Buku Hambela, Ethiopia
Buku Hambela, Ethiopia
Buku has a rich and ripe sweetness, reminiscent of strawberry and milk chocolate, underpinning the aromatic top notes of bergamot and black tea.
During our trip to Ethiopia in February, we cupped several tables of excellent coffees from this year’s harvest at SNAP’s headquarters in Addis Ababa.
This natural lot was processed at SNAP Coffee’s washing station in the town of Buku Abel, located in the Hambela area of Guji. During our trip to Ethiopia in February, we cupped several tables of excellent coffees from this year’s harvest at SNAP’s headquarters in Addis Ababa. Coffee for this lot was delivered by smallholders surrounding the village, before undergoing natural processing with SNAP’s meticulous team. The dry and hot conditions during harvest allow for careful and consistent control of natural drying, covering the drying beds with tarps during the most intense hours of sun to protect from damage and slow the drying. Coffee is turned often, and hand sorted at several stages during processing to ensure cleanliness.
This creates a very clean and rich expression in the cup, with more clarity than we find in traditional Ethiopian naturals. In the case of Buku, this creates a rich and ripe sweetness, reminiscent of strawberry and milk chocolate, underpinning the aromatic top notes of bergamot and black tea.
In Ethiopia, coffee still grows semi-wild, and in some cases completely wild. Apart from some regions of neighbouring South Sudan, Ethiopia is the only country in which coffee is found growing in this way, due to its status as the genetic birthplace of arabica coffee. This means in many regions, small producers still harvest cherries from wild coffee trees growing in high altitude humid forests, especially around Ethiopia’s famous Great Rift Valley.
There are three categories of forest coffee growing in Ethiopia, Forest Coffee (FC), Semi-Forest Coffee (SFC), and Forest Garden Coffee (FGC), with each having an increasing amount of intervention from coffee producers. Forest coffee makes up a total of approximately 60% of Ethiopia’s yearly output, so this is a hugely important method of production, and part of what makes Ethiopian coffee so unique.
Throughout all of these systems, a much higher level of biodiversity is maintained than in modern coffee production in most of the rest of the world. This is partly due to the forest system, and partly down to the genetic diversity of the coffee plants themselves. There are thousands of so far uncategorised ‘heirloom’ varieties growing in Ethiopia; all descended from wild cross pollination between species derived from the original Arabica trees. This biodiversity leads to hardier coffee plants, which don’t need to be artificially fertilised. This means that 95% of coffee production in Ethiopia is organic, although most small farmers and mills can’t afford to pay for certification, so can’t label their coffee as such. The absence of monoculture in the Ethiopian coffee lands also means plants are much less susceptible to the decimating effects of diseases such as leaf rust that have ripped through other producing countries.