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 generally 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. It also has a growing industry of estate producers with brand new market connections, whose coffee is starting to get some serious recognition.
Niguse Gemeda is one such farmer. Niguse’s farm is in the Keramo community, part of Sidama’s Bensa district, just inside the zone’s eastern border with the Harenna Forest National Park. This part of Sidama contains some of the zone’s highest farming elevations and coolest daily temperatures. The farm itself is 2 hectares, only slightly larger than the average among smallholders in the region. But the quality potential was so apparently high that Faysel Yonis, founder of Testi Coffee and the innovative Testi Ayla coffee washing station, decided to pre-finance Niguse’s crop. This is the first harvest commissioned as a microlot by Faysel, the first microlot produced by Niguse, and the first exclusive purchase by Royal Coffee.
Pre-financing a coffee crop, perhaps especially on a single smallholder level, is a sensitive undertaking. Niguse employs 30 people to complete a harvest, and with an elevation of 2100 meters, harvest is later and slower than many other farmers in Sidama. The two coffee professionals collaborated in processing, which was completed at Testi Ayla washing station, to which Niguse is a regular supplier. Drying demanded additional sorting and care to be sure only the best cherry was represented and dried as meticulously as possible. The results are exemplary: one of our highest-scoring natural Ethiopias this year (which is saying a lot), Niguse’s microlot is incredibly juicy, strawberry-sweet, and intense in the cup.
Testi Ayla processes equal volumes of both fully washed and top-grade natural coffees, which are very rare in Sidama. And, especially in this case, Faysel has had success with micro-processing select volumes, drawing from some of the best fermentation knowledge in the coffee world today, and making the most of close farmer connections. One clear advantage to being a private processing team like Testi Ayla is the ability to identify potential in your suppliers and make space for them to really shine.
It’s no small investment. The expense of isolating multiple nanolots of green coffee through overland transport, dry milling, sampling, contracting, vacuum-packing, and shipment, requires constant attention and extra hands, especially in Ethiopia where this kind of small-scale exporting is almost never done. Royal’s investment in promoting these coffees is a shared mission with Testi Ayla—that historic coffees are worth it.