night falls over the green forests of Limmu, the work finally finds an end. For the light green beans, it’s time to ferment overnight.
Ten hours after the men’s night shift, the women’s morning shift starts. While during the darkness, shouts and orders filled the air, it is now giggles and chatter. Wusefa, Kuledia and her friends carry the fermented wet beans to the drying beds where they carefully sort out the defective coffee beans before letting the rest dry in the sun for eight days.
Then, it’s time to move: The beans are packed in another jute sack in which they travel on big 4×4 trucks around 400km to Addis Abeba.
Coffee beans are protected by three different layers: The pulp, the parchment, and the silver skin. And when they arrive in Addis, they are still wrapped in two of them. In the capital, the beans are peeled, stocked and then wait to be shipped into the whole world.
The coffee beans are packed on aother truck and sent from Ethiopia to the port in Djibouti. Now a long trip on the ship starts: Your coffee needs up to three months to cross the oceans and arrive in a European port. For goods that are finally sent to Switzerland the stopover is either in Italy, Germany, France or Netherlands. Our last shipment went to Amsterdam and from there by truck down to Switzerland.
And it’s here that the coffee beans are finally heated up to develop the roasting aromas that we associate with coffee. The chemical reaction behind the roasting of coffee is much like what happens to the crust of bread when it’s baked, to marshmallows when they’re roasted and even to a steak when it’s grilled. The so-called Maillard reaction is the secret why browned foods taste so damn good. And the fresher you drink your coffee after roasting, the better it tastes.