Small Batch on the road

How We Buy In Ethiopia

1 With the release of Guji Sidamo, our second Ethiopian coffee of the year this seems a good time to reflect on my trip to Ethiopia last year and the two varying ways that we buy coffee in Ethiopia. The way we source coffee has evolved significantly over the last eight years and as our volumes increase, our sourcing and buying procedures are becoming more specific to each origin we work in. Central America, our primary buying region, is relatively straightforward; our importers help us find and finance the coffee, a local exporter receives the coffee from the producers and prepares it for export, it is trucked to a relatively close Atlantic port and then shipped to the UK, landing a few months after harvest. In truth it is rarely this straightforward, there are always issues unique to each coffee, but the basic chain of events is pretty simple. The supply chain in Africa tends to be a little more complicated, and especially so in Ethiopia. I travelled there last November with one of our importers, Falcon Coffees, to learn more about how exactly we purchase coffee from Ethiopia and why the model there is so different to other origins. After landing in Addis Ababa fresh from an overnight flight the first place we visited in the city was the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange or ECX. The ECX is where all commodities in Ethiopia are traded and is where the vast majority of Ethiopian coffee is bought and sold. The Exchange is set up as a traditional trading floor; digital signs display the lots being traded and coming up, clocks show the time in various cities and the current market prices tick by. Each session begins with a bell and men in green jackets enter the floor and sell warehouse receipts relating to certain lots of coffees to men in khaki jackets representing Addis based exporters. The sellers offer a price and offer up their hands for a high five and, when a buyer agrees, he completes the high five and the deal. 2 So what exactly are they selling? Whose coffee is represented by those warehouse receipts? To answer these questions we need to take a brief look back at the supply chain that brings coffee to the ECX floor. Most coffee in Ethiopia (and indeed Africa as a whole) is grown by smallholder farmers. These are typically family farms with a few hectares of land under coffee but no processing facilities of their own. Because they do not produce enough volume to have their own wet mills, smallholders either become members of a co-operative or Farmers Union or sell their harvested cherries to private washing stations in their area. We will look at the co-operative model in a moment but it is these cherries that are sold to the private washing stations that find their way to the ECX. These private mills process cherries by either the washed or natural method and deliver them to the ECX warehouse in their region where they are graded by quality and designated by processing and region (For example,‘Sidamo Grade 1 Washed’ ‘Djimma Grade 4 Commercial Unwashed’ etc.). The coffees are graded based on the quality of the green coffee and cup profile, with specialty grade coffees receiving a second more detailed sensory assessment. You can view the full list of regions, grades and criteria on the ECX website here. It is purely by region and grade that coffees are bought and sold on the ECX floor. We visited the exchange with Mike Mammo owner of Addis Exporter, a specialty exporter who handles Falcon’s ECX coffees. Mike explained that as buyers they are legally not allowed to know the exact provenance of the coffees they are buying and they are not able to taste or physically examine the coffees either, they are simply buying, for example, a 30 bag lot of ‘Yirgacheffe A 1 Washed Specialty’. This bears repeating, the buyer cannot see the coffee, taste the coffee or know where it comes from. They are simply buying a graded commodity at that day’s market price. This makes sense in the environment of a commodity exchange like the ECX but goes against everything we normally work towards in our sourcing models. Created in April 2008 the ECX was Africa’s first commodity exchange, designed with the goal of developing “an efficient, modern trading system” to protect the rights of “buyers, sellers, intermediaries and the general public”. The fundamental tenets of this were to bring producers and buyers together, provide an independent grading system and ensure financial propriety, essentially making sure farmers got paid in good time (the ECX is now a ‘T+1’ exchange, the only one in Africa, which means all payments are made one day after the trade). [caption id="attachment_1957" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Cherry Delivery at Bokasso Cherry Delivery at Bokasso[/caption] Prior to 2008 coffees were sold in an auction system whereby the private washing stations could sell specific lots from their mills (and even from individual producers) with full traceability and provenance information to the highest bidder. From the perspective of a specialty buyer this seems a more desirable system and indeed the ECX has removed the opportunity for traceability and the development of relationships between producers and roasters. However the supporters of the ECX state that under this old system there was often no path to market for producers, no guarantee on quality and grading for buyers and no rules on payment. A commoditised market like the ECX may not be our ideal sourcing system but it provides a steady stream of quality coffee out of the country and a guaranteed and protected path to market for producers. Some positives have arisen as well. All ECX licensed exporters (ie the buyers) must be Ethiopian nationals ensuring profits stay within the country, there is little risk to the end user (roasters) buying through the exchange as the quality of green coffee and cup profile are strictly regulated and finally the standardising and transparency of prices means the smallholder farmers know what their coffee is selling for and what their cherries are currently worth even in the most rural areas. [caption id="attachment_1959" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Downtown Yirgacheffe Downtown Yirgacheffe[/caption] After leaving Addis we headed south to the famous coffee region of Sidamo and its iconic town Yirgacheffe where we visited several coffee co-operatives including Fero, Belle Kare, Idido and Bokasso all with efficient, modern wet mills, healthy looking cherries and high quality washed and natural coffees. The Co-operatives and Farmers Unions provide a much more familiar path to market for us but have their own problems with volume and availability. Co-operatives work quite similarly to the private washing stations that supply the ECX with two key exceptions. Firstly, the smallholder farmers who deliver cherries are members of the co-operative and as well as being paid for the cherry they deliver they receive a second payment at the end of the harvest in the form of a profit dividend based on the total amount of cherry they delivered that year. Secondly, instead of being sold through the ECX co-operative coffees are sold through one of six regional Farmers Unions that are funded by the co-operatives. The Unions sell the coffee directly to exporters and are allowed to operate outside of the ECX. [caption id="attachment_1960" align="aligncenter" width="500"]A farmers receipt from Fero Farmers Co-operative. These are issued daily after the farmers cherry delivery has been weighed, the co-op and the member both keep copies. A farmers receipt from Fero Farmers Co-operative. These are issued daily after the farmers cherry delivery has been weighed, the co-op and the member both keep copies.[/caption] We loved the Co-ops we visited and were gladly shown detailed financial and payroll records, prices paid, social programmes, dividends and training for the members. This is the kind of open sourcing model we like but nearly all of the coffee we saw was already sold. The out-put of an individual co-op is small and in a competitive specialty market, with lots of roasters and importers seeking these high quality, traceable Ethiopian coffee availability is a real issue. Once bought, receiving co-op coffees in a workable time frame has been a challenge in the past. The exporting can be less efficient than through the ECX and at peak harvest time can often become log jammed especially as one single union, the Oromia Coffee Farmers Union, handles over 50% of all co-operative coffees and so comes under a huge strain every harvest season. [caption id="attachment_1961" align="aligncenter" width="600"]The head members of Belekara co-operative in Yirgacheffe The head members of Belekara co-operative in Yirgacheffe[/caption] The two coffees we have featured so far this year, Nano Challa and Guji Sidamo, are great examples of these two buying models and are both exceptional coffees. The Guji was purchased through the ECX, all we know about it is that it comes from somewhere in the Guji region of Sidamo, is Specialty Grade Q1, fully washed and delivered to the ECX warehouse in Hawassa. I cupped this coffee alongside about 10 other very similar lots and picked this one based purely on the cup profile. It’s delicious. Nano Challa on the other hand we know a lot about. It is a co-operative of around 400 farmer members created in 2010 with the help of Technoserve- a NGO that have done a lot of work in African coffee communities- and is based near the town of Agaro in western Ethiopia close to Djimma and on the edge of the ancient Gera forest. I also picked this coffee out of a lot of samples on the cupping table as it is delicious. The difference of course is that we can hopefully buy again from Nano Challa next year, maybe go visit them and start to build a relationship that could become mutually beneficial for many years. We have no idea whereabouts in Guji the 50 bags we bought this year came from and while we could buy another 50 bags of Q1 Guji Sidamo next year they will not be from the same producers and will not taste the same. [caption id="attachment_1962" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Idido Co-operative, YirgacheffeIdido Co-operative, Yirgacheffe[/caption] This is getting pretty long ,so to recap: The ECX offers guaranteed quality, good availability and the quickest shipping of coffees out of this land-locked East African country. On the downside we have zero traceability and cannot build direct and on-going relationships with producers. The co-operatives are more similar to our existing sourcing models, providing full traceability and high quality coffees from producers that we can potentially work with year after year after year. This is certainly the model we would like to pursue in the future but due to the relative lack of availability this will inevitably take time to pursue and develop. Despite its flaws the ECX has been a power for some advancement in Ethiopian coffee, it has improved the path to market for many producers (especially those that are producing coffee below the specialty level,) and offers us a base on which to evolve our Ethiopian sourcing model. This is by no means an exhaustive and conclusive assessment of the Ethiopian coffee industry. I have spent one week in the country and we buy a comparatively tiny amount of Ethiopian coffee. I just wanted to share in depth some of the complications that go into making Ethiopia such a unique sourcing market and try to explain why we buy as we do currently and what we hope to do in the future. Al


Customer spotlight

Customer Spotlight: Porthminster Cafe

It wouldn’t take much persuasion to get us down to St. Ives for a holiday, yet Porthminster Café (who have served Small Batch Coffee since 2011) provides the stunning Porthminster beach with even more appeal. Sitting snugly beneath the slopes of Porthminster Point and with uninterrupted views across the turquoise waters to Godrevy Lighthouse, this seafood restaurant makes us feel a little bit jealous that our own views aren’t quite as idyllic.


News from the shops

Mel Evans Portraits

throwback final edit The keen eyed amongst you may have noticed a new label adorning our Throwback Espresso bags recently. The lovely artwork was done by the equally lovely Mel Evans, barista at our Norfolk Square café and a talented portrait artist. mel6 Mel specialises in figurative works and takes her inspiration from unusual and contrasting light and in capturing feel and emotion through a single look or expression. She has exhibited in Cardiff, London and Brighton and organises group exhibitions under the name Eine Frieda Vintage Ausstellung. mel2 Although Mel specialises in portraits, we asked her to work on an interpretation of traditional biological drawings of coffee cherries and trees for the Throwback label and we love the result! We have a number of talented artists working for us in various roles and we hope to be able to do more of these collaborative labels over the next few months. mel4 We will be hanging Mel’s original work in Norfolk Square and she is currently taking commissions for portraits. If you are interested then check out her work on her Facebook Page and get in touch on melevans24@yahoo.co.uk mel3

Customer spotlight

Customer Spotlight: Tom’s Freshly Made Sandwiches

After featuring our newest customer last week it seems only fitting this week to talk about our longest standing wholesale relationship, Tom’s Freshly Made Sandwiches of Palmeira Square in Hove.
We met Tom way back in 2008 when we were still roasting our coffee over in Portslade and Tom’s was still a building site. Tom bought the first espresso machine we ever sold, a 2 group Gaggia that is still going strong, and was the first start up business we supplied with beans and coffee training.
Almost eight years later Tom’s is a fixture of central Hove and Tom has become a close friend. We’ve shared many a beer, attended his wedding and eaten lots and lots and lots of his delicious sandwiches (turkey, coleslaw and swiss cheese is the pick of the menu, trust me).
If you work in Hove I’m sure you know Tom’s and have almost certainly had many a tasty and nutritious lunch from the man and his team. Alongside the eponymous sandwiches they do a great line in salad boxes, soups, breakfasts, cakes and of course coffee. We can’t thank Tom enough for taking a punt on us when we were just starting out and it’s really cool to see both businesses still going strong eight years on.
Here’s to the next eight….. Tom’s Freshly Made Sandwiches 65 Western Road, Hove, BN3 2JQ 01273 748155 Twitter: @tomssandwiches Facebook

News from the shops

Dawson Denim

If you’ve been in a Small Batch over the last couple of years, seen us at a trade show or been to several other quality coffee shops such Bold Street Coffee in Liverpool, Bulldog Edition in Shoreditch or Mrs Athas in Leeds, you will of noticed the beautiful British made denim aprons from Kelly and Scott at Dawson Denim.
Early in 2013 I was trawling the internet looking for high quality aprons for our shops when I stumbled across Dawson Denim. When I learned they were locals from Brighton everything fell into place. Soon enough Joe and I had some lovely full length work aprons for our roasting work while the staff at the brand new Norfolk Square shop had crisp new ‘prons to launch the shop with.
Husband and wife team Scott and Kelly have been working with denim for the past fifteen years and started Dawson Denim just over two years ago with the simple goal of producing high quality workwear from selvedge denim that is built to last. After going from strength to strength they have recently moved into a new workshop that Nick and I went to check out this week.
All of the sewing and hemming machines the guys use are vintage Union Special machines from the 50’s and 60’s that have been sourced and restored by themselves. The denim is all Red Line selvedge denim bought directly from Japan in huge (very heavy) rolls. Everything is cut by hand and stitched, hemmed and finished by Kelly and Scott on the beautiful old machines.
It’s pretty inspiring to see this level of craftsmanship going into the work and it is a pleasure to be able to use such high quality products on a daily basis. These aprons are built for the long haul; the denim ages beautifully and uniquely to each product and Kelly and Scott are always more than happy to fix up any wear and tear. They say, “the ideal of being built to last has long been forgotten but we are proud to offer a durability guarantee”. In today’s throwaway culture it is refreshing to work with producers that are committed to long-term quality and after sales service and the guys tap into a lot of the ideals we try to operate our business by.
Kelly and Scott are so nice they have given us one of their Mechanic aprons (RRP £95!) to give away to one of our lucky readers. To be in with a chance of winning just answer this simple question:
Which country do Dawson Denim import their selvage denim from? email your answer to competition@smallbatchcoffee.co.uk Competition closes Friday 13th (!) February Terms and conditions at the bottom of this blog post
We are really proud to be working with Dawson Denim another home grown Brighton company focusing on quality and service and cannot recommend them highly enough. Check them out at www.dawsondenim.com and @dawsondenim on Twitter and Instagram. You can also find stockists of their wonderful products here.

Competition Terms and Conditions Please read these competition rules carefully. If you enter one of our competitions, we will assume that you have read these rules and that you agree to them. 1. To enter a competition you must be: (a) UK resident; and (b) 18 years old or over at the time of entry. 2. Competitions are not open to employees (or members of their immediate families) of Small Batch Coffee 3. No purchase necessary. 4. Only one entry per person. 5. If you want to enter a competition you may enter via the website on the applicable competition page, or you can also send your answer, detailing which competition you wish to enter, together with your name, address and e-mail address by e-mail to: competition@smallbatchcoffee.co.uk 6. Sending an e-mail is not proof that we have received your entry. No responsibility can be accepted for entries that are lost or delayed, or which are not received for any reason. 7. The closing date is as specified in each competition, and Small Batch reserves the right to amend the competition end date at any time. 8. If you win a competition, we will notify you by email, or social media if you entered the competition on a social media platform, within 48 working hours of the closing date. if you do not respond within 48 hours of being notified, you will forfeit your prize and Small Batch reserves the right to choose another winner. The judges’ decision will be final, and no correspondence will be entered into. 9. By entering the competition the winner agrees to participate in such promotional activity and material as Macmillan may require. 10. The prize is not exchangeable for cash or any other prize 11. Incorrectly completed entries will be disqualified. 12. Small Batch reserves the right to amend these rules at any time. Small Batch may also create rules which will apply to a specific competition only. If we do this we will publish the amended competition rules and/or specific competition rules on the relevant competition page. 13. Never forget where you're coming from

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