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Ethiopia - Bishan Dimo (2022)

Ethiopia - Bishan Dimo (2022)


Brothers Faysel and Hakime Yonis were born in Harrar, the eastern region of Ethiopia known for its historic walled city, arid climate, and traditional production of dry-processed “natural” coffees. Their father owned two coffee farms near the village of Chelenko.

Their mother would perform a daily coffee ceremony—the famous Ethiopian tradition where coffee is roasted in a pan, then brewed in a jebena and served to friends, neighbors, or guests with condiments like sugar and niter kibbeh, a spiced clarified butter used in Ethiopian cooking. In the 1970s the family lost their farms to the Derg, a communist-aligned military junta that nationalized rural land in Ethiopia.

Faysel became interested in the coffee sector in the 1990s and began working as a representative for farmers who wanted to bring their coffee to market. In the early 2000s he founded a quality-focused export operation called Testi Trading PLC. In recent years Testi has been a source for some of our favorite coffees like Gora Kone and Naga Singage. Built in 2017, Bishan Dimo is the newest washing station that Testi operates. Hakime Yonis serves as the station manager.

Bishan Dimo is located within the Denbi Uddo kebele (ward) of the Shakiso woreda (district) of the Guji zone in the state of Oromia. (Each successive administrative unit has its own cred in specialty coffee, a testament to the incredible quality to be found here.)

Shakiso is characterized by outstretched hills and mountains that give the appearance of somewhere relatively flat, but elevations often exceed 2,000 meters.

Guji is incredibly mineral-rich, and due to the value of its mines it was off-limits to non-residents until quite recently. As a result, much of the land is untouched forest with incredibly fertile soil.

The local residents, mostly Oromo, were traditionally herders and said to be the descendants of a man called Gujo whose children raised cattle in the area. Today, the vast majority of Guji's residents are farmers. The area has seen recent migration from other regions of Ethiopia where water is more scarce.

The Oromo have cultivated coffee for hundreds of years and have their own folklore to rival Kaldi: Waaqa, the god of the sky, sentenced a loyal servant to death for a crime. Waaqa discovered too late that the man had been innocent and visited his grave to weep.

As Waaqa's tears hit the ground, a new plant—coffee—sprouted from the earth. Because the first coffee plant was watered by Waaqa's tears and not by water, it is considered a sacred plant in Oromo culture.

Over 800 families deliver their coffee to Bishan Dimo. Plots are relatively small, averaging 1.5 hectares (about the size of a Manhattan city block) with elevations ranging from 1,850-2,000 meters.

Enset (an important starchy food crop in Ethiopia often called false banana) is popularly intercropped with coffee, and additional shade is provided by the forests that engulf many farms.

Bishan Dimo produces fully washed coffees as well as naturals and has the limited capacity to perform true microlot separation—something that until recent years has been impossible in Ethiopia due to the way the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX) was structured (see our past release notes on Worka Sakaro for more about this—or ask me!).

Faysel and Hakime intend to purchase more land from the station's neighbors to have space to install more drying beds. Doing so will guarantee even higher quality (with the capacity to spread coffee more evenly as it dries) and offers the potential for more and better lot separation.

To produce fully washed coffees, Bishan Dimo follows fairly typical practices: coffee is pulped and then fermented for 24-48 hours in clean cement tanks to remove the mucilage, then washed with clean water. The parchment is then moved to raised drying tables where it dries in approximately 10-12 days.

A note on the political and economic circumstances in Ethiopia:

A year ago today, we announced our first Ethiopian single origin of 2021 with a note about new challenges to sourcing coffee from Ethiopia. The pandemic, its use as an excuse to delay and postpone general elections, and outbreaks of ethnically-targeted violence destabilized the country, culminating in a civil war and an ongoing humanitarian crisis in the region of Tigray. While the Ethiopian government agreed to a humanitarian truce in March 2022, news from Tigray isn't necessarily reliable—a telecoms blackout and a lack of translators fluent in the Tigrinya language means much of the news from the region originates from media outlets in Addis Ababa where state interference is a concern.

In the midst of all this, the Ethiopian central bank has changed its rules regarding how much money exporters can hold in foreign currency. Prior to that, coffee exporters would often sell coffee at or near cost—the purpose was to generate foreign exchange so they could access USD to fund their more lucrative importing businesses. Under the new rules, for coffee to make sense on a balance sheet, exporters must actually make a profit selling coffee.

Compounding that, Ethiopia is now requiring banks to store 4 billion birr (about $80M USD) in the central bank over the next 4 years, affecting banks' liquidity. This, combined with 30% annual inflation and rising input costs, caused a cash shortage in the country that impacted washing stations' ability to secure the money needed to purchase coffee from farmers. This has led many farmers to process their coffee crudely at home instead of selling to washing stations.

As a result, while Ethiopia posted a record year in total coffee exports and revenues, prices are abnormally high, and the availability of high quality washed coffees is actually quite low. In the southern regions of Ethiopia where we're most active—Sidamo, Guji, and Yirgacheffe—volumes have decreased by as much as 30%, and some grades that would normally be widely available have become virtually nonexistent.

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