Haile Gebre

Aug 16, 2019

Haile Gebre is a legend in specialty coffee. He began growing coffee in the fifties and has expanded his business into a global powerhouse, recognized in many circles as some of the cleanest, sweetest coffee on the planet. Haile has since handed the reins over to his seven daughters, who will continue to manage the family business.

"Let us grow together" is one of his core principles, both in coffee and within his greater community. In the 14 years that we've been purchasing this coffee, Haile's leadership in the Shakisso area has helped this growing region gain recognition as an origin for high quality.

Haile is featured in our film Wax & Gold. What follows is an expanded version of what you’ll hear in the film, as told to director Britton Caillouette.

Haile Gebre: Coffee is drunk in Ethiopia three times a day, at least. Coffee has four main meanings to Ethiopians. First, when they boil coffee in the morning, they pray to God.

Second, coffee is the base of culture, practiced in Tigray, Amhara, Oromo, Somali, Gurage, Kembata and every place in Ethiopia. In the past, there was no TV, no radio, so coffee was the major communication medium. In the morning, neighbors met to say good morning and to pass on the news during coffee time. How their family was, their village was, how the country was; all information was discussed over coffee. In the same manner, evening coffee was for information collecting. Those that went to the market or far away from home, when they come back with information about the weather, whether there was drought, where the cattle were, how the wind moved, all that information came with the evening coffee ceremony. Now, in our culture, when you invite a guest to your house for the first time, you say it’s to have coffee. After that, you invite someone to lunch or dinner.

Third, coffee is drunk in different ways. Everything about coffee is drinkable, even the chaff. If you go to the Harar area, they dry the leaf and drink it with milk, and they take it early in the morning as breakfast. If you go to Gambela and Bale and other areas, it’s the chaff that has more value than the beans; they roast it and they brew it and put it in milk. If you come to the highlands of Guji and Arsi and Jimma, they have “buna kala,” which means roasting coffee to eat. They roast and eat it in the morning, for breakfast. And in most rural areas, coffee is drunk in the evening. People that have come back from the market meet over coffee to talk about things that happened that day.

Lastly, coffee has created job openings for many people. For the culture of Ethiopia, coffee is everything. Not only an important part of business, but a major part of culture. That is why Ethiopians like to sit every five minutes, collect themselves, chat, and have a cup of coffee.

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Coffee has a lot of different origin stories. The name for coffee is ‘buna’ in Amharic, Oromiffa, Sidamigna. The people that introduced coffee to the world outside were Arab merchants, which is where Arabica came from. Coffee was in different parts of Ethiopia, and it had a lot of variety. Only a small part of it has come out to the world; there is still a greater variety of coffee in forests. But no one can dispute the fact that Ethiopia is the mother and father of coffee.

When you come to my farm, you feel that you are in the jungle of East Africa, not in an agricultural area. Because I don’t want to destroy the ecosystem of my father, my grandfather. If I destroyed the ecosystem that I inherited from my father, I would not pass it down to my son, my grandson, and the world would change. We are based off of the rainforest and a balanced ecosystem. It’s important to us to grow together.

The lives of us rural folks is communal. Every morning, we have breakfast together. We eat from the same dish, one dish - not separate dishes. All of our family takes breakfast from a common plate. That’s the basis of this value; let us grow together. Now I have 380 outgrowers working with me, trying to uphold that value in an economic way. Let us have a common dish.

My blood is inside your blood. Because this is the origin of human beings. Since we are the origin of this world, Ethiopia is the blood of all; the genes of all. That’s what I want to tell you, because you look like an Ethiopian, he looks like an Ethiopian, every one of you; that’s the genes of Ethiopia inside of you.