The story of coffee has its beginnings in Ethiopia, the original home of the coffee plant, coffee arabica, which still grows wild in the forest of the highlands. While nobody is sure exactly how coffee as a beverage came about, it is believed that its cultivation and use began as early as the 9th century.
Coffee Arabica, first discovered in the 'Kaffa' region (from which the name coffee is derived) in south western Ethiopia, grows wild in many regions of the country and has been used by Ethiopians for many years as a food, a beverage and a medicine. It now accounts for 65% of all export earnings.
Produced using three very distinctive methods - (the forest system, the small farm or cottage system and the plantation system) - Ethiopian coffee has earned itself a reputation as one of the finest, most flavourful coffees in the world. The forest system means coffee grows under a forest canopy and needs very little human interference. The small farm or cottage system is the most popular method for producing coffee in Ethiopia - in fact this method is responsible for 95% of all coffee production. The cottage system consists of small backyard gardens with a few coffee trees, which are harvested by hand. There are presently some 700,000 coffee smallholders who produce coffee in this way. The final method of production is the plantation system, which is becoming increasingly popular. This is farming on a larger scale using modern processing equipment and ensures more quality assurance advantages.
Dilla, the capital of Gedoa in southern Ethiopia is the home of some of the finest coffee plantations. Seven years ago there were only 33 industrial units for processing coffee in Dilla, now there are 200.
The Coffee Ceremony
Farmers come to Dilla to buy coffee, which they then sell to cooperatives. The coffee is graded according to its weight and the best quality goes on to the international market. One of the positive things about Ethiopian coffee is that the majority of it is organically produced. In Dilla and Kafa Sheka state for example, the coffee is grown without the use of pesticides and other harmful chemicals. However, organic certification is extremely difficult to obtain so the coffee cannot be sold as 'organic'.
Each region in Ethiopia produces its own brand of coffee with its own distinct flavour. Yirchachaffe is the first coffee to have been discovered in Ethiopia and is probably the most popular. Other brands include: Sidamo, Harare, Limo, the list is endless.
The famous coffee ceremony, which takes roughly 30 minutes to prepare and consists of each guest drinking a minimum of 3 cups of coffee, shows just how much coffee has become a part of Ethiopian culture.
Ethiopian Coffee in the United Kingdom
Here in the UK a new coffee bar venture was launched in May 2004 by Oxfam. Called Progreso, it is designed to be the "brand leader for Fairtrade in the UK coffee shop market, serving only Fairtrade espresso blends and house coffees, Fairtrade sugar and honey" according to their website www.progreso.org.uk
Among its products is the Progreso espresso, a blend of 100% Arabica Fairtrade organic beans from co-operatives in Honduras, Ethiopia and Indonesia.
The website continues "Progreso is run for the growers. They own a share of Progreso, so they profit directly from the success of the business. They also receive a guaranteed fair price for the coffee they supply." One such group of supplying growers is the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, which was established in June 1999 in Ethiopia, the land of origin for Arabica Coffee. The Union has 35 cooperatives and about 23,000 members, which equals about 100,000 families.
Black Gold: Wake up and smell the Coffee
Black Gold is a moving and eye-opening look into the US $80 billion global coffee industry, where the spoils of overpriced lattes and cappuccinos are sparsely shared with the farmers who make it all possible.
In an increasingly global economy, where the profit margins of huge multinational coffee companies continue to rise, prices paid for coffee harvests have reached an all-time low, forcing farmers in some of the world's poorest countries to abandon their once bountiful fields.
Tadesse Meskela is one man on a mission to bring a fair-trade market to the more than 70,000 struggling farmers whom he represents. As these hard-working people strive to keep the rich cultural heritage of their country intact by continuing to harvest some of the highest quality coffee beans available, Tadesse travels the world in an attempt to find a fair price for the fruits of their labour.
This seemingly Sisyphean endeavour takes him on an international journey to some of the biggest coffee marketplaces in the world, where he discovers that there are no easy solutions for the trade issues facing his impoverished countrymen. For more information about the Black Gold film, visit the official website www.blackgoldmovie.com