Ethiopia Idido

Oct 02, 2019

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Stumptown’s founding, we're releasing three limited edition coffees that each exemplify a different aspect of our sourcing practices - all honoring transparency and direct relationships. Our second offering is Ethiopia Idido; a brilliant, natural process Yirgacheffe, produced by the Idido smallholder community. An elegant and powerful cup, it's an exceptional example of this region’s profile. When brewed it expresses notes of banana and tropical fruit, layered with bergamot and vanilla.

This is a landmark moment in coffee purchasing, as coffee from these growing regions has been historically guarded by governmental regulations, which up until recently created a boundary between smallholder producers and roasters. With these changes, we can now begin to build more clear and present relationships with the people who produce these unique coffees, and with that ensure that they’re paid far above the commodity market price.

We sat down with Stumptown’s green coffee sourcing manager, Katy Keisling, who traveled to Amsterdam to participate in Trabocca’s Ethiopian Cup. As a head judge of the competition, among a panel of noted experts, she cupped through a curated selection of exceptional lots. Through the scoring process, Ethiopia Idido was a clear outlier in quality and flavor profile.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters: What sparked your interest in coffee initially? What happened to get you to where you are now?

Katy Keisling: My coffee journey started as many others' do, as a barista. During college, I applied for a work study position at the coffee shop on campus, initially drawn to the community element of the space, but soon developing a passion for the beverage itself. I remember my first espresso training, and hearing someone describe the aftertaste as dark chocolate after you let it melt in your mouth. I was taken with this practice of pinpointing what one was experiencing sensorially and sharing it with others. I even started hosting cuppings on campus. I was hooked.

As I was developing this sensory curiosity, I was simultaneously studying the literature and art and the complex histories and politics of many of the places coffee is grown. I was a Latin American Studies major, and as a consumer and cafe manager I wanted to understand more about the origin of this product. Academically and socially, I needed to know about the realities of coffee growers. I studied abroad and conducted my thesis research on the Fair Trade certification system through interviews with coffee producers in southern Peru. Learning about the difficulties of coffee growing, the limitations of certifications, and the complexities and paradoxes of the commodity and specialty markets was engrossing. It was like tugging on a thread, and the more I pulled the more I realized was still in front of me. I think I will always feel like I'm pulling. There is always more to learn and more work to be done.

After my research I sought out positions with companies that were dedicated to improved transparency in the coffee supply chain. Before Stumptown I worked for Sustainable Harvest, a coffee importer. I started as an intern in Colombia, and then moved back to the States to do quality control and green coffee sales. It was an excellent place to thoroughly learn the logistics of the supply chain, develop my palate and cupping skills, and understand the many forms of relationships between roaster and producer. When the opportunity came up to work in green coffee sourcing for Stumptown, it was an ideal evolution.

SCR: Can you describe your job? Why is your role important in the coffee industry?

KK: As part of the green coffee purchasing team, I am the primary point of contact for Stumptown's producer partners at origin. At Stumptown, we don't have a singular buyer role, but take a team approach to forecasting, sourcing, and ultimate decision making. It's no surprise that the majority of our coffee comes from longstanding producer relationships, and we've been able to calibrate and cultivate strong supply chains over the years.

My work involves a good deal of travel, a lot of cupping, and even more communication. This is an important role in specialty because I believe, at the core, our work is all about feedback. Working with producers and exporters I'm often guided by this question: is this the best version of the relationship? Is there room for growth or evolution?

SCR: You travel a lot for your role and get to engage with many of our producer partners -- how many have you been able to meet personally?

KK: Up to this point I've had the privilege of visiting 11 coffee producing countries for Stumptown. Meeting with all of our current suppliers face to face is a priority, whether that's at their farm or office or here in the States during visits or events. At the moment there are two countries in our lineup which I have not yet visited.

SCR: We love how you get to interact with our import and export partners too - The Ethiopian Cup, where you first got to try Idido, was hosted by Trabocca in Amsterdam. Can you tell us a bit about that relationship?

KK: Absolutely -- so Stumptown has been working with Trabocca for over 13 years, and Menno (Trabocca's founder) has been working in coffee in Ethiopia since 2000. The value of an importer partner with such expertise and deep connection is that as the dynamics of an origin change, we get the opportunity to see the evolution through the lens of an organization with greater context. The deep roots and level of expertise Trabocca has in Ethiopia, coupled with the innovative spirit of the organization, is something I really admire and am glad we are connected to as a company. It gives us opportunities to engage in an origin in ways we wouldn't be able to on our own.

SCR: And this coffee is only available to us due to some regulatory changes - the producers are selling coffee directly for the first time. Can you explain this a bit?

KK: These regulatory changes were announced in April 2017 but didn't functionally come into effect for buyers until the following year. Previously, all coffee for export had to be traded either through the large cooperative unions or the Ethiopian Coffee Exchange, both of which provided limited traceability. The vast majority of coffee in Ethiopia - 95% - is grown by smallholders who on average have 1 hectare of land. Prior to these changes, only farms with 30 hectares or more could process and export their coffee themselves. Our existing relationships with Mordecofe and Suke Quto would fall into this minority of a category.

Now, producers of any size can obtain their own export license and find buyers. These changes are giving rise to novel experiences, like the Ethiopian Cup, where roasters can, for the first time, purchase smallholder microlots and have traceability back to origin. What’s exciting, too, is it’s just the beginning of a new chapter in quality and traceability from this origin.

SCR: What did you experience at the Ethiopian Cup?

KK: This marked the second year Trabocca has hosted an auction platform, via the Ethiopian Cup, for Ethiopian coffee purchasing. Last year it was called Operation Cherry Red. Essentially the idea is to provide a supply chain for Ethiopian growers to compete with small, high quality lots that are ultimately bid on and purchased through an international auction. Last year was the first year a system like this - with small lot traceability down to the producer level - was really possible in Ethiopia due to the regulatory changes described.

Trabocca reached out in March asking for Stumptown's participation, and asked me to be a head judge. I had an origin trip to Rwanda scheduled already, and was flying through Amsterdam (where Trabocca is headquartered) on my way back. It was perfect timing, and an exciting opportunity to support this new initiative.

SCR: What was the cupping process like?

KK: I had the pleasure of cupping with an amazing international group of judges, from Asia and Europe to New Zealand and Canada. It was a highly talented and experienced group, many of them decorated coffee competitors. Over two days we cupped 32 coffees from all different regions of Ethiopia. After those initial tables, our scores were calculated and the top 15 samples were set up again. Our final cupping of these 15 lots then resulted in their ranking for the auction.

Cupping is really a language in and of itself - which is what makes it a powerful tool in our international supply chains. Tasting coffees with new people is fascinating because descriptors are a reflection of what sensory experiences you've been exposed to. While there were a lot of commonly agreed upon or frequently occurring notes in each sample (peach, pear, black cherry, winey, floral, cream) the group accrued quite a group of unique descriptors as well (tea rose, tequila, physalis, edamame, jelly beans).

SCR: And out of all of these 32 coffees, your selection for purchase was Ethiopia Idido. How would you describe its flavor profile, in your own words?

KK: First, I will say, all the coffees in the competition were beautiful, but I am particularly excited about the lot we picked up. As a natural process it is certainly fruit forward, but these notes are expressed as really fresh, tart fruit - like blackberries and strawberries - combined with creamy tropical flavors like banana. All of that fruit is elegantly layered in between classic aromatic floral elements of Ethiopian heirloom varieties - like bergamot and vanilla. There's a sweetness in the finish that keeps drawing you back for another sip.

SCR: And its producers, the Idido community - can you tell us more about them?

KK: They are smallholders in Yirgacheffe, and Trabocca gathered some great information for us on how this lot came to be:

"In 2018, the communities around Aricha were stirred up by the sudden visit of a man called Faysel A. Yonis, founder of Testi Coffee. Testi Coffee is an exporter and long-term partner of Trabocca. Faysel invited the town elders to talk about Testi’s decision to take over a neglected local washing station called Adorsi, and the relationship began. The smallholders of Idido have submitted their best coffee to the Adorsi washing station. There, Faysel and his co-workers of Testi and Adorsi have transformed the coffee into a beautiful natural Yirgacheffe, the same they submitted to The Ethiopian Cup.”

SCR: Today, Ethiopia Idido is being released out into the world - we’re so excited for people to try it. Do you remember the first time you tried Stumptown coffee?

KK: Growing up in Portland, Stumptown was everywhere. I do distinctly remember going to a cupping at the Annex on Belmont. A lot of people here say this, but Stumptown has always represented the pinnacle of coffee to me, in terms of quality and values. And I would be lying if I said I didn't dream of working here one day!

SCR: We are so lucky to have you, Katy. Thank you for putting such a high level of intention in to what you do for us and our greater coffee community.