One of our favorite coffees in the GOAT STORY specialty coffee line-up comes from the Guji region in Ethiopia. A region that had its share of problems and disasters is now transformed into a superb specialty coffee region. And there is one man that contributed a lot to its revival - Ato Tesfaye Bekele of Suke Quto farm.
When we were sampling coffees to include in our roaster line-up we came across a cupping of Ethiopian coffees where one coffee completely blew our mind. The coffee came from the Suke Quto farm and it quickly became one of our favorite coffees. We include this coffee in our Cold Brew Kit as it is the best coffee for cold brew we have ever tasted and now we are offering it in whole beans to enjoy it as an exciting filter coffee or a daring espresso.
Ato Tesfaye Bekele is one of the people that put Guji specialty coffee on the map. While the Guji zone was dominated by cattle farmers, he sought new ways to make coffee popular in Guji. “I don’t consider myself to be a coffee farmer, because coffee is everything to me. All my time and energy are placed into the beans that I harvest and process.” Tesfaye Bekele, the founder of Suke Quto Farm, explains.
“I come from a coffee-producing family, so during my childhood, I started to work with coffee early on”, Tesfaye continues, “At first, coffee did not have my interest. The labor was hard, and the days were long. But after several years of study and other work I returned to my home in the Shakisso woreda, Guji. I found myself in coffee again”.
The bushfires of Guji
Tesfaye started to work in Natural Resource and Environmental Protection for the government of Ethiopia. He was responsible for the Guji and Borena zone. At that time, Guji and Borena were one administrative zone. From 1997 to 1999 Guji was terrorized by large bushfires that destroyed 5000 forest acres. A true crisis for the Guji people that often remained clueless about the cause of the fires. Tesfaye had the grand responsibility to rebuild and find new ways to conserve the area.
“After the fires, locals returned to the lands to change these in agricultural fields. They started to produce teff and maize, for instance.” Tesfaye, as a responsible government official, realized that he could not stop people from returning to these deforested lands to rebuild their livelihoods. He needed to give people an alternative. “I came with the idea to replant the forests and also add coffee trees to enhance diversity. The local community agreed to my proposal and they asked me to provide the coffee seedlings.”
Tesfaye becomes a coffee farmer
Tesfaye distributed large amounts of coffee seedlings among the community. He rented a big truck and started to divide this evenly. “People started to ask me how long it would take before this crop starts to yield cherries. I answered, ‘four to five years’, they gave the seedlings back to me after hearing this”. Disappointed by the lack of faith among his community, Tesfaye reserved a piece of land. Upon this small plot, he started a coffee seedling nursery with government money. Tesfaye wanted to prove that his idea to preserve Guji’s forest was the best alternative for the Guji people.
Tesfaye appointed several managers to overlook his nurturing ground, but all found the job not appealing because of years without tangible results. He could not find eager people, so he resigned from his job and became a coffee farmer. After his first harvest, the community, that first rejected the idea, returned to Tesfaye. “First, they run away, but later they came back and asked me to provide coffee seedlings. I am very proud of this idea because all the farms you see today in Guji are inspired by the Suke Quto Farm.”
The Suke Quto Farm
Suke Quto Farm is stretched out over the high lands and valleys of the Odo Shakisso woreda. The volcanic soil found on the farm is very fertile. Tesfaye keeps the soil in shape by organic recycling through litterfall, root residue from coffee and shade trees. Suke Quto coffees are all Organic and Rainforest Alliance certified.
Tesfaye works together with 171 outgrowers that deliver cherries to the Suke Quto Washing and Drying Station. Besides partnering up with outgrowers, he owns another 221 hectares in the highlands of Guji. More than 200 seasonal workers are needed to pick and process the Suke coffees.
Suke Quto Washing Station
At the Suke Quto Washing Station, the washed coffees are pulped with an Agared machine. This is a pulper that has no mucilage remover. The coffee beans are fermented for about 35-48 hours (depending on the current weather) in fermentation tanks. There are three lagoons to store the wastewater. Suke’s natural coffees are dried between 9 and 15 days on elevated beds.
Tesfaye focusses on environmentally friendly coffee and on the economic growth of the community. In other words, people should get a living income from sustainable coffee production. Tesfaye also initiated a community project that aims to renew local schools. With a handful of dedicated coffee roasters, Tesfaye has built a new school building in the neighboring village Kurume.
Together with Haile Gebre, from Shakisso Farm, Tesfaye is one of the innovative forces that shaped the success of Guji coffee.
*Trabocca and Tesfaye
In 2009, Tesfaye sent Trabocca samples. After cupping his coffee, they contacted Tesfaye to inform him that the quality was disappointing. Tesfaye did not believe this. He took the next flight and delivered another sample in person. The coffee was outstanding. It turned out that the first sample was not even from Suke Quto Farm. After this confusing but memorable start, Trabocca have worked together closely to upgrade the quality of Suke Quto coffee.
At GOAT STORY we choose to source this coffee through Trabocca, because they pay for the farm’s organic certification and grant premiums to the Suke Quto Farm if quality standards are met. “Trabocca is our main buyer,” Tesfaye explains, “We sell our coffee to them every year and they are distributing it throughout the world. Trabocca is very serious about quality control and brought us to the level at which we are now, where we are very proud of our product.”
*We source this coffee through Trabocca