The future of coffee grading in Ethiopia is in one man’s hands.
Mekonnen Haile Michael is Ethiopia’s first Q Certification Lead Instructor, certified and capable to lead Q Certification courses for future Ethiopian cuppers. Mekonnen works as Quality Operations Manager at the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange—ECX.
The historical achievement came in December 2015 when dozens of students were trained by the Coffee Quality Institute. Over 50 graders from the private and public sector are currently working towards becoming a licensed Q Grader or renewing their certification, and one instructor has reached the level of Assistant Instructor.
Mekonnen started out as a Q Grader five years ago, became an Assistant Instructor last year and gained the necessary practical experience working side-by-side with CQI instructors to become Lead Instructor.
“There is a common worldwide language in coffee quality, and Ethiopia is now speaking this language,” explains Mekonnen.
“We have seen good cupping skills in Ethiopia compared to other developing nations, here the graders are very highly skilled,” says Mario Fernandez, Coffee Quality Institute’s Technical Director. “The main challenges for cupping in Ethiopia is keeping Q-Grader licenses valid and in good standing every three years and creating the new generation of cuppers to sustainably carry it into the future.”
Mekonnen will play a key role in the latter and has already organized the next Q Grader courses in February 2016.
Over the last three years, the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange and the AGP-Agribusiness Market Development Program have funded the certification of over 70 new ECX and private Q Graders, and increased the number of Q Graders in Ethiopia to over 100. Q-Grader certification is the most demanding coffee grading standard in the world.
Q Certification Training is an intensive review of the cupping and grading protocols required of a Licensed Q Arabica Grader combined with a comprehensive evaluation of an individual’s ability to consistently cup and grade green coffee.
The course combines training and testing to reinforce the student’s understanding of the Q Arabica Grading process while measuring their ability to evaluate coffee according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America standards.
In addition to grading and cupping, ECX and the USAID-funded program have made significant progress in upgrading the capacity of ECX’s coffee laboratories. AGP-AMDe funded the renovation of modern coffee cupping laboratories in Addis Ababa, Jimma, Hawassa and Dilla. At each lab, the program provided grinding and roasting machines, moisture testing equipment, all used specifically for grading coffee at ECX delivery centers. The improvements put ECX on the path to certification from the Specialty Coffee Association of America, and the Addis Ababa lab became Africa’s first SCAA-certified coffee grading lab.
“SCAA lab certification is not only about the right machines, but everything from the lighting to the curtains must be perfect,” says Rahel Mahlet, the Hawassa ECX Branch Head. “We have achieved that and with our growing number of Q-graders our team is more prepared than ever.” The Hawassa delivery center receives over 50,000 MT of coffee for grading each year, or 25% of the country’s coffee.
“Consistency is critical to the sustainability of Ethiopia’s coffee sector. Improved capacity in grading and cupping have already improved the overall reputation of Ethiopian coffee. Today, when a buyer orders a Grade III, we deliver a Grade III,” says Mekonnen.