The climb from the southern end of the Great Rift Valley, through Shashamene and past Awasa is gradual, and coffee trees slowly increase in frequency, large, lanky, and dusty by the roadside, many so tall they lean on the roofs of houses for support. Coffees here are earlier than in the far south, delicate, and citric. Sidama has one of the most robust cooperative unions in the country with 53 member cooperatives, as well as a thriving industry of independent washing stations. Testi Ayla is one such independent, owned by Testi Coffee PLC and operated by Faysel Yonis.
The Testi Ayla washing station is located in Shanta Wene, a small community in eastern Sidama, close to the Harenna Forest preserve. The 1000 farmers delivering cherry to Testi Ayla average two hectares each in this area and some of the highest elevations in the whole of Sidama. There are three collection sites responsible for managing cherry delivery throughout the catchment area.
Testi Ayla processes equal volumes of both fully washed and natural coffees of the highest quality. Washed lots at Testi Ayla are fermented slowly—36 to 48 hours--due to the low ambient temperatures in the region and the replenishment of cold groundwater throughout the process. Drying takes 10-12 days and wet parchment is often covered during the searingly-hot afternoon hours to protect it from cracking. Naturals here take even longer to dry, due to overnight low temperatures and humidity, which slow dehydration. The result is a clean, strawberry-like cup with abundant complexity. It’s hard to find grade 1 naturals in Sidama, as the vast majority of the zone’s coffee tends to be washed, or sundried of a lower grade.
Private processors like Testi Ayla are a thing to behold. It’s a tough business being a private processor in Sidama, as the sheer density of competition among washing stations tends to push cherry prices high 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 Testi Ayla, 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.