Ethiopia Bensa Shantawene
This year Onyx purchased both the washed and natural micro-lots from the Sidama, Bensa region. This coffee has a unique perfumed nature that is apparent upon grinding. A man named Getachew runs the Shantawene Mill, and by the extremely clean nature of the coffees, he runs a tight ship. This relationship coffee brings notoriety to the small mill and continues to promote the hardworking chain of specialty coffee.
About Washed Processed Coffees (courtesy of Onyx Coffee Lab):
The washed process begins with coffee cherries delivered to the washing station, both from the primary market or farmers bringing coffee directly to the mill. The cherries are inspected, and an initial quick round of hand sorting separates some of the defective coffees before placing them into the hopper. They then funnel to the disc pulper to remove the fruit from the seeds (beans). Once pulled, the coffee is fermented under water for approximately 36 hours, with the water drained and refreshed once in that cycle. Then, the parchment is emptied into the washing channels, where it is agitated with rakes. During this step, the water is refreshed twice. Once the washing is complete, the coffee undergoes the traditional “double wash,” where it rests in the soaking tank for another 12 hours, before being taken to the raised drying tables for sun drying.
- Roast: light
- Acidity: sparkling
- Body: silky
- Taste Notes: peach, cream soda, kiwi, silky honey
- Process: washed
- Origin: Sidama Region, Ethiopia
- Varietals: Mikicho, Setami, Heirloom
- Altitude: 2,100 masl
About The Sidama Region • Through the eyes of Emily McIntyre (Catalyst Coffee Importers)
One of the most-visited cities in Ethiopia is Awassa (or Hawassa), the capital of the SSNPR Region and a well-kept town full of resorts, restaurants, and lakeside celebrations. There are even a few stoplights! On the shores of Lake Awassa (one of the Great Rift Valley lakes), the town has blossomed lately and is one of our personal favorites in the world.
Sidama is much larger than Awassa, however, no matter how fun it is to watch hippos surface among the rushes. Driving a full day over increasingly rough roads to the town of Daye, through the well-known towns of Yirgalem and Aleta Wondo, you find yourself in a rugged and lovely countryside surrounded and sometimes chased by the smiling faces of the Sidama people.
Historically, they had many unique cultural attributes including a voluntary farm-sharing program and a butter-sharing program (the only legal item women could own was butter, so they would trade, share, and compound butter to aid women in need). Subjugation by the Abyssinian rule of Menelik II in 1898 was succeeded by the Communist regime in the early 1980's, and then eventually overthrown for the current leadership. Now, they continue to advocate for their rights as a unique culture to be observed (Note: calling the people group "Sidamo" is a derogatory practice begun by the invading troops of Menelik, hence our use of the term "Sidama")
As in many other areas of Ethiopia, subsistence farming is a way of life for the Sidama people, and in fact, their beautiful farms are notable for having more division between them (handmade fences of bamboo screens and other materials) and more evidence of year-round cultivation. Enset, or false banana (called "Weese" in Sidama) is the main food crop and is used in many applications, from water storage in case of drought, to feeding animals, to serving as mats to support food preparation. Other products grown in Sidama include wheat, oats, sugar cane, potatoes, and other vegetables. Every household plants food crops with trees, to the benefit of both--that is, until eucalyptus began to be planted in the area and spread its poisonous influence. The short-term economic potential of the eucalyptus threatens the long-term forestation and ecology of the area.
Livestock is also a significant mover in the economy, though that began to shift with a massive population explosion limiting pasture land and the "tse-tse" fly epidemic of the early 20th century. Goats and oxen are still seen everywhere, dotting the rolling hills and lazily being herded across the roads which, though paved in places, still have a haphazard air as if nobody really knows why they exist.
The Sidama people comprise roughly 20% of the overall population of Ethiopia and thus have many administrative needs which continue to be addressed. Coffee as a primary economic driver remains life-and-death important to the Sidama people, and to those of us who love the area and wish to continue supporting it, and them.