Aricha is a private washing station located in the Yirgacheffe district, in the heart of southern Ethiopia’s coveted Gedeo Zone. Gedeo is a narrow section of highland plateau dense with savvy farmers and fiercely competitive processors, and has been known commercially as Yirgacheffe for many years after the Yirgacheffe district itself, one of Ethiopia’s first areas to fully wash its coffee. As a coffee terroir, Yirgacheffe has for decades been considered a benchmark for beauty and complexity in arabica coffee—known for being beguilingly ornate and jasmine-like when fully washed, and seductively punchy and sweet when sundried--and hardly requires an introduction. This particular Aricha arrival is one of the best we’ve ever seen: it has a heady fragrance of coffee blossom and jasmine tea, invigorating Meyer lemon acidity, a rich vanilla custard sweetness, and kaleidoscopic stone fruit flavors from hot to cold.
Aricha itself is deeply tied to Yirgacheffe’s legendary celebrity. Originally known as “Misty Valley” after the humidity that settles into the area at night, the processing station was run for many years by Abdullah Bagersh and was known as being one of the country’s best coffees available anywhere. “Misty Valley” became synonymous with Yirgacheffe specialty long before traceable coffee was available elsewhere, and was a foundational name and profile for many roasters’ programs throughout the 2000s. This ended with the establishment of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) in 2008: anti-corruption measures designed for the new system forbid the vertical integration of coffee businesses (i.e. processors could not also be dry millers or exporters), and as a result Bagersh sold the washing station to a private company to focus on dry milling. The buyers re-named the station simply “Aricha” after the kebele, or municipality, where it is located. The name “Misty Valley”, however, has lived on: it’s no longer tied to a specific washing station but is used as a kind of prestige marker by various processors and marketers of coffee from the Aricha and nearby Idido areas.
Present-day Aricha is owned and operated by Cherab na Betesebu and his family. The processing site receives ripe cherries from 650 small coffee farmers, who average just 2 hectares of family farmland each. After sorting for ripeness on arrival and depulping, the coffee is fermented for 36 to 48 hours and then thoroughly washed. The washed parchment coffee is then moved to raised drying beds where it is spread in very thin layers and turned every 2 to 3 hours during the first few days while it expels the majority of its moisture. Depending on weather, the beans are dried for 10 to 12 days total until the moisture in the coffee beans is reduced to 11.5 percent. Then the beans are transported to Addis Ababa to be milled and bagged for export.
Private processors like Aricha 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 Aricha, 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.