TASTING NOTES: black currant jam, blackberry soda, candied
lavender, grape hyacinth, juniper berry, sugar plum tea, white
Name of Site/Village: Banti Nenga
Name of Kebele: Dimtu
Name of District: Hambela Wamena
Name of Zone: Guji
Name of Region: Oromia
Site Elevation: 2100 MASL
Owner: Aklilu Kassa & Biniam Aklilu Kassa
Assistant Manager: Elias Mijo
Mechanic: Balcha Loga & Bisrat G/Medhin
Personel: 8 full time employees and 180 seasonal
Coffee Varieties: Guji, Typica, Heirloom
Soil Type: Red brown soil
Certifications: NOP and JAS Organic Certified, C.A.F.E. Practices
Local people group name: Banti Nenga
Local languages(s): Oromifa
The washing station:
"There was no road when I built my first washing station," says Aklilu Biniam, while
sipping a traditionally-prepared Ethiopian macchiato at our flower-flanked table in an
Addis Ababa hotel. To his right sits Biniam, his eldest son, a mid-twenties youngster
who works harder than most men dream of, and who lights up with joy when he gets the
chance to talk about the projects in Guji, where his family originates, and about his
shared plans with his father for their export company and washing stations. Somewhere
off to the left his glorious youngest, Beka, plays tag with our daughter Eire. Both
occasionally run up to their parents for sips of soda or a handful of kolo, roasted barley
Aklilu is a fourth-generation coffee professional in Ethiopia for whom coffee isn't
just an afterthought. His grandfather received a grant of 500 hectares in Guji decades
ago, during the reign of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie. Eight wives and countless
children resulted in that land being split, and split again down family lines. Aklilu's father
made history in Guji by founding the very first privately-owned washing station in the
area, after years working as a cherry collections agent. This first washing station was
established in 1995 (1987 by the Ethiopian calendar) and went by the name of Kassa
Chirressa. Aklilu, then 28, went to work for his father, who still operates the mill.
"At that time, Guji, along with Yirgacheffe, Kochere, and dozens of other now-
distinct district, was known as Sidama coffee," remembers Aklilu. "All my brothers and
sisters worked at the washing station with me." Every year new challenges appeared
with metronomic regularity: without roads, the workers had to resort to transporting
coffee on the backs of mules. Over 4-5 years, the siblings and the staff at Kassa
Chirressa and Aklilu's first washing station, Hegar Mariam, physically brought rocks
from various parts of Guji to build their own road, and eventually were able to bring
trucks in to the remote washing stations to transport the cherries to ECX warehouses
without risking the coffee's integrity. As an intriguing aside, Hegar Mariam is 300 rough-
and-tumble kilometers from Kenya's northern border.
A strong and handsome gentleman, Aklilu carries an air of confidence with him
everywhere he goes. It's a confidence earned by taking risks and by dint of hard work
and endless sacrifice, coupled with creativity. Biniam, who studied business in the
United States and has put in long hours away from social media and the lure of city life
in Guji overseeing several washing station experiments, has the same glow.
The Guji Zone of Southern Ethiopia pushes up against the lush zones of Sidama
and West Arsi to the north, to the Bale Zone in the east, and to the famous Gedeo Zone
to the West. Given their closeness, Guji and Gedeo Zones share many crossover
characteristics in coffee processing and production, resulting in similar bright, sparkly
coffees with heavy floral notes and an overall delicacy. Oromiffa is spoken in West Guji,
with a fair sprinkling of Gedeo. Both are Semitic languages like most of the 82 tribal
tongues spoken around Ethiopia.
As in the Gedeo Zone, coffees in Guji are grown under shade trees that include
enset (false banana), wanza (an indigenous African tree that grows near water sources
and is used for fuel, tools, and furniture, with its leaves being used to fertilize crops),
bamboo, and avocado.
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