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All Aboard, Ethiopia’s Wild Ride Through 2020

Moata Raya (left), our Ethiopia manager based in Addis Ababa, gives us lots to think about as we head into the contracting season for 2021. We are curious how the pandemic, a shaky political climate, and growing environmental concerns affected coffee this season. Pour yourself a cup and learn more about industry challenges and the geographic areas that are proving to be shining stars. Read all the way to the end to catch exciting new developments in coffee transportation!



The growing season was overall unremarkable. Early and even rains in some regions resulted in steady ripening and longer cherry development stages. Late rains and drought in other regions caused some crop quality to dip resulting in low volume. Our biggest takeaways had less to do with the crop cycle and more to do with the undercurrents of industry change and the political climate.

Our efforts and booking strategy remain the same as in past years with an intensified push toward supporting single-farm smallholder exporters, cooperatives, and washing stations that support local smallholders and whose lots meet our quality standards. We’re excited to share the latest improvements on the Kossa Geshe Estate as we mark our 6th year working with them.

Changes & Industry Challenges

Right now, we are watching two major factors affecting the coffee industry in Ethiopia. Taken together, they threaten the integrity of the highly regarded export.

1. The ECX began to lose its centrality several years ago. Now, with the liberalization of the coffee industry, new exporters continue to come onto the scene. They total well over 1,200 registered coffee exporters who could be small-mid size farmers who want to export on their own, large estates, traders who operate their own washing stations, or traders who buy off the ECX. Many of these new exporters are not “coffee people”. Due to the continued national demand for US Dollars, some exporters are just in it for the ability to sell abroad and receive USD.

2. The ECX no longer requires its own lab to cup/grade/classify each lot for export. Prior to this year, all coffees for export (even a private sale outside of the ECX) needed to through the ECX to receive a classification (e.g. Sidamo Grade 2, Limu Grade 1, etc). The new rule states that the quality is simply whatever the buyer and seller agree.

Over the past 15 years, Ethiopia has worked tirelessly to bring brand value and quality integrity to the names of its many coffee regions. And for the most part, they’ve done an excellent job on this. However, the new and novice players on the market combined with the removal of centralized quality classification threaten to flood the market with low-grade coffee. Over time this will create lower expectations for what these coffees represent. Inexperienced buyers may find themselves at risk. Now, more than ever, we are thankful for our local staff in Ethiopia who are industry experts that guide us through this ever-changing landscape.

The Political Climate

The Tigray situation has all the world’s attention. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has come down hard on the opposition TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) to show that he and his party have the ability to keep the country under control. As one measure of control, the government imposed limits on daily cash withdrawals from banks. This has led to difficulties (and volume reduction) for many washing station owners who need to pay staff and farmers for cherry. Waivers can be obtained, but that’s just one more step getting in the way of an efficient season.

A lesser broadcasted conflict is present within Oromia–Abiy’s own people and a region that covers much of the coffee-producing landscape. While Abiy’s election in 2018 was cause for their celebration, many Oromo have come to expect more for their people. They blame Abiy for not fulfilling his promises or not pushing hard enough for promised changes. Unrest has popped up in areas of Oromia, including Shakiso and Wollega which are two big names in Ethiopian coffee.

The Oromo-led government in Addis is using its power to prevent protests and damper any opposition within its own. Our hope is that this doesn’t lead to tensions rising even further, which could create problems like road closures, power outages, or communication interruptions. Farmworkers rely on inter-regional transportation to reach their next employer to help get cherry off trees. Farmers and traders need internet and phone access to continue business locally and internationally. Truckers need free movement to keep cherry and parchment moving safely to prevent quality degradation. All these services suffer in times of political and ethnic instability.


Peak Harvest Lot Planning Shipments / Arrivals
Nov – Jan



Producing Partner Highlights

Kossa Geshe | Limu Kossa

Abdulwahid Sherif, the farm’s owner, recently installed solar panels to bring electricity to staff housing. You may remember that Abdulwahid built staff housing that far and away exceeds any common expectations for such facilities in Ethiopia–a project that spanned over 2 years. Abdulwahid works hard to provide for his staff, so he can attract and retain professional, long-term pickers and farm employees. In addition to staff benefits, Abdulwahid increased the volume he was able to achieve on his “Special” lot. This is the pride of his estate and receives the most attention to achieve drying perfection. Last year’s 25 bags now increases to 75 bags! These will no doubt be highly sought-after. We named this lot ‘Moata Special’ last year as Moata trained Abdulwahid in top-quality processing methods. This year, look for the same coffee under the name Abdu Special. Abdu – you rock.

Abdulwahid and the newly installed solar panels for staff housing.

Farm staff turning naturals to ensure even drying.

Neja Fedil | Guji Uraga

Neja, quickly proving himself as one of our top long-term partners, was eager to try out a new weight-based drying method promoted by CQI. Moata worked remotely with Christopher Feran, of Phoenix Coffee in Cleveland, OH to train Neja and his staff. This method uses scales instead of moisture meters to achieve the ideal final drying percentage. Neja produced 4 small lots (just 4-6 bags each) for this experiment. And, while small, we will monitor the quality to see how they compare with the rest of his volume. Speaking of quality… he is killing it, on both washed and naturals. We are jazzed as always to get his lots in!

Single Washing Station | Guji, Yirgacheffe, Sidamo

Some of the best lots of the year are coming out of two wildly different formats: Single washing/drying stations that buy from neighboring smallholders in the South (Guji, Yirgacheffe and Sidamo) and Coops in the West. As for the latter, Kata Muduga Union has produced some stellar lots this year (in the top 6% of all offers we’ve received). If you’re in the market for a beautifully clean and flavorful Western Ethiopia washed, get in touch with your trader ASAP.

Common names like Nano Challa and Duromina have been doing well in the lab, as have some of the smaller coops like Gore Dako and Geta Bore.

In the South, the top of the charts is dominated by the likes of Guji, Guji, and Guji. We are particularly excited about our partners at Tero Farm. Over the past few years, Yirgacheffe quality has had a tough time competing with other regions. So we were over the moon when we found an unbeatable lot from Idedo, farmed by a new partner of ours, a smallholder named Mrs. Gemedech Fusasa.

Pictured: Coop staff at Nano Challa hand sorting parchment as it dries.

The coffees mentioned above represent a small fraction of what we’ve cupped and what we plan to import in 2021. You can find more information on our current Ethiopian producing partners here.


Most of our coffees will be traveling to port (from Addis to Djibouti) by TRAIN! Truck hijacking and coffee theft are problems in Ethiopia, as all exports have previously had to move out of the country by truck to the closest port city, Djibouti. The track and cargo system is finally ready for the coffee industry to begin using this method in earnest. In 2020, Crop to Cup alone had 6 lots hit by partial theft. It caused delays and financial pain for both us and the exporter. We could not be more thrilled to jump on this train!

Crop to Cup is about one-third through its booking for the year. We are actively booking and now is the time to reach out to coordinate around your inventory needs. If you’d like to explore a booking with Crop to Cup this season, send us a message and cc your trader with specifics around your inventory needs and a trader will reach out to you to share our upcoming offers.

Thank you for your interest in our work together with Ethiopia producers over this past year, we’re excited about things to come!

– The Crop to Cup Sourcing Team

Interested in learning more about our work in Ethiopia? Check out these links: