Black tea, lemon, white peach, chamomille and cane sugar
- Process: Washed
- Varietal: Heirloom
- Region: Oromia/east Guji
- Producer(s): Nardos Smallholders
- Altitude: 1980
- Drying: Africa beds
In a traditional coffee producing country, major changes are afoot. In Ethiopia, an increasing number of young coffee producers are gaining a morale boost, with the easing of ECX regulation and the start of the Cup of Excellence. Among them is Biniyam Aklilu. We got to know Biniyam through the introduction of a Japanese roaster. Biniyam tailors processing methods in response to customers’ requests and creates original lots, we were told. Our interest was piqued by this flexibility, a trait not often seen among Ethiopian producers.
Now at 28 years old, Biniyam seems to have the potential to evolve in every possible way. We also felt his ambitions, as if he always had something more to desire. Above all, his samples were so high-quality that we were overcome with emotion. That is why we hoped to start a collaboration with Biniyam. It is this quality that brought him back to Ethiopia from the US. And it will be a milestone he seeks to surpass to reach a new height.
Nardos Coffee dates back to the 1960’s, when Biniyam’s great-grandfather started coffee production in Guji. Later on, his grandfather built a washing station there. That was the first ever privately-run washing station in the region. Then, in 1998, Biniyam’s father founded a coffee export company. In three generations, the family has pulled off this major undertaking, leaving an indelible mark on the history of Ethiopian coffee.
Today, Nardos Coffee runs nine washing stations and six dry mills in Guji, Yirgachefe, and Uraga, with a workforce of 115 permanent employees.
“Our greatest strength is that all our family members and relatives are coffee producers,” Biniyam says. “Every time I went to an Aklilu’s house as a child, there was a coffee farm. Having grown up in such an environment, I know everything about coffee. My great-grandfather had at least 15 children, and divided his plot for each child. So right now, the farm we are left with isn’t so large.”
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say Biniyam is one of the elite of Ethiopian coffee. But he went through various experiences before he took up his current managerial position. Biniyam was born in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. When he was nine, he moved to Guji, where he spent three years. With frequent visits to his family’s and relatives’ houses and to his father’s washing station, it didn’t take long before Biniyam fell in love with coffee.
“I grew up with coffee, so it was hard to become interested in jobs outside of coffee. In fact, I’d never thought about doing anything other than coffee production.”
After returning to Addis Ababa when he was 12, Biniyam moved to the United States during a summer break at the age of 16, and entered high school in the state of Virginia. He went on to start university in New York and studied marketing. His main purposes were to learn English and build relationships with his clients in the US.
“In every state, I had at least one client of my father’s company. Even in the US, my life was inseparable from coffee. When I told people in the US about my family business, I often received positive responses like, “I love coffee!” That was part of my motivation to keep working in coffee.”
Biniyam dropped out of university in 2013, when he was 20, and returned to Ethiopia.
“I thought I was able to succeed faster in Ethiopia than in the US.”
By leaving Ethiopia, Biniyam had a chance to revisit the value of being a coffee producer in the country, something he had taken for granted at home.
Upon returning home, Biniyam started helping out his father at his farms and washing stations. After a four- to five-month season of working as a cashier, Biniyam took charge of all four washing stations where he learned about processing. He went on to relocate to Addis Ababa, where he worked as marketing manager for one year. After another three years of handling export operations, Biniyam became manager at Nardos Coffee.
Now at 28 years old, he says his job is more fulfilling than he expected.
“When I was managing exports, I had chances to visit various countries and meet many coffee producers and buyers. Now, I have a deeper knowledge of coffee. And I realize that my father was right when he told me that once I became involved in coffee, I would never be able to leave it. My love for coffee only grows stronger, and all my attention is focused on coffee. It doesn’t matter whether business is profitable or not. I have such an immense passion, almost addiction, in my heart.”
Ethiopian coffee is deeply ingrained in Biniyam’s soul. It is never a matter of whether he likes it or not, but rather something of a destiny he is meant to live.
The processing method involves collecting coffees from farmers between the hours of 3pm and 8pm, whereupon the cherries undergo a rigorous inspection. The pulping process commences at 9-10pm, with machines that are able to differentiate between Gr 1, Gr 2, and gr 3/UG. Following this, the cherries are transferred to soaking/fermentation tanks for a period of 24-36 hours, depending on weather conditions. Once this step is completed, the cherries are washed again to remove any residual mucilage before being transferred to raised beds in the morning. To protect the beans from direct sunlight, the beds are covered between 12pm and 3pm, and stirred four times a day to ensure balanced drying. Once the beans reach a moisture level of around 11.5, they are moved to the warehouse for further processing. The Nardos processing station is equipped with a locally made machine called the Hagard, which is used to separate coffee based on density after pulping. Floaters are referred to as Undergrade (UG).