Experience the magic of hand-roasted Ethiopian coffee -An interview with Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu (right)

Every coffee lover knows that Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee and the finest producer of specialty coffee in the world. It is the source of the best hand roasting artisans.Hospitality, which is the core of Garden of Coffee doesn’t get any more authentic and heartfelt than in Ethiopia.  It is woven inside Ethiopian culture; the epitome of Ethiopia’s Artisan Roasted Coffee culture with coffee informing all significant interactions – social, business and other.As the founder of Garden of Coffee, shares in an in-depth interview with Start Up Magazine it is not just about producing coffee, but rather the authentic craft and heartfelt hospitality delivered inside each cup of coffee that served!

  1. Where is Garden of Coffee based?

We are based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

  1. How many hand roasters does Garden of Coffee employ and what does it take to maintain them?

Currentlywitha team of 17 of the best hand roasting artisans in Ethiopia, we anticipate employee increase of up to 40 finest hand roasting artisans by the end of this year.

In terms of remuneration, each roasting team member of Garden of Coffee earns on average the equivalent salary to a bank management employee!

We don’t just expose coffee lovers to the finest coffee around but also, most importantly connect them with the finest artisan coffee roasters.Interestingly, many of these artisans are women who until Garden of Coffee had never been able to leverage their immense knowledge of hand roasting coffee into a profitable livelihood.

  1. What does coffee roasting process entail?

We source the finest beans directly from the farmers. These are then re-selected by our team of the artisan hand roasters who then prepare and roast them by hand, watching, smelling and hearing every single bean roast. It’s a magical process that allows us to bring out the absolute finest quality from each bean. In the end, what one gets is the finest coffee ever sipped.  Beans are individually hand selected and roasts are specifically crafted for each individual coffee drinking session. My mom taught me the same virtue that every Ethiopian learns growing up: The more perfect the green coffee bean, the more even the roast, and the better the taste. Just as the finest wines begin with the finest grapes, truly exceptional coffee begins with the beans.

Hand-Roasting coffee is an art in Ethiopia that involves multiple skills and elements. Our artisans are deeply skilled in creating the perfect conditions for a perfect roast.

Our unique, one of a kind hand roasted on demand model means that our gifted coffee artists roast only for your specific order. This is not small batch coffee roasting – this is personalised roasting – the ultimate roasted coffee experience.

All orders are hand roasted for individual customers on our magical ceramic roasters. The ceramic roasters based on the traditional Ethiopia ceramic cone roasters are made by hand.

The artists personally select each green bean for every single order ensuring they are smooth and perfectly shaped. They also inspect every roasted batch for cracked or burned beans as any imperfect beans affect the final taste of coffee.

  1. In what ways is your process similar to traditional Ethiopian coffee roasting and in what ways is it different?

Garden of Coffee is the reverse of factory roasting. We deploy technology to allow our artisan roasters to hand roast while precisely measuring heat, [barometric] pressure, humidity – allowing them to adjust for natural acidity – and specific characteristics of the beans. We meticulously monitor the temperature of the roasting beans and the ambient environment to ensure consistency in every coffee we deliver.

The artisan coffee crafting techniques we use are often multi-generational skills passed from parent to child and have flourished here in Ethiopia for millennia. By engaging with  Garden of Coffee and our  ecosystem of coffee roasting artists , our customers are ensuring that this legacy of coffee craftsmanship lives on and flourishes, while also providing a platform for high quality  job creation,   essential for an emerging nation like Ethiopia.

In addition our customers not only get to select their beans of choice and their type of roast, they can select who roasts these beans thus fostering direct relationships with the coffee roasting artists.

Coffee Beans
  1. In Ethiopian coffee ceremonies, coffee gets brewed three times. Is this something you’d want folks in the States to try doing with your coffee to try to replicate the experience?

But of course, we would love for people to drink their Garden of Coffee coffee three times J ….  That means people will need lots of Garden of Coffee  which in essence implies more business and more sustainable livelihoods for our team of roasters and consequently growers.

  1. Can you tell me a little more about Origin Trade? Do you select the coffees? How do you select them?

Some particular elements beyond Fair Trade, Direct Trade and many of the other trade models make Garden of Coffee unique. Such one of this is what is termed as the Coffee’s “Fourth Wave / 4th WAVE. Garden of Coffee heralds the beginning of an evolution on the current paradigm of specialty coffee known as the 3rd wave. This is a new movement that we as a coffee nation are defining and identifying.

The 4th Wave is about coffee producing nations taking control of the means of production and adding value to our coffees our own way.  At Garden of Coffee, we believe that charity begins at home. As such, there could be no better place to begin The 4th Wave than in coffee’s birth place and the home of coffees’ richest coffee culture: Ethiopia.

We are excited about this new movement as it will allow people like us to exert direct control over the Ethiopian coffee experience in all facets; including the history, the context, the varieties and origins, the methods – everything from growing to roasting, and the outcomes that are all integral parts of the experience of drinking Ethiopian coffees.

The end result then will be something coffee lovers everywhere are craving; a more exciting, authentic and rewarding Ethiopian coffee experience.

The other element is the ‘OriginTrade’.  Like the 4th Wave this is a new movement we are defining as a coffee nation. Origin trade basically means that we source, process, roast and package our coffees right here in Ethiopia where we grow them. This ensures quality coffee for our customers, low impact for the environment and an engine for prosperity and change for the growers, processors and roasters.

Origin Trade believes that to rightly affect lasting prosperity, coffee producing nations must brand and package and sell their own coffee. Such a move then ensures that:

  1. The value of this coffee is preserved in terms of quality for the final consumer.
  2. The value created economically by roasting and packaging at origin is immeasurable.
  3. Our interests are directly aligned with our farmers and our entire value chain in a way that external actors could never be thereby giving farmers’ incentive to deliver their most amazing beans.

Does it make sense for Ethiopia, the producer and in fact the originator of the finest, most legendary Arabicas on the planet, to ship our magical raw green beans thousands of miles for roasting when we can produce the absolute finest roasts right here using our own talented roasting artisans? Clearly it doesn’t.

  1. Is there anything you want STARTUP MAGAZINE readers to know about Garden of Coffee?

 First is that we would love to create some coffee just for you so please feel free to visit our web shop at www.GardenofCoffee.com .

On that note, I ampleased to announce the opening of our 1st Signature Garden of Coffee Café-Roastery in Addis Ababa. This very unique Café-Roastery showcases the magic of Ethiopia’s Artisan hand roasted coffee. Located in the Bole area of Addis Ababa, Café-Roastery serves Ethiopia’s legendary single origin coffee, hand roasted by Ethiopia’s top coffee artisans. This Café-Roastery gives people an opportunity to experience first-hand the depth of the artistry that IS Ethiopia’s hand roasting artisans

The Café-Roastery has an incredible menu of foods and breads that we have created with acclaimed local chefs and bakers.

 Why the decision to branch out into coffee? 

Coffee Hand-roasting

My driving passions as an entrepreneur are always about sharing Ethiopian cultures with the world, and finding exciting ways to keep these cultures vibrant and fully relevant.

I began Garden of Coffee so that people everywhere can experience the magic of hand-roasted Ethiopian coffees, roasted at their source by Ethiopia’s finest coffee artisans. I knew that once people tasted Ethiopian coffee that has been hand roasted by traditional Ethiopian coffee artisans, their coffee perspectives would be forever changed. The result – a more exciting, authentic and rewarding experience for lovers of Ethiopian coffees.

  1. When and how did you start this journey 

It literally began in my mother’s house. One day a few years back, we were sitting enjoying an exquisite traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony in my family home here in Addis.

It all began with a loving tradition that we grew up with in my mother’s house – my mother handwashing finebeans that she had self-selected at the market and skillfully preparing these exquisite beans, the magical coffee aromas imaginable as she began hand roasting the beans on a hand crafted ceramic roaster, skillfully rotating each bean in the same way her mother had done before her and her grandmother before that.

Then right there while we sipped the coffee,came the question. How could we give a more unique and dynamic coffee experience to coffee lovers worldwide , one that captures both the critical uniqueness of our Ethiopian coffees and  the magical artisan culture that envelops them – from the bean growing, selection and to its magical hand roasting ?

It was a vital question; one that excited and daunted us. The answer, however, soon became clear, we would leverage technology to allow coffee lovers to immediately experience the magic of personal batch artisan roasts that were selected, prepared and roasted in the traditions where those beans originate from in the different regions of Ethiopia! With that, Garden of Coffee was officially born.

  1. How long did it take from start up to getting the coffee ready for export?

 We have been perfecting the roasting techniques for almost 2 years locally. But as we say this is truly a coffee brand that has been millennia in the making as the preparation and roasting techniques we are employing have been perfected here in Ethiopia over centuries.

  1. How many brands of coffee do you have and in which countries will they be available – will you capitalize on the Sole Rebels avenues for distribution? 

Currently we are offering 6 Ethiopian single origins.  Ethiopia is home to thousands of undiscovered varietals and we intend to let our customers experience as many of them as possible. We are also opening stand alone Garden of Coffee ateliers where people can come and experience the magic of our hand roasting while enjoying related foods and products.

Garden of Coffee ateliers are magical spaces where people can physically inhabit our tagline of Live Coffee-they can step inside the culture of coffee we are delivering and interact with the brand. The Boutiques allow people to order live roasted coffee for immediate consumption or for take away consumption at home. There are some interesting technology elements being built into the boutiques that will create a very exciting experience.

Through the boutiques  will we be able to give Ethiopian coffee lovers the richest most authentic Ethiopian coffee experience while providing employment to both diaspora Ethiopians and non-Ethiopians alike.

  1. You mention no other coffee brand in Ethiopia controls all facets of its brand – why is this and how are you doing things differently?

Correct. To date there isn’t a single global Ethiopian coffee brand that controls the brand in all facets that is recognized as a brand with a unique value proposition and voice.

What Garden of Coffee is doing differently is embracing traditional Ethiopian roasting methodologies as opposed to employing factory roasting using roasting machines which is what other roasters do. We do this not only because  hand-roasting coffee is an ancient art that we strongly feel is worth preserving and promoting, but  because we believe  this method of coffee roasting is the key to unlocking Ethiopian coffee’s true magical tastes. That’s the critical distinction.

We also roast only for each customer’s individual order which results to quality coffee experience. Our unique one of a kind hand roasted on demand model means that our gifted coffee artists roast only for your specific order.

This in turn helps us achieve a level of excellence in taste and quality that is not possible from any other commercially available coffee on the planet.

  1. You’re a very ecologically friendly brand – being Fair Trade Certified with soleRebels and now Origin Trade Coffee  – why is this important to you and also how has this impacted or affected your company’s bottom line. Can we talk a bit about how it makes financial sense – lots of companies believe that being environmentally friendly is too expensive or will cut in on their profit margins – what are your thoughts on merging the two for a profitable business. You advice on how this can be done? 

With Garden of Coffee we are redefining Ethiopian single origin specialty coffee through Authenticity and Focus. We focus exclusively & passionately on Ethiopian coffees in the most intimate manner possible, allowing us to bring you the rarest and highest quality Ethiopian coffees. That is our mission and it’s what we live and breathe!

We believe that nothing makes more sense from a final product quality point of view than for single origin coffees to be provided to the final consumer of those beans by the origins themselves. So we chose to focus on Ethiopia not simply because Ethiopia is our home but most importantly because Ethiopia is home to both the highest quality coffees and the most talented artisan coffee roasters. So there is every reason for us to focus only on Ethiopia as it means we can give you the best coffees you have ever experienced!

Parting shot for the readers?

In Ethiopia, we don’t just grow coffee. We live coffee each and every day. It is embedded in the DNA of our daily life. Coffee personifies Ethiopia and we in turn personify it.

We grow up surrounded by family members harvesting the finest beans and then hand selecting and hand roasting these beans and preparing them into the most magical coffees ever sipped. We will never disappoint.



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