Ethiopia Origin Trip

Isaac, our director of sales, sat down with our coffee buyer and co-founder, Nick Robertson, to discuss the relationship between Messenger Coffee and our Farm Direct partners in Ethiopia.

Isaac: Ever since joining Messenger Coffee, I’ve gained so much respect for the work of coffee producers and I’m so proud of how Messenger has decided to treat and relate with them. The Farm Direct program, created by our founders, is what sets our company apart. These are the stories we need to tell and I’m looking forward to more people hearing them!

Isaac: You just got back from Ethiopia. Whom did you travel with? 

Nick: It was a smaller group this year. Just Michael, Chris, and Michael McIntyre from Catalyst Coffee Consulting led the trip. He’s been living there part-time and has established relationships with amazing people and some of the best producers in the country. Chris Brady is the owner of Extracto Coffee in Portland, OR. We travel a lot together. 

Isaac: Which producers did you visit?

Nick: This year, the trip was focused on washing stations that we’ve been in partnership with for a while. Some of the most popular coffees that we carry. A large portion of the trip was spent at the Bombe Washing Station in the Bensa District. This is where farmers from Shanta Wene village, Keramo village, and Bombe village take their coffees for washing and drying. We're calling this group the “Bensa Three”. They have a processing manager on site that works with everyone on developing new techniques and alternative methods. It’s a very exciting place to be. There’s magic happening there right now. We visited the Qonqona Washing Station, which was a large focus for us on our trip 3 years ago. The most jammy, fruit-forward natural process that we get from Ethiopia is from Qonqona. Nansebo Worka was another place we went. The Tulu Gola washing station in the Nansebo District was a first for me. It’s a very steep valley with a river that runs through it. The raised drying beds almost feel stacked on top of each other because of the steep incline. There’s so much untapped potential here and the coffee is already amazing. The current washed harvest of this coffee is in our line up now. Oh! And this is the coffee we are using in our canned Cold Brew which we just launched! It was great to tell Tulu Gola that we chose their coffee for the project. I look forward to getting some cans to them. The final leg of the this trip was visiting the farmers in Gololcha in the region of Harrar. This is way out there in the sticks. Probably the furthest I’ve ever been from my comfort zone. In this area farmers produce their own coffee on their own property. All of it is natural processed by law and by cultural tradition. Some of the production is really rugged and crude, but the coffee comes across really sweet and mellow. It’s a very nostalgic cup of Ethiopian coffee for a lot of us. We don’t currently buy Harrar coffee, but it is something we’ll be working on this year!

View of Tulu Gola from road

Workers at Tulu Gola, proud of their work

Isaac: What has changed or improved over the years?

Nick: There has been some changes, for sure. Some improvements. But this isn’t a rag to riches story. All of these producers were operating at a high level of quality when Messenger starting buying from them. Catalyst has been active in these places for years and they chose these producers for a reason. Some improvements are more apparent in the cup and some of the improvements affected the comfort and wellness of the workers. But either way, the sum of the parts make a huge difference for consistency and control. Fermentation has become more controlled than ever with the addition of shade covering for raised beds and fermentation tanks. Old drying bed material that was prone to mold was swapped out with cleaner, longer lasting, more porous mesh. Bringing in a manual pulper created an opportunity for more frequent experimentation. All of these things have reduced the risks involved and help to create a much more predictable product. Also, we are in the process of replacing Bombe’s old pulper with an eco-pulper which is a huge deal. But we’ll talk about that later, when it happens. 

Worker at Bombe under shaded beds

Bombe mechanic and his disc pulper

Isaac: This year we invested in other projects outside of coffee production. Tell us more about that. 

Nick: We helped bring in school supplies for the kids in Shanta Wene village, Keramo village, and Bombe village. We provided textbooks, pens & pencils. I got to present these to the individual school directors from the villages in front of what seemed like a thousand excited kids. It was really incredible to get a chance to show our appreciation in this way and let them know how important their villages are to us. While I was there I asked one of the directors how many of these kids would work in the coffee industry and he said that most, if not all of them, would work in coffee production. Pretty wild.

Young students from Shanta Wene, Bombe, and Keramo villages

Bensa Education Director

Isaac: Are there any plans to expand our reach in Ethiopia? 

Nick: Yeah. Catalyst has been working with producers in Gololcha, in the region of Harrar, like I mentioned. I got to spend some time there and it’s beautiful. Everything is so healthy and green. With the way they’re processing coffee now, individually, it makes for a ton of inconsistency. If we can figure out a way to centralize the processing, quality could skyrocket. It’s a big undertaking, but Michael has a heart for this area and we look forward to supporting him in the project.

On the road to Harrar

Yitagesu’s raised beds in Gololcha

Isaac: How do these Ethiopia trips affect Messenger’s philosophy in serving our customers?

Nick: I know I’ve said this before, but the number one thing that strikes me is the incredible amount of work that goes into this product before it gets to us. Being there really strengthens the philosophy of our brand for me. You know, being the "Messenger". There are so many tiny details that are time consuming that are required to make quality coffee happen. We really have no excuses to not present this product the absolute best we can and share how it all comes together with our customers. In a lot of ways we are left with the most fun part of the process; roasting it with the end-consumer in mind and getting to see them experience it. We love seeing people enjoy coffee the way they do and we love to share their stories with the producers as much as we can.