Ethiopia, Nano Challa
A place where the original Ethiopian landrace varieties grow, in the forests of Agaro and Gera, is a nice place to grow a coffee we affectionately refer to as Peach Blossom Melody.
There’s a beautiful village, about a 7 hour drive from the capital of Addis Ababa. If you decide you’d like to drive there, expect to spend the better part of a day weaving through goat herds, other villages, undulating mountain ridges, the expanse of the Ethiopian Rift Valley even reveals itself about halfway through. I remember the first time I did this drive, on the day of Timket. The drive that day was even longer, stretching for hundreds of kilometres, the village parades melting into each other, dozens of people dressed in white and carrying suede, colourful umbrellas turned upside down for offering money on this Orthodox Christmas day. The fact that my flight landed from Amsterdam at 6am and we immediately started the drive wasn’t a problem - I was too damn excited.
Nano Challa is a cooperative some of you might have heard of. They used to be part of the Oromia Union (A structure of cooperatives accessing export through an overarching union is mandated with the Ethiopian government). Nano Challa’s story actually goes back the mid 2000’s, when 25 farmers formed a cooperative to steward, produce, and sell coffee that represents the oldest and original landraces of the Arabica species. The cooperative was steadily growing through those first years, and then made a leap around 2009/2010 - They began working with Technoserve with the idea of producing washed, specialty coffee and accessing a more direct market of specialty coffee roasters.
I have an unabashed soft spot for this area of the country. Yeah, I know, Guji is spectacular - But Gera, Jimma, Agaro, and its neighbouring villages and neighbourhoods are wrapped up in coffee’s provenance. It will always be a special and crucial part of the coffee narrative. The good lots are as sweet as the complex floral honey harvested alongside it.
When you find yourself walking through the forests of Gera, Agaro, or anywhere in this area, the main difference is that this coffee is truly forest grown. Instead of cultivated varieties and tidy rows, its a beautiful mess of an ecosystem - The forest takes care of the coffee. Nobody is forcing anything - The coffee wants to grow here, and that is what it was meant to do. These days, it’s a much more delicate situation - The Ethiopian government is suggesting that if you are wanting to plant coffee, that you do so uphill. Way uphill. To the tune of 3000 meters (Nano Challa we’re looking at closer to 2000 meters). For now though, the forests here are still the place if you want to find, and work with the original landrace varieties.
The work that Nano Challa has done alongside Technoserve is a masterclass in hand up NGO work, and not hand out. To this day, the cooperatives in this area are punching above their weight in quality, and ability to market and export themselves, now under their self formed union - Keta Muduga.
With LÜNA’s small size, especially with the behemoth that is the Ethiopian coffee trade, we knew we had to choose our supply chain wisely in our first year. I can’t think of a better, and more apt person to buy our portion of lot #15 of Nano Challa from than Aleco at Red Fox Coffee Merchants. I’d like to think I know the folks at Keta Muduga well (and I do - I’ve spent many an hours long afternoon discussing strategy on Union formation with them over the last 5 years) but Aleco has a vantage point few on the planet do with regard to coffee production and trade in this area.
This lot of Nano Challa is Buttery & bright, segueing to peach blossom & sticky sweet honey. These delicate heirloom varieties are lovely … Peach Blossom Melody!