Karo Mariam is a coffee that defies expectation. While most countries consider coffee grown at 1,600 to 1,740 m.a.s.l. relatively high, in Ethiopia that is actually consider low. This is because coffees in Ethiopia can often be found at over 2,000 m.a.s.l., and a handful of coffees grow in staggering elevations of 2,300- 2,400 m.a.s.l. This means that when tasters are looking for complex and bright coffees, the moderate elevations found around the community of Karo Mariam in Illubabor, would not be the first place to look. However, coffees from Karo Mariam show that this region and micro-climate are unique, and capable of producing exceptional quality. This is a coffee that makes one reconsider what you think you know about Ethiopian coffee.
The Karo Mariam cooperative started forming in 2005, and is comprised of farmers from the kebeles (villages) of Abu, Laca Aba Bona, and Karo Mariam. These farmers joined the cooperative to pull their collective resources together and market their coffee better. Farmers at the time, didn't have the infrastructure or training to produce higher grades of coffee here, and in the early 2000's were getting only around 30-50 cents per pound (equivalent) for their exportable green coffee.
After starting as an organization in 2005 and becoming a cooperative, Karo Mariam was a part of a coffee project in 2010 funded by an NGO named TechnoServe. TechnoServe started by holding training sessions on farming and quality coffee production to create a better market for cooperatives. After the success of those early sessions, TechnoServe funded the building of washing stations for dozens of cooperatives in Jimma, Gera, and Illubabor in Western Ethiopia. Among those cooperatives was Karo Mariam. These washing station were a revolution for this area, and gave cooperatives the ability to sell washed grade 1 coffee, instead of the historically low quality and low price fetching Grade 4 or 5.
Since 2010, many of the TechnoServe funded washing stations have become some of the most well respected and famous organizations in the country for the quality of their coffee. Most of these famous cooperatives are located just west of the town of Agaro and in the region of Gera. The cooperatives in these areas, like, Nano Challa, Duromina, and Yukro have particularly become well known and sought after- but few other sites that originally were under the TechnoServe project the last decade have reached their success. Karo Mariam, which is over 200km to the northwest of this area, however shows that it is not just this small pocket of coffee cooperatives that can produce exceptional coffee, but rather there is a lot of potential in many of the areas of Western of Ethiopia that should be explored more.
Thoughtfully designed ....
The washing stations built by TechnoServe were designed to be as environmentally sustainable as possible. Primarily, TechnoServe built these sites with eco-pulpers (de-mucilagers) and systems that utilized substantially less water than older washing stations in Ethiopia. The small amount of water that is used in processing goes through filtration done by vetiver grass and then goes into a specifically design holding area where the water evaporates more quickly than other designed systems. This system as a whole limits the post process-water seepage and runoff and limits the impact on streams and rivers nearby.
Jasmine, Lemon, Stone Fruit
A bright citrus acidity is first thing that hits the your taste buds, but then tapers into sweeter more complex fruit notes accompanied by saturated floral note. The fruit notes range from a sweet lemon and orange that combined with apricot, peach, and a light plum note to fill out the profile of this complex cup.
The Karo Mariam cooperative utilizes a *Penagos de-mucilager for producing their washed coffee. The ripe cherries are pulped and immediately go through the de-mucilaging chamber on the Penagos, which pushes the coffee through a metal grate that removes all but a tiny amount of the mucilage coating. After this step, the coffee is soaked overnight in clean water to dissolve any remaining mucilage and improve cup quality. After soaking, the coffee is dried on raised beds for 10-14 days depending on weather.
*Penagos, and other machines often called eco-pulpers or de-mucilagers, are designed to take off the mucilage of the coffee using a limited amount of water - but they still use some water. Most of the water savings from eco-pulpers comes from not putting the coffee through a washing channel used in traditional processing in Ethiopia.
Bilo Nopha - Illubabor
Bilo Nopha (often written Bilo Nopa or Noppa) is one of the woredas (districts) of Illubabor. Illubabor is part of the larger region of Oromia in the southwestern part of the Ethiopia, which is a little over 100km east from the border with South Sudan. Illubabor is also sandwiched between the well known coffee regions; Jimma, Keffa, and East & West Welega.
The history of coffee in this area is dates back well over a century, but it wasn't until the early 1900's that coffee as a cash crop for trade was promoted heavily by one of the governors of Illubabor. When production increases and trade began - the city of Gore became a major coffee trading market in Illubabor with smaller markets also being held in the Illubabor cities of Noppa, Metu, Bure, and Hurumu.
Today, coffee is still a major crop in these parts of Illubabor , and often grown with very good and diverse shade canopy in Semi-Forest or small garden plots arounds farmers houses. Farmers in this area own around 1.5 hectares of land on average, and in addition to growing coffee, most farmers grow a few other crops for their own consumption.