Go south, deep into the green hills of Ethiopia. Past Yirgacheffe. Past Sidama and into the red roads that draw you into the Guji Zone. Keep on going until you reach the densely forested, mountainous Uraga District where narrow dirt roadways are few and navigation is, well, shall we say, “challenging?” This is about as far south as coffee grows in Ethiopia, but it is more than worth the endless bouncing hours and challenging infrastructure.
The Uraga district offers up some of the highest elevations throughout Ethiopia, with coffees that are dense in structure, loaded with fruits and sweetness. These high elevations and dense cell structures mean slower ripening times, which translate to simply gorgeous coffees. Many of the trees in this area are younger, having been introduced through the JARC (Jimma Agricultural Research Center) for particular cup quality in these microclimates. These varieties are identified by the numerical designations - 74110 and 74112. Other coffee varieties are numerous throughout these growing areas and are predominantly Ethiopian heirloom varieties along with what are sometimes referred to as “Landrace,” a term for naturally adapted local varieties.
The Producers: Like in most of Ethiopia, growers in the Uraga district are smallholders, aka “garden farmers,” so called because most of them are producing coffee in the “garden” areas around their homes, and often harvesting cherries from coffee occurring naturally on the land where they live. Farm sizes tend to be between .5 to 2 hectares in size on average, though occasionally can reach upwards of 10 hectares. The average yearly yield in green coffee from the smaller farms is around 2 to 4 bags.
Thanks to a 2017 change in legislation which the founders of Catalyst Trade, Michael, Emily, and Zelalem, had the privilege of influencing through a case study about export company exposure to risk, private washing stations such as Lecho Torka have more options than simply selling their coffees at the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX). Instead, they can work with invested importers like Catalyst Trade, working together on harvesting and processing protocols, and critically observing a coffee’s lifespan from farm to export preparation. This approach empowers a better distribution of equity amongst all stakeholders and long-term sustainability on all sides.
The washing station: Lecho Torka washing station is named for the nearby village as well as for the Lecho Torka forest, one of several that make up this mountainous segment of the Guji Zone. This ideal environment with its rich soils and coffee-loving microclimate coupled with meticulous processing makes these coffees stand out on any cupping table year after year. Since its construction in 2016, 453 small holder farmers from the surrounding area bring their ripe cherries to Lecho Torka washing station.