The Ethiopian Commodity Exchange announced the implementation of a new consolidated coffee grading system will go into effect in the coming harvest season. The new system reduces the number of coffee grades from 10 to 6 and better aligns quality with market prices, according to ECX.
A technical committee, funded by USAID under the AGP-Agribusiness Market Development (AGP-AMDe) program and led by coffee experts, conducted extensive studies to assess the alignment of coffee contracts with export standards and international best practices. The study also looked at the consistency and efficiency of the overall grading process and protocols.
“Ethiopia is the center of origin for Arabica coffee and exports coffee based on specific geographical origin in which each has its own distinguishing physical and organoleptic character, and the ECX tradable coffee contracts classification was designed to reflect the country’s distinct coffee character and quality profile,” according to the ECX statement.
The ECX also outlined that the historical trend of coffee quality inspection and grading system in Ethiopia showed a significant transformation from use of simple graduating cylinder to measure the physical quality of coffee to a more advanced and sophisticated ways of qualitative and in-depth organoleptic evaluation to assess the quality of coffee.
Capacity in Quality Grading
Over the past three years, the ECX and USAID have made significant progress in upgrading the capacity of ECX’s coffee laboratories and coffee graders.
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. “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.
To complement the new laboratories, ECX and AGP-AMDe have funded the certification of over 70 new ECX and private Q-Graders, increasing the number of Q-Graders in Ethiopia to over 100. Q-Grader certification is the most demanding coffee grading standard in the world.
“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.”
Another step towards cupping sustainability is certifying Ethiopia’s first full-fledged Q-Grader Instructor, the ECX Quality Operations Manager, Mekonnen Haile-Michael. By the end of 2015, he is expected to be able to carry out independent Q-Grading training on a regular basis, and meet the demand for new cuppers.
“There is a common worldwide language in coffee quality, and Ethiopia is now speaking this language. SCAA certified labs give American buyers more confidence in ECX grading. If a buyer orders a Grade III, we deliver a Grade III. And with the traceability tags, the buyer can know even more.”