Tasting Notes: Papaya, passion fruit, raspberry, citrus, sweet.
Uraga is both the name of the greater area and this specific washing station. Its located in the Sonkolle Kebele (village) in Guji. The Washing Station is located above 2000 masl, and the farms are located at even higher altitudes. We have seen great improvements in quality in this part of Guji lately. There are a lot of new plantings in the area and even though the process here is traditional, with wet fermentation, grading in channels by water and drying on raised beds, the coffee is shining with unique character. The producer, Israel Degfa, is investing in both supporting local farmers and their communities, and in post-harvest development and quality control.
Uraga Washing Station took us by surprise a few years ago with truly unique flavor attributes. It’s part of our premium program in Ethiopia for several reasons. Firstly, the location is fantastic in terms of access to quality cherries. It is located in a remote area that is hard to access, and just getting coffees out of there is a challenge. Due to the high altitudes they were harvesting and producing coffee in the area until February, whilst most other places end the season in December. We believe that the altitude and the cold nights have an impact on both maturation of the cherries and the fermentation and drying.
Secondly, the management is really strong and they put a lot of pride and effort in to producing outstanding coffees. Even though it’s a relatively new washing station, they are producing great volumes. They have a high percentage of Grade 1 coffees, both Naturals and Washed compared to other washing stations. The cherries are brought by surrounding farmers who either deliver cherries directly to the washing station, or to a Uraga collection centre in the more remote areas. Farmers are immediately paid a small premium for higher quality cherries/pickings, and most farmers here are registered for a second payment after the coffee is sold with a quality premium. They produce greater volumes of Washed coffees the first part of the harvest, and Naturals in the later part of the harvest.
Every day of production they differentiate what goes in to the improved and better quality lots (Grade 1) from the normal preparation for Grade 2 and Grade 3. Israel has invested in flotations systems for cherries and systematically separates some of the coffees for better performance on-site. These coffees are assigned to a quality team who will ensure they are processed carefully. They generally do lot separation based on 150 bags of parchment, equal to 100 bags of greens, but they often manage smaller lot sizes as well, especially for Honeys, shade-dried or other improved preparations.
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.
About thousand smallholder farmers deliver small quantities of cherries on a daily basis to the communal washing station, or to collection centers in the nearby villages. The average farm size for producers delivering to the Uraga washing station is 2 - 3 hectares, which is larger than the average farm in Ethiopia. These semi-forest farms have red clay soil and coffee grows amongst Kerero, Tikur Enchet, Besena and Berbera tree. Most coffees are organic by default. Organic compost is common, pruning less common. A farmer can typically have fewer than 1500 trees per hectare, and one tree typically produces a quantity of cherries equal to less than 100 - 200 grams of green coffee.
Farmers deliver a mix of local improved varieties like Certo and local Wolisho, plus native forest varieties that have been transferred to family smallholder plots. The varieties are referred to collectively as Ethiopian Heirloom, which is a myriad of local native Typica hybrids, plus new and improved varieties based on the old strains.
Post-Harvest Processing Washed:
Harvest and cherry selection
Coffee cherries are harvested by family members, then hand-sorted to remove unripes 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.
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 handsorting
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.
Post-Harvest Processing - Naturals:
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.
Soaking and pre-sorting
The cherries are soaked in water. The healthy cherries will sink, while the diseased and damaged cherries will float and are skimmed off and removed. The cherries will then be moved to the drying beds. Underripe and defective cherries will be sorted out by hand during the first days.
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 handsorting
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.
Warehouse and Supply Chain Management:
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 stocklots. 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.
Besides the ability to produce great coffees on a good scale, we work with Israel because he genuinely cares about the farmers. He grew up in a coffee producing area, and he shows great respect for the farmers, both as business partners and as people.
Israel builds schools to support the local communities. He contributes the land and pays for the construction, and ensures access to clean water for the students. The government is in charge of managing the school and paying its teachers, and Israel provides school materials on occasion. Israel has already built schools in Adola, Kercha (Mokonesa and Mokonesa Bulga) and is currently constructing schools in Gelana Gesha and Kilenso Mokonesa.
We strongly support education, both in general and in coffee, and we invest in educational projects that help increase yield and quality, and those that prepare the coming generations of coffee farmers for climate change and the developments in the market. Nordic Approach supports Israel’s school projects as part of our buying program which means when you buy coffee from the Boji washing station, you are supporting these school projects too.
In addition to paying premiums for quality, Israel has registered some washing stations as Rainforest Alliance and Organic. That means means some producers earn two premiums, one for the certification and another for quality. Boji and Adola washing stations are both certified organic, and organic certification for Uraga is in process.