When coffee connoisseur Paul Verbunt travels through Ethiopia’s coffee regions, he keeps in mind that many coffee drinkers worldwide want coffee with a good ‘aftertaste’. “Real coffee lovers are prepared to pay a little extra for ‘good coffee’ for which the farmer has received a fair price.”
Coffee farmers all over East Africa are struggling. Last year small coffee farmers in Ethiopia sold their product – coffee cherries – for about 40 cents a kilo. This year, the coffee prices at the New York Stock Exchange have plummeted; as a result of this, farmers get only 20 cents for the same coffee cherries. Says Paul Verbunt, a coffee expert of the Mocca d’Or coffee roasting company in The Netherlands: “I find it very hard to explain this to the coffee farmers I visit in Kenya and Ethiopia.”
Single origin, single estate
Verbunt travels to Africa six to eight times a year, to meet farmers and ‘prospects’ for new products. His company is one of the few that refuse to rely solely on the coffee offered by traders in Hamburg and Antwerp. “If you want a premium product, you will have to go look for it yourself in the countries of origin. The best coffee products from single origin (one region, f.i. Sidamo Ethiopia) or single estates (one coffee plantation) can only be found by going deep into ‘coffee country’.”
According to Paul Verbunt, 20% of the total coffee production comes from large, well-organized coffee plantations. The remaining 80% comes from small farmers that have only 1 or 2 hectares of land. Half of these small farmers is organised in cooperatives, the other half is totally dependent on the regional dealers who buy the coffee cherries – and on the official world coffee price. “I actively support fair trade solutions. Like many roasters we at Mocca d'Or offer a fair trade concept ('Earth Coffee'). The premium on the commercial selling price of this coffee is spent on projects in African coffee regions, for schools and training projects for coffee farmers.”
To Verbunt, ‘fair trade’ initiatives are laudable concepts from which a community benefits. “The small farmer does not benefit. We like to focus on the alternative: buying special coffees with a special taste and flavour and with an identity that the growing number of real coffee will appreciate. Coffee that will fetch a better price in European stores and allows for a generous reward for small East African coffee farmers.” The ‘new coffee consumer’ (owners of a espresso machine that is ‘fed’ with unique coffee beans) is thrilled to discover new tastes and is willing to pay the premium.
Verbunt, who has a background in the wine business, describes Africa’s premium coffees in words similar to those used by wine connoisseurs. Sharing his thoughts on the qualities of Ethiopian coffee: “Pure coffee, rather fruity, with high acidity. Some coffees from the Ethiopian region of Jimma have a round, more powerful taste. My favourite? No doubt: Beletta Forest, bought directly from Nezif Ababya, from Jimma, West Ethiopia. This Beletta Forest has everything I want from coffee: a rich, fruity and spicy taste.”