With the release of Guji Sidamo, our second Ethiopian coffee of the year this seems a good time to reflect on my trip to Ethiopia last year and the two varying ways that we buy coffee in Ethiopia. The way we source coffee has evolved significantly over the last eight years and as our volumes increase, our sourcing and buying procedures are becoming more specific to each origin we work in.

Central America, our primary buying region, is relatively straightforward; our importers help us find and finance the coffee, a local exporter receives the coffee from the producers and prepares it for export, it is trucked to a relatively close Atlantic port and then shipped to the UK, landing a few months after harvest. In truth it is rarely this straightforward, there are always issues unique to each coffee, but the basic chain of events is pretty simple. The supply chain in Africa tends to be a little more complicated, and especially so in Ethiopia. I travelled there last November with one of our importers, Falcon Coffees, to learn more about how exactly we purchase coffee from Ethiopia and why the model there is so different to other origins.

After landing in Addis Ababa fresh from an overnight flight the first place we visited in the city was the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange or ECX. The ECX is where all commodities in Ethiopia are traded and is where the vast majority of Ethiopian coffee is bought and sold. The Exchange is set up as a traditional trading floor; digital signs display the lots being traded and coming up, clocks show the time in various cities and the current market prices tick by. Each session begins with a bell and men in green jackets enter the floor and sell warehouse receipts relating to certain lots of coffees to men in khaki jackets representing Addis based exporters. The sellers offer a price and offer up their hands for a high five and, when a buyer agrees, he completes the high five and the deal.

Debora Soares