Ethiopia Bale Mountain


Region: West Arsi, Oromina
Altitude: 1,950 to 2,200 m.a.s.l.
Variety: heirloom
Process: natural
Tasting Notes:  forest fruits, honeysuckle, complex

This is the second year in a row we’ve had the pleasure of offering coffee from Bale Mountain Farm, which is very remote and difficult to reach, about 2,000 m.a.s.l. in the southeastern Ethiopian Highlands. This year’s coffee has a tea-like body with floral aromas of lemongrass and honeysuckle, as well as blueberry and raspberry.

We’ve roasted this bean on a lighter profile, meaning that we’re putting less coffee in the roaster and doing a shorter, but slightly hotter roast. This approach preserves the nuances of flavour from the natural acids in the coffee, while developing the sugars just enough to taste the bean’s inherent sweetness.

Bale Mountain Farm is unique in the Ethiopian market because the farm, processing facilities, export and import companies are all fully or partially owned by a single person: Israel Degfa. Usually Ethiopian coffee lots are mixtures of beans from several smallholder farmers, blended at a central washing station often owned by a cooperative or association. The processed beans are then sold to an exporter, who sells them on to an importer, who then sells them to a roaster like Steampunk.

One benefit of a vertically integrated supply chain is better communication and value distribution for all players in the chain. Degfa having full control of this coffee from the farm up until import means that a lot more of the money earned is reaching its origin and being reinvested locally. Some of the projects that this coffee helps make possible are a coffee plant nursery and free distribution of coffee seedlings. Investment also goes toward social enterprises like school building, local road construction, and financial support for the community during the off-season.

When we asked Bruna Costa, who helped import this coffee and has a farming and export family background, why a vertically integrated supply chain is a positive she said, “Coming from a producer/exporter background I always hoped that one day origin professionals would be able to work in a closer relationship with small and medium roasters. While being an exporter I would really struggle to deal with importers in the middle that didn’t really relate to what I was doing but were just buying and selling coffee for the sake of it.”

Steampunk has been looking closely at how we buy coffee, where the profits go, and how to function in a more ethical way in a fundamentally unfair economic structure. There is a lot of healthy debate in the specialty coffee industry about buying models and ethical supply chains. We’re still learning and just beginning to understand the issues at play, but we’re of the mind that to ignore the problem is to be complicit in it. So, we’ll continue to ask questions and evolve how we buy the coffee we serve to our customers.

If you’re interested in knowing more about where this coffee comes from look on Instagram for the importer, Kamba Coffee (@kambacoffee) and the producer Israel Degfa (@degfai); look on Twitter for the exporter, Kerchershe (@kerchanshe).

Ludwika (roaster) and Cath (Steampunk's founder) were fortunate enough to travel to Ethiopia in January 2019. That is where we first tasted Bale Mountain, on a cupping table on the trip, and we also met Bruna from Kamba Coffee from where our relationship with them began. We also met Israel Degfa and visited a couple of washing stations and his dry mill as well as visiting some smallholders in the Oromia region, near to Bale Mountain. We talk about this in our recent podcast - please join us.

Are you storing your coffee correctly? Find out how to keep your beans in tip top condition with our blog post How to Store Coffee.

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