Just when the road can’t get any worse, a small bottle-shaped sign nearly hidden in the greenery tells us it’s getting narrower. As we lurch over grey and rusty gravel we can look to our right, over scrubby greenery, scrawny cows, and round huts, and see spread below us the majestic green valley of Torre. And then, we enter the field, a broad expanse full of acacia trees, bright green grass, and tiny bushes like bonsai trees, dotted with colorful figures of people staring, carrying burdens, herding goats, all under the benevolent gaze of Lato Samalo mountain. Muddy tire tracks cross the field in several wavy ribbons. Children shout in astonished joy, "Ferengi! Ferengi!" (Foreigner!) and run alongside the vehicles, bare feet pumping against the green green grass.
Zodi is the operations manager at Pride Mill, a man with vast experience working in Sidama for decades in coffee processing.
Pick up a drying cherry hull, warm from the sun, and crunch it between your teeth. In another part of the world, you'd call this eating cascara. Either way, beautiful flavors like cranberry and citrus flood your mouth and you've just had a mind-blowing experience.
An experiment we have implemented this year is floating tanks for red cherries, which allows the lower-density coffees to rise to the surface and get skimmed off. This is a practice used in other countries but very rarely in Ethiopia; we are doing this for every specialty lot. The results are stunning: defects are reduced drastically and overall cupping results are higher.
One cultural motif that appears everywhere—as insidious as frankincense in the wind–is the coffee, or buna, ceremony. Here in the land where coffee was discovered growing wild many centuries ago the ritual of preparing coffee has reached a fine point.
The position of mechanic holds a lot of weight in Ethiopian coffee mills: Teriku oversees all processing, as well as the maintenance that keeps the cherries pulping when it can take weeks to get a spare part.
It's impossible to underestimate the importance of every person who stands for hours in the hot sun to pick through natural-processed coffees for defects and unripe or damaged cherries. Often the leader of a group will burst into song honoring God and enjoying the day, and in a call-and-response the others will follow.
Guard at Pride Mill, Assefa is no slouch when it comes to coffee knowledge too. He personally took Michael around and shared with him the local names for each coffee variety accepted at Pride Mill. He always looks sharp, often wearing a tie to work. Pretty impressive considering the lack of amenities in the area!
Every truckload of coffee that leaves Pride Mill has Tesfaye's signature attached to it. As financial manager of Pride Mill, Tesfaye regularly travels to the central ECX warehouse to oversee Pride Mill's coffee transport, as well as to Addis Ababa.
Every moment in Ethiopia is served with coffee, and visiting Pride Mill is no different. Traditional sini cups hold the thick, vibrant brew: since the coffee is pulled from the drying tables, it's much better than the average cup of buna made with UG (undergrade) coffee. Couple that with the fresh air and warm smiles around you and it's a momentous coffee experience, for sure.
Innovation starts with a big idea, and then a shared vision. Next comes the nitty-gritty: how can we do this? Whether it's new techniques for sorting or brainstorming cherry acquisition or experimental honey microlots, it takes the kind of partnership that is willing to stand in the sun and work the problems through together.
Assistant manager of Pride Mill, Desale is full of life and well-respected by the workers. He speaks Amharic, Gedeo, Orominha, and some English and excels at making sure initiatives are carried out. Alemu is the documentation manager for Pride Mill, making sure that every batch of cherries that's received is traced appropriately and entered into accounting correctly.