Ajere is a municipality located near the center of the coveted Gedeo Zone—the narrow section of highland plateau dense with savvy farmers and fiercely competitive processors whose coffee is known the world over as “Yirgacheffe”, after the zone’s most famous district. The Gedeo Zone is named for the Gedeo people who are indigenous to this area. As a coffee terroir, Gedeo, or “Yirgacheffe”, has for decades been considered a benchmark for beauty and complexity in arabica coffee. It’s known for being beguilingly ornate and jasmine-like when fully washed, and seductively punchy and sweet when sundried, and hardly requires an introduction.
Ajere is in the district of Yirga Chefe itself. Private processors here will often attempt to collaborate with select communities to keep the coffee traceable and the terroir focused. In this case, the washing station, managed by Birhanemeskel Abera is called, simply, “Ajere”. Birhanemeskel works directly with 857 farmers from the Ajere community. Farmland is typically divided between coffee, subsistence crops for the families, and items for the regional markets such as livestock or enset, a fruit-less relative of the banana tree whose pulp is fermented and then toasted as a staple food.
The coffees themselves, jasmine-like and sweetly spiced, express their corner of Gedeo extremely well. Washed coffees are fermented underwater with regular water replenishments for 36 to 48 hours, and then sundried on raised beds for 12 to 15 days. During drying the parchment coffee is often covered during the midday sun, which at this altitude is often searingly hot during harvest and can crack the brittle parchment if exposed for even an hour too long.
Private processors like Ajere are admirable businesses. It’s tough 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 Ajere, 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.