Before setting up our Asian office, I was responsible for all our East African supply chains. Ethiopia is our largest and most important. I’ve been lucky to spend a lot of time in Ethiopia over the years. It really gets under my skin, and it’s by far my favourite origin to travel to. First, Covid happened. Then, I moved to Asia and my responsibilities changed.
It’s been 4 years since my last visit. However, last week I was lucky enough to make a short trip to Addis. Then, I went down to Sidamo, Guji, and Yirgacheffe with my colleagues and some clients from China.
The Ethiopian Harvest typically runs from early November until January for the highland coffee areas. Some regions in the southwest, such as Teppi and Bench Maji, start earlier. However, these coffees are mainly commercial. They are grown at altitudes of 1500-1800m, which is considered lowland in Ethiopian terms. This year is no exception, and the harvest is complete in all but the very highest altitude areas in Hambella, Bensa and some parts of Yigacheffe. Due the geography and economic factors the shipping season usually starts in February at the earliest but peaks in April/May. That means we should expect new crop Ethiopian to begin arriving in Asia from April onwards.
This year is what I hope will be the end of an extraordinary cycle in Ethiopian coffee which has lasted for 3 years. In 2022 we saw a surge in global demand and global prices. This translated to local cherry prices quickly rising from around 30Birr/kg (around 60c US/kg at the time) to around 70birr/kg of cherry ($1.40/kg). High demand for coffee in local markets is always bad for quality. Farmers have so much demand for their product. Buyers, such as drying and washing stations or middlemen, are willing to take whatever they can get their hands on. When demand is lower locally, farmers must be more selective in their picking. Otherwise, buyers will turn them away in favor of other suppliers that are doing a better job. This generally improves quality. The result was a worse than average quality season. Coffee prices were much higher than the previous year.