Ethiopian coffee beans are being shunned by boutique U.S. roasters and
retailers because the rules of the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange make
it impossible to know where most of the nation’s beans are grown.
Bloomberg’s Jon Bascom reports.
Because coffee is such an important crop, the government wants almost
all of Ethiopia’s traded on its commodity exchange, which would have
neither the volume nor the clout to thrive if coffee were excluded.
The sensitivities of boutique Western buyers are less of a concern,
though Eleni Gabre-Madhin, chief executive officer of the exchange,
says she warned Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the country’s leader for
the past 20 years, that “people are going to be screaming about this.”
The passage of what’s known as the Coffee Law bolstered the ECX’s
influence by requiring that most coffee sales go through it or a
government-approved cooperative. The law gave the exchange authority
to grade all Ethiopian coffee by quality and trade it accordingly. In
the process it curbed foreigners’ access to hundreds of small stations
that had been processing coffee cherries.
These stations had sold to buyers from abroad who once roamed the
countryside, acquiring knowledge of their products so intimate that
“it added a considerable amount of value to the coffee,” says
Intelligentsia’s Watts. Now under the exchange system “there’s a lot
of mixing going on.” At that point, “traceability“ — the ability to
guarantee that certain beans came from one farm — is lost, he says.
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