The district of Gedeb takes up the south-eastern corner of Ethiopia’s Gedeo Zone—a narrow section of plateau dense with savvy farmers whose coffee is known as “Yirgacheffe”, after the zone’s most famous district. Gedeb, however, is a terroir, history, and community all its own that merits unique designation in our eyes. The region is a thriving market landscape that links commerce between the Guji and Gedeo Zones, and contains an expansive network of processing stations who often buy cherry from across zone borders.
Processors across Gedeb would argue (and we would agree) that their coffee profiles are not exactly Yirgacheffe, but something of their own. Cup profiles, in many cases produced closer to Guji than the rest of Yirgacheffe, are often the most explosive we see from anywhere in Ethiopia. Naturals tend to have perfume-like volatiles, and fully washed lots are often sparklingly clean and fruit candy-like in structure. Communities around Gedeb reach some of the highest growing elevations for coffee in the world and have a long history of arabica preservation and genetic diversity.
Worka-Sakaro is a municipality located in northeast Gedeb close to the Guji border. It is a remote but impressively industrious area for coffee production. Of the 1300 hectares that comprise the area, over half of them are planted with coffee. Up to a few years ago when coffee exports were allowed only limited channels, the vast majority of coffee grown in this area was either processed and exported by the Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (YCFCU), consolidated under the wide-reaching Worka Cooperative, or sold anonymously through the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX). Today, however, in addition to the Worka Cooperative splitting into multiple smaller coops, there are increasing numbers of single farm owners and independent companies who are processing and exporting direct. It is an exciting time to be buying in Gedeb, where we expect to see new layers of coffee continuously unfold as its local industry accelerates.
Currently there are two private washing stations in Worka-Sakaro, one of which is Wuri, whose name in the Gedeo language translates to “high altitude”. The station was originally constructed in 2012 and today is owned by Ranger Industry & Trading PLC. Wuri, aside from producing punchy and beguiling natural coffees, is also focused on achieving a diversity of processing and milling standards in order to iterate on local traditions and expand expectations of coffees from this area.
This “Grade Zero” selection comes from a collaborative effort between Royal and Ranger Industry & Trading to design a near-perfect rendition of a top natural, or “sundried” Gedeb. The experimental microlot begins as a carefully-selected full natural batch, sorted for exact consistency and laid out in single layers to dry in the sun on raised beds. Once dried, the coffee is treated to extra sorting steps at the dry mill, including multiple additional passes in the color sorter and a longer, slower hand-removal of imperfections. This particular lot was milled to a precise screen distribution as well: all coffee is 15-16 screen only, in an effort to help roast uniformity and flavor precision.
The idea is to present a better-than-Grade 1 result, hence the grade “0”. We want coffees like these to inspire roasters to consider new possibilities for Gedeb’s coffees and producer collaboration, as well as motivate producer groups to come up with innovative targets of their own. Southern Ethiopia has long been a place Royal has wanted to see surpass its (admittedly, ridiculously high) status quo, and each coffee like this is a small step in that direction.
Private processors like Wuri are a thing to behold. It’s a tough business being a private processor in Gedeo, as the sheer density of competition among washing stations tends to push cherry prices as high as double throughout a single harvest, and privates often don’t have the backing of a larger union to secure financing, regulate cherry prices, or bring export costs down with centralized milling and marketing. Successful private washing stations like Wuri, then, need to be not only standout quality processors to stay afloat; they must also be excellent business developers with connections and community standing, in order to continue winning the business of farmers and buyers alike, and stay afloat for the long term. Successful innovation and buyer collaboration is certainly one way to do so.