The Chelbessa Washing Station, where this coffee was processed, is fairly new to the coffee landscape in Yirgacheffe. Nonetheless, this family-owned and operated washing station is producing exceptional coffees on par with some of the region’s most renowned and established outfits.
Chelbessa partners with SNAP Coffee Exporters, who have been promoting Ethiopian Specialty Coffee since 2008. The company runs three coffee washing and processing stations in Chelelektu, Kochere and partner with washing stations in Uraga, Guji and Nensebo, West Arsi. They have, more recently, begun to work with Chelbessa to serve around 500 smallholder farmers in and around the town (Kebele) of Chelbessa.
Farmers in this region have farmed coffee for generations upon generations. They are true specialists and are committed to using the best chemical-free cultivation methods. These methods result in an already stand-out product, and Chelbessa makes the most of this by adhering to stringent post-harvest standards.
All coffee is selectively hand-harvested before being delivered to the washing station. At the washing station, Chelbessa’s team ensure that only the ripest cherries are processed. After being sorted again, coffee is delivered to the pulpers to be pulped and then fermented under water for 24-36 hours, depending on the weather conditions. Once fermentation is completed the parchment is thoroughly washed and is then graded in washing channels, separating each lot into two grades based on density. G1 is the denser of the two. Once graded, the coffee is soaked under clean spring water in tanks for 12-24 hours to remove all traces of fermented mucilage.
After washing, the coffee is delivered to raised beds to dry under shade for 10-14 days until moisture content reaches 12%. During this time, the coffee is regularly turned and hand sorted several times to remove any damaged or discoloured beans. Coffee is covered with plastic during the hottest hours of the day to protect the parchment from drying too quickly. Equally, it is covered overnight to prevent condensation from seeping into the drying parchment. This labour and love result in a truly exquisite cup profile.
Previously, all private washing stations, except cooperatives, were mandated to sell their coffee to the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX). Often, this caused a loss of traceability and price transparency. Now farmers can sell their coffee directly to importers and other buyers and even coffees coming through the ECX maintain their unique identity.
These new laws are giving a unique opportunity to increase our traceability all while supporting great coffee farming.
Yirgacheffe is actually part of the Sidamo region in southern Ethiopia. It is widely recognised as one of the key coffee ‘birth regions’, and its washed coffees are so well-known that is has been sub-divided into its own micro-region. Most of the coffee grows at around 2,000+ metres above sea level, and varieties tend to be local landraces – domesticated, locally adapted, traditional varieties of coffee native to the immediate surrounds. JARC varieties, developed by the Jimma Agricultural Research Centre, are also ubiquitous in the area.
Most farmers in the region farm on fewer than 5 hectares (many counting their coffee farms in terms of trees rather than area!). Cultivation methods are traditional for the most part, with coffee being grown as part of an integrated ‘coffee garden,’ intercropped with other food crops.