Israel Degfa grew up immersed in various aspects of the coffee industry as his father was a mill manager and his mum sold coffee to commuters in the local bus station. Because he grew up in a coffee producing area, he shows great respect for the farmers, both as business partners and as people. As coffee farms go, Ana Sora is a very new farm: it was only formed in 2013. Coffee trees take an average 2-3 years to produce a crop of cherries that's big enough to sell, so we started buying soon after it first went on the market. It's located at a whopping altitude of between 1,900 and 2,350 metres above sea level. It's a gorgeous but somewhat tiring walk to get there.
His Ana Sora estate is located in the Guji Zone in the South of Ethiopia, due East of the town of Yirgacheffe. It’s western neighbour is Uraga and to the East is Adola - both places where Israel owns mills as well. Broadly speaking there are 5 primary coffee producing regions in Ethiopia; Sidamo, Limu, Yirgacheffe (a subsection of Sidamo), Harrar, and Djima – each presenting characteristic flavour profiles. Guji coffees have historically been sold as Sidamo coffees, but today they are thought of as separate and are being more properly marketed as such. The local area is known for coffees with bright acidity and juicy, fruity flavours, often with a tea-like body. It is unusual to find private farms of 250 hectares in Ethiopia (the norm being smallholder gardens of less than 2 hectares each) and even more unusual to find them at such high altitudes. Ethiopian coffee farms are high in general compared to other producing countries (mostly between 1,700 - 2,100 masl) but Ana Sora is on the higher side still, reaching as high as 2,350 masl. The altitude helps with the slower maturation of the coffee cherry, with temperatures averaging between 16-19ºC allowing more time for the plant to develop, which contributes to the super unique cup profile.
Coffee growing is popular locally, and Israel also sources coffee from the surrounding area. Each washing station has around 1000-2000 members, each with one of the small home coffee plots typical of Ethiopia, producing very small quantities. The area is populated by smallholder farmers who speak Oromife and are of Oromo ethnicity. In his role as CEO of producing and exporting company Kerchanshe, Israel believes in helping these farmers through education in husbandry, and also through financial assistance. Their passion for fine coffee is coupled with consistent reinvestment not only in improved infrastructure, technology and processes, but Kerchanshe also invests 10% of its annual profits into social responsibility programs such as building schools and providing clean water to the communities it serves. Israel has already built schools in Adola and Kercha and is currently constructing schools in Gelana Gesha and Kilenso Mokonesa.
Israel also owns the Sharo washing station which is located near to the town of Bule Hora, which is in the Sidamo region and a bit south of Yirgacheffe town.
Sharo is a washing station that collects coffee cherries from local smallholders and processes them. As you'll have seen if you've had the Ana Sora coffee for the last few years, Israel is very focused on continually improving.
He's constantly improving the setup at the washing stations, and he keeps pushing to improve consistency and attention to detail in all the coffee production. That's especially difficult when you're buying the coffee cherries from many local farming families, but lots of work has gone into supporting local growers and helping them do a better job – and helping them earn more by doing so.