This November I was fortunate enough, once again, to travel to the Yukro Cooperative located near Agaaroo in the Jimma area of Ethiopia. This will be the third time we buy coffee from Yukro. Yukro started out with help from the TechnoServe organisation who secured a loan to finance equipment for producing high quality washed coffee. They are now operating completely independent, although the agronomists from Technoserve still pay them a visit once in a while to see if everything is on the right track.
Upon arriving, the first person I met was the new Chairman Lezu Alfitha, who had just taken over from Tadase as chairman. He was super friendly and helped out building a small shelter for my campsite. After I was all set up, Lezu gave me a bit of a tour and pointed out what they had been doing to meet the demands for organic certification. The Organic Auditor would be coming by the week after my visit to see if everything was in order. Around the Yukro village all coffee is grown without any kind of unnatural additives. The coffee is still growing wild in the nearby forests and it is believed by some that areas such as these in Ethiopia are where coffee originated. We know from our previous visits that they don’t use any pesticides, fungizides or artificial fertilizers. So they are by default growing their coffee organic, but just havn’t been certified yet . We deceided to offer the cooperative that we paid for them to get certified as we have customers who only sell certified organic food and drinks. Hopefully this will increase the total income for the Cooperatives coffees in general.
I arrived at Yukro the day before the first coffee cherries was due to arrive at the mill, with the final preparations for the upcoming 2013-2014 harvest close to completion. The last drying tables were being set up, the nets covering them were checked for holes and straightened out, the demucilator was getting cleaned and tested and the washing tanks scrubbed. It was a very exciting time and you can see and feel that the workers and farmers were very anxious to get started.
I had decided to spend the night at the wet mill in my tent to be able to attend the processing of the very first lot of coffee from Yukro this year. Quite late at night, when it is still pitch black, the berries which has been selectively handpicked during the day are received at the washing station, were the under and over-ripe cherries are removed by hand, under flashlight, before the cherries continue down to the demucilator. As this was the first time this year that the machine was running, there were plenty of extra people on hand. Everybody, myself included, was very excited to see this year’s harvest get under way. When the cherries reach the demucilator, the pulp is removed mechanically, leaving the fresh coffee beans, which slowly begin to fill the washing tanks. Now the coffee will soak under water until the next morning, when they will be put out onto the raised drying tables. For the first couple of hours the coffee is dried on shaded raised beds and hereafter moved to tables under direct sun. Here they are turned and hand-sorted for various defects that the previous day’s mechanical process may have missed.
Tonight's work ends around the campfire with a nice dinner of freshly slaughtered goat, prepared with a lot of onion and oil. They are incredibly hospitable at Yukro and I got offered to take part in the holy prayer with hope for a great harvest.
Last year there was a drought at the end of the berries’ ripening period. This resulted in many berries drying on the plants before they had fully matured, meaning they were wasted or of rather poor quality. This resulted in a very small harvest. Yukro only exported only 24774 kg of coffee last year compared to 57487 kg the year before.
When the harvest is as small as last year, the sorting process suffers. This is something we noticed in the coffee from Yukro last year, with the cup profile not being as clean as it had been the year before. One must keep in mind that the yearly income from the coffee harvest is the main income for these farmers, so when harvest is low they will try to push volume. This resulted in the somewhat more unclean coffee than we saw from last year’s crop. We know the quality they are capable of producing at Yukro can be higher than that. Lower quality because of bad weather is not their fault and therefore we also feel it is our duty to keep supporting them even when the harvest is very tough. This year the harvest looks to be really good, with a lot of berries on the plants and everything looking fresh and healthy.
For many years we have dreamt of, once again, being able to get a natural processed coffee from Ethiopia of high enough quality to use in our espresso blend. Last year we talked to the guys at Yukro about preparing a small natural processed lot of coffee from Yukro of very high quality. We told them what techniques we knew worked other places and we agreed that they should try with 10 bags (about 1.200 kgs) in the first year to see how the quality would be. We were very pleasantly surprised when we received the first sample, so much so that you can now find Yukro Natural in our Espresso 1 blend.
Another major challenge they had last year was when their demucilator broke down in the middle of harvest. This resulted in them having to produce naturally processed coffee from a large portion of their cherries. Due to the high quality of the first lot of naturals we had tasted from Yukro, we agreed to buy the extra 30 bags they had been forced to make.
This year we once again decided to get one lot of natural processed coffee from Yukro and as the harvest and quality seems to have gone up, we really look forward to receiving it and presenting it to you all!