The Return of Gesha Village.
There are few coffee projects in the world that are as special as Gesha Village. Rachel and Adam Overton had a vision: they would move to the Gesha area in Ethiopia in search of the wild growing coffee varieties that are the ancestors of the Geisha variety that rose to fame at Hacienda La Esmeralda in Panama. These plants were identified by their physical characteristics, cherries were picked, and seedlings were cultivated from the wild growing fruit.
This type of variety cultivation is extremely rare, and expensive. Gesha Village is also that — a village, in an extremely remote part of western Ethiopia. When Adam and Rachel decided to build out the coffee farm, they made sure that they properly integrated the new project into the community.
Framing Gesha Village in the greater discussion of the coffee price crisis, continuing Ruby's exploration of the subject this year, becomes more difficult. Though Rachel had grown up in Ethiopia, Adam and Rachel had been building a successful film production company in LA and originally were visiting Ethiopia working on a film project for the Ethiopian government around coffee.
Gesha Village was started with a few advantages that many farmers do not. While having better access to funds is a major help to building an ideal farm, one of the biggest advantages a coffee farm can have is access to the specialty coffee buyer's market. Just being on the radar of coffee buyer's can instantly triple the amount paid to a farmer for their crop: that's the disparity between commercial coffee pricing and specialty coffee pricing. While many farmers produce coffee quality worthy of higher specialty premiums, that quality doesn't mean much if there isn't a buyer lined up to pay those premiums.
Using their skillset in photography, filmmaking, and marketing, Adam and Rachel were able to immediately connect their remote, ambitious project to the coffee market. This means they were immediately able to generate interest in their auctions, which makes them able to pay high wages to their workers, build new processing areas on the farm, and participate in community projects. This year, Gesha Village is building a high school for their community. Currently, the closest high school is 70 kilometers away, forcing most students to move to that area if they're able to attend high school. Gesha Village immediately pledged $35,000 to this project this year, and will be contributing more based on their next harvest, as well.
This coffee is expensive, but so is their project. There's an incredible amount of risk in planting the seeds of fruits from wild coffee plants, and that also means that Gesha Village had to operate for five years while their seedlings developed into trees that could produce fruit. Because of this risk, they also planted a few plots of heirloom Ethiopian varieties that had been catalogued by the national seed back. The coffee that Ruby continuously returns to is from the Dimma lot on the farm, which is composed of a variety that was originally discovered in the Illubabor Forest in 1974. Coffee varieties grow wild in Ethiopia, continuously crossbreeding into healthy, diverse genetic stock but every so often, unique varieties are cataloged for their cup quality, disease resistance, or quantity of production.
The business model for Gesha Village isn't a plan most coffee farms can follow, and on a basic level, isn't a realistic operational plan. At the same time, Gesha Village is setting new standards for how employees can be paid, how communities can be engaged, and how quality in processing can be detailed. While most coffee farms couldn't replicate all of these conditions as a way to fight against the coffee price crisis, many can take to heart parts of Gesha Village's example and expand on how they could be integrated into their own farms.
It's important to think of this coffee as a special coffee: not many coffees come close to how beautifully delicate coffees from Gesha Village are. It's also important to think of this coffee a special coffee: not many coffee farms can undertake these types of financial risks and bold choices: and that level of innovation should be appreciated for being unique.
You can read the full info sheet here.
Kenya Fram Estate.
Coffee farming in Kenya is almost always based around small coffee gardens near people's residences, where cherries are picked and then delivered to the shared coffee mill.
Fram Estate is a small collection of six coffee plots, representing a large farmscape for Kenya, but a small farm by standards in Central or South America. Fram has their own wet mill on site, and processes coffee with the intention of developing the best coffee in the area.
Like what we've seen with Cerro La Cruz in Costa Rica and other coffee projects, establishing your own means of processing gives farmers better control over the quality they want to develop. While many farmers don't have the access to the capital needed to build processing set ups, many are able to slowly develop their personal wet mills with the premiums they receive from specialty coffee buyers if they're able to make connections to a buyer early.
In this case, the wet mill was part of the family's estate for generations, when the farm was founded on the idea that quantity and commercial coffee were the best way to establish a successful farm. Now that James has inherited the farm, he's been capitalizing on taking advantage of his family's wet mill and producing amazing coffee. When his samples showed up on the cupping table, our import contacts at Shared Source knew they had to find James to establish a relationship for a consistent partnership, and ended up driving around for hours trying to find his farm. We're grateful that they found this coffee, and we look forward to partnering with James and Fram Estate next year too!
Read the entire info sheet here.