In the Autumn of 2022, I finally boarded my flight to Addis Ababa for my long-postponed visit to see our friend Ashenafi, and his team at Ardent Coffee in Ethiopia. This trip was originally planned and booked for March 2020 but, of course we all know what happened then…
My trip started with a detour via Arusha in northern Tanzania, to visit our friend and amazing coffee farmers, Michael and Christina Gehrken at his Blackburn Estate farm below Mount Oldeani (more on this visit in another blog post). After a few days in Tanzania, it was up to Ethiopia to join up with Ashenafi and the team, before heading with them to Bensa, in the Sidama Region.
We’ve known Ashenafi for many years through our relationship with pioneering producers and exporters Ninety Plus for whom he managed their groundbreaking Ethiopian program. 2020 was our first year directly sourcing from Ardent, from whom we selected washed, natural and carbonically macerated lots. Ashenafi is renowned for his experience and skill in sourcing, selecting and processing specialty coffees and for pushing the boundaries of flavour and sensory experience with his fruit forward cups. His Ardent Coffee Export business focuses on a portfolio of micro and nano lot coffees from across the famed coffee regions of Ethiopia, from Sidama to Guji and Yirgacheffe.
I was especially keen to make this trip - my first back to Ethiopia since 2011 - to visit Ardent’s new washing station at Bensa. Sidama is one of Ethiopia’s World-famous coffee origins and encompasses the Guji and Yirgacheffe regions. We have been sourcing coffee from Yirgacheffe farmers since the inception of Dark Woods and they are a mainstay of both our flagship espresso Under Milk Wood and a regular feature on our rotating Producer Series. The local growing conditions and the skill and dedication of the farmers when married to the talent and innovation of Ashenafi and the Ardent team produces amazing, clean, juicy and bright coffees that we feel represent the very best this amazing origin has to offer.
Bensa is about 450km from Addis; roughly an eight-hour drive. We broke the journey up by overnighting in Harwassa, on the shore of Lake Awasa (home to Haile Gebrselassie, Olympic Gold Medallist and owner of the main hotel in the town). Arriving in Bensa, the following morning we had just dodged some heavy downpours which left the unsurfaced roads muddy and challenging. Bensa is typical of many rural small towns in the region and is home to Ardent’s coffee growing and processing in the region.
A kilometre or so outside the main town, on a steep hillside, sits the new Ardent washing station. It’s an impressive site, sympathetically constructed along the contours of the hillside. When I visited - as you can see these photos - the station was about 80% complete, and the team were working hard to get everything ready to start receiving cherries from the upcoming harvest which was just a few weeks away. The washing station represents a major investment in the local community by Ardent, and a vote of confidence in, and a huge support for, the hundreds of local coffee farmers that supply it. As much as possible, Ashenafi has used local materials in the construction of the station, evidenced by row after row of drying tables crafted from locally sourced and sustainable bamboo.
The bulk of the coffee to go through the station will be in the traditional washed style – the mainstay of Ethiopian coffee output. However, Ashenafi and his team have also developed facilities to deliver their exceptional natural coffee processes – Ashenafi is a master of the art of anaerobic methods which he uses to produce top-quality, unusual and high-value micro lots. I can’t wait to return here in a year or two to see the station fully up and running.
However, coffee was not the sole important reason to visit Bensa with the Ardent Team. It’s also the location of the Ardent Children’s Centre, a safe and loving home for around thirty orphaned children from the town and surrounding area. The Children Centre is Located on the outskirts of Bensa, on a small plot of land with stunning views across the valley. In this caring environment the children are thriving, and getting the start in life that they need and deserve. Without the support of the Centre, many of these children would be moved away from the area to be housed by distant relatives or foster families. We are proud to be one of the primary supporters of the Children Centre and providing an annual grant to help continue their essential work.
From this trip, we picked out this exceptional “Pinnacle” nano-lot coffee from Ashenafi Argaw and his Ardent Coffee operation. It was sourced from in and around Dembi village in Bensa, Sidama and so named because he believes it represents the very best example of what the collaboration has to offer. The clean, ripe and sugar-rich cherries undergo a classic fermentation, carefully sun-dried on raised beds for around 18 days.
This coffee is available in a very limited run of numbered blue tins, and 500g compostable bags, purchase here.
Ethiopia Ardent - Sidama Pinnacle (Dembi)
Farm & Region: Smallholder Producers, Bensa & Damo, Sidama
Altitude:1950 - 2500m
Process: Sun-Dried Natural
Variety: Mixed Heirloom Arabica