Coffea arabica has grown wild in the forests of the Kaffa region of Ethiopia since before even humans populated the area. Coffee is known as “bun” or “buna” in Ethiopia, so it has been suggested that our use of coffee “bean” as opposed to “berry” could be an anglicized interpretation of the original “ Kaffa bun”. The shrub is also native to the mountains of Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula, hence “Arabica”. Slave trade routes which passed through eastern Africa from Arabia would later help to spread the cultivation of this energy-giving fruit. Modern day cultivars found in Ethiopia are highly regionalized and local strains of coffees remain highly distinct from one another, with wild indigenous plants still found in the forests of the West.
Understandably, coffee is now a major export commodity for Ethiopia, and for generations its trade was based on a system of middlemen; farmers sold their coffee cherries to a buyer for pulping, who would sell the processed beans on to agent, who would sell to an exporter. Recently however, the industry has seen some radical shifts making traceability much easier. In 1999 a number of producers were granted a waiver to bypass the government auction system, allowing them to sell direct to western importers through the formation of cooperatives, cutting out middlemen to receive an improved price for their crop. This direct trade incentivized farmers to use virtually zero fertilizer, with natural tree mulches and fermented coffee pulp left over after processing being used to improve soils.
• This heirloom varietal of Arabica is indigenous to the mountains of Ethiopia
• Coffee is sold direct to importers and not middlemen, ensuring a fair price for farmers
• Smallholder’s co-operatives have formed unions to ensure Fair Trade premiums are well invested in local infrastructure and education
Ethiopian Yirge Cheffe
Region: Gedeo, Sidamo
Altitude: 3280-4920 feet
Varietal: Heirloom Ethiopian Arabica
Process: Wet Processed
Also known as Irgachefe and sometimes spelled Yergacheffe, the town of Yirga Cheffe is located in the Sidamo area of Ethiopia which is located about 6,230 feet above sea level. The town is considered to be the administrative center of this huge coffee farming district, and is also said by some to be the place where coffee first originated.
Yirgacheffe coffee is wet processed, and is considered one of the premium, cleanest-cupping Ethiopian coffees. Beans are hand-picked to ensure full ripeness, a huge benefit when cherries are fermented and washed of their pulp. The smallholders belong to the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, established in 1999 to facilitate the direct export of coffee produced by small farmers. The Union also ensures that Fairtrade premiums are directed towards community development; since 1999 they have overseen the construction of 11 primary schools, 3 secondary schools, a library and kindergarten, as well as further medical, office and agroindustrial infrastructure.
Yirgacheffe is certified organic, and soils are naturally fertilized with pulp waste left over after the coffee cherries are processed. Coffee is grown at some of the highest altitudes seen in the context of Ethiopian coffee cultivation. Wet processing only after the beans are fully ripe lends a bright, clean acidity to the brew.