Experiencing Ethiopia through the Cup

Mike Mowry
February 12, 2012
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Mike Mowry, Coffee Quality Coordinator, and Beth Ann Caspersen, Quality Control Manager, are in Ethiopia for two weeks. Here Mike talks week one and gives us an overview of what's still to come for the two travelers.

Well, folks, Ethiopia has been quite an experience thus far. We've been in Addis Ababa for a week now, and have been running around to different cuppings, conferences, and spending our after-hours time catching up with old friends from the world of specialty coffee.

A lot of the work so far has been preparatory, leading up to several big events in the next week. The annual East African Taste of Harvest Competition, which Beth Ann has been invited to participate in through her work with the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI), has begun. As one of the first activities, Beth Ann participated in a cupping calibration with the other judges. A cupping calibration is a super important thing. All of the judges perform a preliminary cupping of different coffees to make sure that they are grading them in a similar manner, and that their scores don't vary too widely. From this they learn how to adapt their scores to better match the other participants. This is crucial to ensuring that the judges’ combined results actually reflect the overall qualities of the coffees in the competition. It is also a familiar exercise for us. We do this very same calibration work with our farmer partners from all around the world. Often, we bring them to Equal Exchange or Beth Ann visits them at source to do this work. Props to CQI. Just like our quality practices at Equal Exchange, they are very thorough in their processes, and we love that.

Upcoming this week, Beth Ann will be performing one of her last apprenticeship requirements to become a licensed Q Instructor. This is a major accomplishment in the professional coffee world, and it's not everyone who gets this far. It takes years of work in specialty coffee, honing your understanding of coffee quality and cupping, and a darn good ability to train and instruct other coffee graders from all over the world. For more information on Q Grading, and CQI, check them out here: http://www.coffeeinstitute.org/

This week is also a big one for me. I'll be representing Equal Exchange, and joining several other cuppers and buyers from the specialty coffee world, in what's being called a Cupping Caravan. Our travels will take us south from Addis Ababa into several of Ethiopia's major coffee growing areas: Yirgachefe and the Sidama Zone, where much of our Ethiopian coffees are sourced (like the naturally processed coffee in our Organic Ethiopian Full City). We'll be heading to Awassa, Yirga Alem, Aleta Wondo, Amaro, and Dila to cup coffees available from the recent harvest. We then return back to Addis Ababa at the end of the week for a final re-cupping of all the samples from the caravan. I'm super excited to taste the harvest, and really looking forward to visiting some of the communities we source from in Ethiopia.

I'll be sure to post some photos for you readers out there, so you can get a glimpse into where our wonderful Ethiopian coffees are grown and processed.

Follow Mike's Ethiopia travels on Twitter @EqExintheCup. Look for the #Mowry hashtag.