In Ethiopia’s southwestern highlands, the birthplace of Arabica coffee, a centuries-old drying process has withstood the test of time. Called the dry, or natural, method, the ancient technique uses the intense rays of the sun to dry whole coffee cherries. The result—reflected in Nespresso’s Master Origin Ethiopia—is an aromatic coffee infused with layers of sweetness, ripe fruit flavors, floral notes, and an incomparable coffee heritage.
“When you drink Ethiopian coffee, it’s as if you are taking a sip of history because the process has been repeated and perfected for centuries,” says National Geographic photographer Rena Effendi, who traveled to Sidama, Ethiopia’s prime coffee-producing region, to experience the area’s deeply ingrained coffee culture.
On her visit with Sidama coffee farmer Bekele Erango and his family, Rena was able to observe firsthand how agronomists of the Nespresso’s AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program are working with growers to ensure a consistent supply of high-quality Ethiopian coffee by blending the region’s ancient traditions with modern agricultural techniques.
“In Ethiopia, people treasure their coffee as part of life,” she adds. “Every morning, families conduct a coffee ceremony, an ancient ritual of roasting, grinding, brewing, and serving coffee—coffee that has been grown the same way for generations.”
The signature aspect of the Ethiopian “craft” is the dry method, an ingenious workaround to the region’s inconsistent water supply. In most coffee-producing countries, fresh-picked Arabica coffee cherries are washed and de-pulped (a mechanical process removing the mucilage, or flesh of the fruit) before drying. While some Ethiopian farmers use that process, the country is best known for drying as the first step after harvesting. Traditionally, many Ethiopian farmers spread out the fresh-picked, whole cherries on mats in the sun for four weeks, painstakingly turning the cherries by hand at regular intervals to ensure the coffee dries evenly.
This process has drawbacks. Since the Ethiopian dry method can allow ground moisture to seep into the cherries (potentially altering the distinctive flavor and causing contamination), raised bamboo beds now replace the mats. In addition to keeping the coffee off the ground and away from moisture, the elevated platforms enhance air flow, ensuring the cherries dry more evenly.
While making this relatively small change can produce better results in terms of consistent quality, Sidama farmers needed convincing to alter an ages-old practice. “It took seeing it for the farmers to believe it,” says Rena, referring to the greater yields of better-quality cherries produced on demonstration platforms. “It started with one farmer who was more amenable to change, then other farmers began participating when they saw the results.”
The AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program supported this innovation by building long-term relationships with growers and advising them on best agricultural practices, such as pruning old trees to spark new growth, creating natural compost for fertilization, and providing mulch to protect trees and soil. The result is healthier trees yielding higher-quality coffee cherries for the new drying process.
Overall, farms that implemented the AAA program produced more high-quality coffee meeting Nespresso’s standards for aroma and taste. The extra profit has helped some Sidama farmers send their children to school, build homes, and invest in their farms.
For a region where coffee and culture have been inextricably linked for centuries, says Rena, innovation and improvement promise farmers that their coffee traditions will continue for generations.
She adds, “The coffee culture in Sidama has always been deeply ingrained in life. What’s different now, farmer Bekele Erango told me, is that once he adopted Nespresso AAA program practices, productivity dramatically increased. His hope now is that his children can see the benefits and see a future in coffee farming.”