Tarja Västilä

Responsible, Fruity Coffee Produced in Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s only female coffee farmer, miller and exporter,  Asnakech Thomas, has made her dream come true. Her passion for great quality and responsibly produced coffee shows on her Amaro Gayo farm and she is able to contribute to the sustainable development of her home region.

It’s time for the day’s first cup of coffee in the Amaro district of Southern Ethiopia. The coal-roasted beans are freshly ground, and the coffee is served from a slender Ethiopian pot. Friends and neighbours have got together to enjoy strong, dark-roast coffee from small cups. A pinch of salt brings out the flavours very nicely.

According to coffee producer Asnakech Thomas, locals here have coffee three times a day, enjoying a total of around 15 cups. Having coffee is a social event and a good opportunity to catch up with each other and even do a bit of gossiping. A leisurely break refreshes the body and mind during a day’s work on the farm.

Passion for great coffee

Asnakech has grown coffee on her farm for about a decade. She says she’s proud of being able to live in the area where she grew up and use her land for coffee production. Asnakech lived several years in the UK where she also studied agriculture before returning to her homeland of Ethiopia. 

She works with a group of around 4,000 co-operating coffee farmers from the local area whose livelihood is a matter of honour for her. She’s developed her own pricing system thanks to which farming is more profitable for the participating farmers and they are able to save some of their income in the bank accounts each of them has after Asnakech persuaded the bank to open a branch in the region.

Good quality coffee also contributes to better incomes. This means the farmers can afford to invest in their farms and develop their community.

Asnakesh Thomas visited in Kulma

In addition to the Amaro district, coffee is also cultivated in Western and Eastern Ethiopia. Coffee farming is an important livelihood. There are millions of small farms in Ethiopia, from which the green beans are mainly sold via the national coffee exchange. This makes it very challenging to trace the coffee.

Asnakech has been able to register Amaro Gayo as a trademark in Europe and in the US, and she also holds an export licence, making traceable Amaro brand coffee available in the market.

Organic and developing coffee production

At the Amaro farm coffee has been produced organically from the very beginning. According to Asnakech, given that Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, and since they’ve managed to farm for 3,000 years without chemical fertilizers, they’ll be able to do so in the future as well. She applies good agricultural practices and processing methods on which she also provides training for co-operating farmers.

Coffee trees grow at the altitude of 1,200−1,800 metres. The harvesting period is from October to February. The farm produces an annual total of around 600 bags or around 36,000 kg of green coffee.

Landscape of southern Ethiopia

Asnakech also funds research into the arabica coffee varieties in the Amaro region. As a first phase result of this research, 58 new varieties of arabica were found in the region that had never been registered before. Research work and its practical implementation is important for reasons such as climate change. Safeguarding the Ethiopian coffee varieties is vital for the future of the coffee sector at large.

Rich flavours created in coffee in the sun

According to Asnakech, only hand-picked red coffee cherries will guarantee quality. During the harvesting season it’s important not to rush but to only pick cherries that are ripe. After processing coffee is placed on raised drying beds in the sun. This helps keep them clean as there’s no contact with the ground.

The flavour of Amaro coffee is also affected by the biodiversity of the local area with its forests and fruit farms. Its flavour profile is described as luxurious and acidic and with a fruity aftertaste. There are also notes of blackberry, blueberry, citrus and jasmine in the flavour layers. The full-bodied structure gives a chocolatey mouthfeel.

Wellbeing and eco-tourism

Traditional ethiopian coffee pot

Asnakech is a significant developer of the local community. She’s dreaming about setting up a women and children's hospital in a remote area of Amaro where distances to care providers are long. In the male-dominated field of farming, she also acts as a personal example and employer of women.

Her other dream is to do with eco-tourism: Asnakech hopes to see tourists visit Amaro to see organic coffee production. During the harvesting season she also offers visitors the opportunity to pick their own coffee straight from the tree.