SPECIAL REPORT: Ethiopia’s Forgotten Harar Region Returns To Specialty Coffee Market. Harar кофе
Harar: exploring Ethiopia's holy Islamic walled citadel
“Faranjo! faranjo!” is the repeated shout in the backstreets of Harar, in the nearby hill villages and from the depths of the camel market. The word means quite simply “foreigner” – essentially, you’ve been spotted, usually by excited children. Otherwise Harar Jugol, a Unesco World Heritage city – said to be Islam’s fourth holiest city on account of 82 mosques – that was once a prosperous, independent kingdom, lives a strangely insular existence. This fortified desert city was built between 13th and 16th centuries and is also home to 102 shrines and townhouses that reveal exceptional interior design. During the sizzling afternoon heat, its male inhabitants seemingly disappear; I soon gather it is the khat habit that keeps them indoors in a beatific daze.
This staunchly Muslim enclave in the far east of Ethiopia, a country renowned for its Orthodox Christian beliefs, was founded in the 10th century and is one of the oldest Islamic cities in East Africa. In spite of the proliferation of mosques, the muezzin are discreet, and only the occasional dome and the main Jami mosque serve to remind of its cultural stature.
Meanwhile, the spaghetti-like maze of lanes and alleyways of the walled medieval town teem with industrious women, gossiping, bartering at the sprawling street market, buying grain at the teff mill to make spongey injera flatbread, choosing colourful fabrics or stocking up on aromatic spices. All are dressed in extravagant hues, although the flowing styles differ wildly according to each ethnic group: Oromo, Argobba, Somali or Adares. A few rare men are bent over treadle sewing machines on Makina Girgir street – makina being inherited from the short-lived Italian colonisation of the 1930s, and girgir from the whirring of the tailors’ antiquated Singers.
Colourfully-painted houses (Fiona Dunlop)
With its colourful façades (turquoise, fuchsia, mauve), the magical old town, Harar Jugol, cannot fail to seduce, even if one of the first foreigners to set foot here, in 1855, the British explorer Sir Richard Burton, fled after 10 days, unimpressed by the poverty, mangy dogs, “loud and rude” voices and “laxity of morals” (“intoxicating drinks, beer and mead”).
The Rimbaud Museum (Fiona Dunlop)
In contrast, 30 years later, the French poet, coffee-trader and ultimately gun-runner, Arthur Rimbaud, settled in Harar for 10 years. Although his various abodes have long since disappeared, a grand, old, Indian merchant’s mansion now houses a museum full of his grainy photos and other century-old images. The poet is also honoured in the new town by Charleville Street, named after his hometown in the Ardennes. Now this central avenue swarms with turquoise Peugeot 404s from the 1960s, recently rivaled by imported Indian bajaji (auto rickshaws).
A couple of streets from Rimbaud’s museum, in an equally ornate Indian mansion, is the private museum of cultural specialist Abdela Sherif. Packed with Quranic manuscripts, coins, jewellery and costumes, it is proof of Harar’s once thriving status as a trading crossroads that lured Armenians, Portuguese, Arabs and Indians to deal in ivory, coffee, cotton, tobacco and slaves (the latter only ended in the 1930s).
One of the citadel's gates (Fiona Dunlop)
Today such exports have been largely replaced by the stimulant khat, a lucrative crop that has its production and frenetic all-night market just north of Harar, at Awaday. From here it is trucked at alarming speed to Somaliland’s eager consumers, about four hours to the east. When we set off to Babile to see the camel market, Isuzu trucks roar past us, interspersed by the odd herd of ambling camels led by semi-nomadic Hawiya. Life seems to operate at two speeds.
We find the livestock market in full swing in the arid hills of the Eastern Rift Valley where, beyond, unfolds the Valley of Marvels, an enchanting landscape of surreal rock formations where dromedaries occupy one section and goats and sheep the other. Abdul, our guide, explains that camel bidding is by silent finger pressure, so no one else knows the price offered.
It is all orderly and strangely quiet, though the pace shifts up a notch in the bleating goat and sheep section where women traders energetically count fat wads of birr. Old men with henna-bright beards, sunglasses and necklaces watch us curiously, while a shouted “faranjo!” occasionally penetrates the murmurs. And of course there are women selling bunches of fresh khat and lethargic male camel-owners flat out in the shade of a tea-stand.
Afterwards we bounce up dirt roads into the hills around Koromi to visit eastern Ethiopia’s coffee-farmers, the Argobba. Greeting us outside their simple, stone houses are women dressed in decorative, vibrant colours, scarves, earrings and necklaces. It may be dry in the valley below, but here mountain streams flow freely. However one woman shares her concern about the drought in north-eastern Ethiopia, adding that “the spring rains haven’t come here either”. The Longberry arabica coffee that they grow using centuries-old techniques – cultivating and drying by hand on small, family-owned plantations – is considered one of the world’s top beans so, back in Harar, I dive into the coffee mill to buy a one-kilo packet (£5) to take home.
The nightly hyena feed (Shutterstock / Sarine Arslanian)
Just before nightfall we head outside the walls to see perhaps the city’s most curious custom: hyena feeding. One lone man, the sixth generation of a Harari family to do this, sits beside two large baskets of meat scraps and bones as some 20 hyenas materialise from the inky night. The huge, spotted mammals circle, then, as he calls them individually, home in to be fed chunks from a stick, illuminated by car headlights for the enthralled faranjo. Developed as a ploy to preempt attacks in town, the sunset feed has also become a minor tourist industry.
On my return home, cup after cup of rich Harar coffee propels me back to that bewitching place, its cloistered people, colours, camels, khat and prowling hyenas.
Ethiopian Airlines (ethiopianairlines.com) flies daily from Heathrow to Addis Ababa, with connections for Dire Dawa (for Harar). The onward journey takes around one hour by bus. The alternative is a nine-hour bus-ride from Addis Ababa.
Local tour operators such as Awaze Tours (00 251 11 663 4439; awazetours.com) can arrange a three-night Harar package including flights, driver, guide, Ras Hotel, meals and excursions from US$800 per person.
Ras Hotel, Charleville Street, Harar (00 251 25 666027): in the new town on a noisy avenue but acceptable comfort for Harar, with Italian Art Deco touches, hot showers, bar and restaurant. Doubles from US$40 including breakfast.
Rowda Waber Guesthouse (00 251 666 2211; 00 251 92 187 2867). A popular, seven-room traditional guesthouse in Harar Jugol with shared facilities. Rates from US$25 per person including breakfast.
Bradt’s Ethiopia by Philip Briggs, 7th edition £17.99 (bradtguides.com).
SPECIAL REPORT: Ethiopia’s Forgotten Harar Region Returns To Specialty Coffee Market
SPECIAL REPORT: Ethiopia’s Forgotten Harar Region Returns To Specialty Coffee Market
The birthplace of commercial coffee production as we know it today, the Ethiopian region of Harar is a mythical destination which to coffee lovers offers an intriguing and rare pilgrimage in search of the origins of the humble little bean that is the source of the world’s favorite beverage and the second largest traded commodity. Yet long taken over in commercial importance by other and bigger Ethiopian regions, the coffees of Harar are starting to find its way back into the global specialty trade. This is not only where it belongs due to the unique historic significance of Harar, but this is exciting news to industry officials and consumers alike, who can expect to see a lot more Harar coffee in their daily cup of coffee in the coming years. In this special report for GCR Magazine’s March 2016 edition SpillingTheBeans owner and author, Global Coffee Writer Maja Wallengren, takes readers along on this EXCLUSIVE trip back in coffee history, accompanied by devoted Ethiopian coffee roaster Orit Mohammed of Boon Coffee Dubai, UAE.
BY MAJA WALLENGREN
With coffee farms carved straight out of dense rocks in highlands so dry that they from the outside appear to be part of the Sahara dessert, eastern Ethiopia’s Harar coffee region is a place where simple adjectives do not do justice, neither to the many cultural gems and historical sites, nor to the quality and unique flavor profiles of its coffee.
Coffee production in Ethiopia has been on the rise in the last six to eight years, and among roasters and specialty buyers, it’s beans from the larger and more commercially famous coffee regions such as Sidamo, Limmu and Yirgacheffe that have dominated the trade. But this is starting to change.
“In the last 10 years we have started to see an important rise in the volume of coffee coming out the more traditionally known regions such as Sidamo, but what is so exciting now is that we are also starting to see more coffee from other regions like Kaffa and Harar starting to reach the market,” said Orit Mohammed, who runs Boon Coffee importers and roasters of Ethiopian specialty beans in Dubai.
“This is not only good because it’s quality coffee but it really helps differentiate between the different Ethiopian coffees and add choices for both roasters and consumers when it comes to how to appreciate our coffee,” said Mohammed, who herself was born in Harar and raised in Ethiopia.
The new 2015-16 harvest in Ethiopia is expected to produce between 6.5 million and 7 million 60-kilogram bags, about the double of what Ethiopia’s national coffee crop reached 10 years ago before new foreign investment policies and marketing reforms started to open up for renovation programs and new plantings across the country.
Harar is one of Ethiopia’s smaller coffee regions, accounting for annual production of between 550,000 and 600,000 bags, or between 7 and 10 percent, according to figures from the Ethiopian Ministry of Trade and Industry. But the region is where the world’s first commercial coffee farms were planted by Arabian traders sometime around the 10th Century, according to historical research. As such Harar coffee plays a unique role in the history of coffee and how it spread to the world since the initial discovery of Coffea Arabica around the 6th Century in the south-western Ethiopian province of Kaffa. At the time Arab traders based in and around the Red Sea strait near the port of Mocha initiated the pioneering major large-scale commercial plantings of coffee in southern Yemen between the 10th and 12th centuries, coffee had already been planted commercially in the eastern and western Harar mountains for at least 100 years.
Ethiopa’s Harar coffee makes comeback in Specialty Market, featured in GCR Magazine, March 2016
“Ethiopia is home to so many extraordinary coffee regions, each with its own distinct cup profile and flavor characteristics. This is why the coffees in Ethiopia are all named after the geographic location where they grow, but Harar coffee really stands out both because of the quality and also because of the long history directly linked to coffee growing here,” Mohammed told Global Coffee Report Magazine.
“The Harar coffee is all sun-dried and naturally processed, and the quality is such a rare part of Ethiopia’s coffee heritage so as someone who was born here, I feel very strongly that we must make sure to protect this coffee and ensure that this coffee will not only come back to the volumes we used to see, but increase among the Ethiopian coffees offered in the export market,” said Mohammed.
She said the Harar cup profile is “known for a fruity characteristic and a creamy body with a distinct note of blueberry” and since coffee first started to reach the Middle East market via the ancient trading routes through Dubai and across the Ottoman Empire, it is Harar coffee that has been the source of the most famous beans.
Orit Mohammed of Boon Coffee roasters, importers and retailers in Dubai, UAE, with Harar sister Sozit
The efforts of the last 10 years of financial and agricultural reforms in Ethiopia are starting to produce results, with 12,000 hectares of coffee replanted in Harar alone in the last four years, figures from the government’s local agriculture office show.
“We started the replanting and expansion program in 2011 and so far we have managed to plant a total of 17 million coffee seedlings across the coffee regions in Harar and we have agronomists extension agents in all the coffee associations and cooperatives helping the farmers with training,” said Mohammed Nur, head of the Harar Agriculture Office.
“The Harar region is divided into two, the Western and Eastern Harar, and here in Eastern Harar there is 19 districts of which 10 are producing coffee. Of the 10 districts that produce coffee, 3 have been very badly hit by the drought,” said Nur, referring to the worst drought in over 50 years that for the past 10 months have hit eastern Ethiopia and provoked mass appeals for emergency aid.
Driving up from the arid plains and into the coffee mountains, however, the landscape quickly starts to change with green valleys clearly not as affected by the drought. And producers here are for the most part expecting a bigger harvest this year. “This year the growers here will see more coffee because the harvest is better and we will also be able to buy more coffee. We continue to see the member count increasing; Last year we had only 879 members and bought 63,882 kilograms of green coffee, now we have 1,119 members and are expecting to buy over 150,000 kilograms,” said Abduraman Mumad Umer, Chairman of the ACC cooperative in the Eastern Harar district of Bedeno.
Between 2009 and 2011 a project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, helped the local producers not only increase average yields but also improve quality of the coffee produced here. An organic and fair trade cooperative the ACC was founded in 1990 and its members are all tiny growers with about 0.5 hectares. Thanks to the USAID project average yields rose to 600 kilograms per farmer compared to just 200 kilograms for most of the farmers in the region, growers said.
“Our quality has improved a lot, today we can sell up to 90 percent of all our coffee as specialty grade and before it was only 75 percent of our coffee that would qualify,” Umer told GCR Magazine during a visit to these remote mountains, adding that one of the coop member’s coffee recently scored an impressive 88.5 points in a regional cupping competition. The gains in both price and quality have also encouraged more producers to look toward coffee rather than the region’s competing crop, Khat, when considering how best to invest in their land.
“We are planting more trees, and the size of the land cultivated with coffee has expanded in the last few years,” said Umer. He adds that in the next five years the Coop plans to plant 5,000 hectares of new land with coffee in the district of Bedeno, with the help and support of the government as well as private exporters who are eager to see coffee replace some of the land currently used by farmers for khat.
“The main challenge for the coffee from Harar is the competition from Khat, because Khat you can harvest 3 times a year and coffee only gives one crop a year so when coffee prices go down or are unstable like in the last year farmers are not encouraged to invest in taking care of their farms,” said Basha Mawi, an exporter who since 2006 has been trading Ethiopian coffee and specializes in Harar grades with his company Mawi Coffee, which is based in the coffee trading town of Dire Dawa.
“But we also see that as soon as the farmers have been able to get just a little education in proper or improved agricultural practices we immediately see that as their prices improve and they are able to get a good price for their product, they also see more opportunities with coffee rater than Khat,” said Mawi.
Boon’s Mohammed agrees, saying that chewing the leafs of the khat plant – which produces an amphetamine-like stimulant effect and is considered a light drug by the World Health Organization – is a tradition that goes back more than 1000 years in the region and as such khat has always been a competing crop for local farmers.
“This is why it’s so important that we as exporters are able to work directly with the farmers and find ways to buy their crop directly so that the farmers can get the best price possible for their coffee,” she said.
Back in the town of Harar, coffee lovers are in for a treat when searching for the best beans in the bustling street markets of the tiny souks crisscrossing the old town hidden behind the 13th Century city wall gates. This is where coffee drinking is revealed in all its glory, from walking merchants setting up shop for who ever wants a tiny cup of strongly-brewed Ethiopian coffee to booths where the traditional Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony is performed at regular intervals, all for the sake of pleasing local customers’ love affair with the bean. Considered the fourth holy city of Islam and dating back to the 7th century, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization, UNESCO, Harar is at the very heart of where coffee culture first was developed. Visitors feel like stepping right into a character of the classic One Thousand and One Nights rather than being on a crop trip in search of the top quality rare coffees now starting to emerge from a forgotten time.
Ethiopia’s Agriculture Ministry has pegged exports from the new 2015-16 harvest to reach a record 4.3 million bags. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is more conservative, forecasting coffee exports to reach 3.5 million bags, but this would still be the double of what the world coffee market received from the birth place of Arabica coffee 10 years ago when exports averaged between 1.7 and 1.9 million bags in most years. And exporters like Mawi and Boon are excited to see a growing share of this coffee coming out of the rugged Harar mountains.
“Harar has always been home to some of the very best coffee Ethiopia has to offer, and on top of the quality Harar has such an incredible historic importance to how coffee was brought to the world so we really need to ensure that Harar coffee is seen in the market place again as a single origin bean,” said Boon’s Mohammed, and ads with a twist in her eyes: “When you try Harar coffee, you will be able to taste the difference in just one sip!”
Read More, download the Global Coffee Review ipad app and keep up to date with everything coffee.http://gcrmag.com/market-reports/view/ethiopias-forgotten-harar-region-returns-to-coffee-market
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Harar Roundtable Coffee Conference | Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters
This entry was posted on March 5, 2009 by Batdorf and Bronson.
Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters' green coffee buyer, Scott Merle, and President, Larry Challain, recently returned from a trip to Ethiopia where they attended a variety of coffee farms and took part in the Ethiopia Harar Roundtable Coffee Conference. The agenda of the conference was aimed at the specialty coffee industry and provided a platform for buyers and growers to discuss issues of growing and trading coffee in Ethiopia. We will be posting a series of Scott's journal entries, thoughts and photos from the trip.
I finally made it here to Dire Dawa and have a place in the Selam hotel, which is nice. That is, if your definition of nice is cold water only, no electrical outlets, a toilet that flushes and the one lamp. No bugs that I can see, and that goes a long way. After the six hour drive that actually took eleven, I could care less about the accommodations. During the eleven hour trip, we got two fifteen minute breaks and had about an hour and a half stop for lunch to eat some goat. From Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa, we crossed from one side of the Great Rift Valley to the other and are now smack in the middle of where they’ve traced coffee back as far as they can. From this side of the valley, coffee spread northeast to Yemen before being taken to Europe and then the rest of the world. That’s all good, but can a guy find a decent semi-washed Djimma anywhere?
On to the Conference – the presentations are good, Ken Davids makes nice reflections on the unique qualities of Harar coffees and his thoughts on what has triggered the perceived diminishing of the Harar profile. One of his arguments is that as buyers work with producers in other coffee-growing regions around the world and experiment with natural processing of those coffees, they have relied on and demanded less from Harar – the place where the fascination for naturally-processed coffees originated. Conditions are described as perfect for this type of processing here in eastern Ethiopia, and it may only be a matter of dedication and care for the coffees of Harar to once again regain their place as King of Naturals.
Ken Davids (Coffee Review) speaking at the conference.
Abraham Begashawe adds his two cents to the mix, and this is what I’ve been waiting to hear. He speaks of the great need for soil conservation and some luck with nature as necessary elements to work in tandem with the unique processing that will allow Harar to maintain its standing as the world’s foremost naturally processed coffee. Abraham also begins to turn the conversation towards the newly created ECX system and what this may do to the specialty niche in Ethiopia.
What the experts agree on, and what I concur with, are the following necessary steps to insure we’re doing what we can to preserve the taste of Harar. 1 – Careful picking and sorting of ripe cherries 2 – Meticulous and appropriate drying techniques, including experimentation with raised beds and drying tables 3 – Clean storage methods and expedient shipping practices 4 – Identification and encouragement of re-planting of the best cupping varietals
I have the chance to cup some coffees from Harar that were dried on woven mats vs. dried on raised beds and the difference is striking. As is the case elsewhere around the world, all it takes is attention to the details to preserve the best qualities these coffees possess. The mat-dried coffee tastes dirty and flat with only hints of fruit, while the bed-dried coffee tastes complex, powerfully and cleanly fruity, and balanced. The profile of this second coffee is the one I target in my buying each year, and the one that has become more difficult each year to secure.
As a buyer though, as long as I know this profile still exists, I am confident that with the partnership of the right miller and exporter I can find it, and can then demand follow through with proper storage and quick shipping to get it into the U.S. in the right condition for roasting. Tasting a coffee like this now is a terrific sign that when the time comes to approve arrival samples in April/May, all the hard work I’ve put into it will assure us great coffees!
Up Next: The difficulties facing specialty coffee roasters and the new Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX) system.
Coffee of The Day: Boon’s “Full & Wild” Stunning Ethiopia Blend of Harar, Sidamo and Kaffa Beans
Coffee of The Day: Boon’s “Full & Wild” Stunning Ethiopia Blend of Harar, Sidamo and Kaffa Beans
There is always something uniquely special about coffee reports, reviews or articles about coffee in and from Ethiopia, because after all, had it not been for the Ethiopians, at some time all the way back to the days of Southern Abyssinia, one day deciding that they actually LIKED THIS STUFF, this awesome black beverage that during centuries would be perfected in everything from production to processing, roasting and brewing, the world might not ever have had the joy of drinking coffee as we know it today 🙂
So before anything else, AMESEGE’NALLO Ethiopia, for bringing coffee to the world!
My Coffee of The Day is an outstanding blend with beans from the Ethiopian coffee region of Harar, which located toward the eastern border with Somalia was the first region to start commercial coffee growing as early as the 10th Century when Arabian traders succeeded in planting the first seeds collected from the Typica Arabica variety in Southern Kaffa where coffee originally was discovered growing in the wild sometime around the 6th Century.
Harar coffee, when you are lucky enough to get a pure 100 percent single origin Harar coffee, is possibly THE BEST COFFEE available in the world, with a flavor profile so unique that it beats any other beans from even the most outstanding farms elsewhere in the universe of coffee — but Harar coffee is difficult to get hold off and as a single origin bean it belongs in the category of truly rare coffees.
Today’s Coffee of The Day, however, gets close to be one of the best coffees SpillingTheBeans has ever tried from Ethiopia, with the “Full & Wild” blend from Boon Coffee in Dubai, UAE offering a mix of beans from Harar, Kaffa and Sidamo. Boon’s Full & Wild is an extraordinary cup: The Kaffa beans produce a full body, Sidamo beans add wild and fruity flavors, and all come mixed with a subtle hint of the blueberry notes that Harar beans are so famous for. The mix of these beans is a blend that Boon’s founder and owner, Harar native coffee apasionada Orit Mohammed, worked on for years in order to perfect the final cup flavor. The result is one of true perfection with the mix of these beans producing an elegant acidity in the cup, a silky-smooth flavor and long-lasting full and rounded after-taste.
Meeting Orit in Dubai a few years ago was one of these random moments that SpillingTheBeans couldn’t feel more privileged about — we are HONORED to call Orit our friend today and to have been adopted into her Harar sisterhood as an honorable member. A great Coffee Lady, Orit is working really hard to not only promote Ethiopia’s finest beans in the Boutique Market for specialty coffees BUT at the same time also works tirelessly on social projects in education to improve the future of children in the remote and isolated Hararghe mountains. SpillingTheBeans couldn’t be more happy to support her in these efforts!
Orit Mohammed of Boon’s Coffee roasters, buyers, importers and retailers in Dubai, UAE
To Coffee Lovers or roasters interested in 100% Harar beans or Boon Coffee’s other OUTSTANDING Ethiopian beans, don’t hesitate to contact Orit here: http://www.booncoffee.com/contact.html
SpillingTheBeans visiting Harar’s coffee mountains with Boon’s Orit Mohammed in November 2015
For more about Harar coffee and the amazing history of Harar, don’t miss our latest reports;SPECIAL REPORT: Ethiopia’s Forgotten Harar Region Returns To Specialty Coffee Markethttp://spilling-the-beans.net/special-report-ethiopias-forgotten-harar-region-returns-to-specialty-coffee-market/
Happy Coffee Drinking
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