Nano Challa Cooperative
Process beautiful heirloom coffee in coffee's birthplace
Partnered with Stumptown:
This co-op, which is now 350 farmers and growing, has a tremendous mix of languages, tribes, cultures and religions. Last time we were there, the members of the Ethiopian Orthodox church were fasting, but were more than happy to hang out for a feast with the rest of the crew. As our relationship grows, more and more farmers are joining and coming together — and the outcome is beautiful.
Large tracts of pristine forests shade tall, spindly wild coffee trees. This is where coffee was born, and this is where it is meant to grow. The forest systems there almost produce coffee on their own — which means that it’s more a matter of collecting rather than growing coffee. The members of the cooperative don’t have to fertilize, they don’t have to water, they don’t have to prune — the coffee wants to grow. All they need to do is look after it.
Nano Challa does something we wish all coffee producers would do. When it’s time to dry the coffee, rather than just sticking it out in the sun (fast and easy), they take the time to slowly dry the beans in the shade. It’s a more gentle way of treating the coffee that strengthens and heightens the flavors. It’s a time consuming process — it takes days, with dozens of people carefully turning and sorting the beans — but it’s worth it for what is some of the most delicious Ethiopian coffee available in the world.
Twenty-five farmers formed Nano Challa Cooperative in 2004. It quickly grew to 256 members, with Wondimu Bekele acting as Chairman and Hailu Woldehb as the Industry Manager. The cooperative members span a diverse blend of peoples from different parts of Ethiopia. During the 1980’s, many Ethiopians from the more densely populated, arid parts of the country were relocated to the fertile highlands in the west like the Gera District.
Upon visiting Nano Challa in 2010, Stumptown’s Coffee Sourcing Team immediately noticed the quality of their harvest and the active improvements to their processing operation. Nano Challa represents an immaculately clean, washed processed version of what could be some of the oldest Arabica strains in the world.
While many coffee farmers in Ethiopia now plant coffee varieties recommended by local research centers, the farmers of the Nano Challa Cooperative have stayed close to traditional planting methods. Their coffee consists of an unknown number of indigenous varieties, brought from the forest and culled over generations. In addition to coffee, the Gera forest is also known for honey production. “Both coffee and honey production require us to manage our forest resources closely,” explains a local leader. “If people cannot support themselves and the forest at the same time, then the trees will be the first to suffer. We are proud that our forests have given us a gift to share with the world.”
In 2010, Nano Challa purchased a wet mill with a Penagos 500 depulping machine and produced washed coffee for the first time. Their parchment is soaked overnight, washed and then sun dried on raised beds. In just one year, Nano Challa Cooperative repaid their loans with the high premiums they received for their coffee. They now own their wet mill assets outright. This success continues to bring more area farmers to the cooperative.
Soon after, Nano Challa developed a reserve fund using the premiums paid in previous years. Nano Challa and Stumptown discussed issues, such as irregular electricity and transportation, and potential options for future infrastructure improvement projects.
We joyfully remain the exclusive coffee purveyor of the Nano Challa Co-op, who increased their membership to 357 members In 2014. Midway through the harvest, the co-op installed their second Penagos demucilager which increased their capacity. To this day, they remain free of long term debt due to the high premiums they receive for their coffee.