Through community projects, investments, and experimentation, Project Origin offers stability to producers and quality to roasters.
Visiting the town of Masina in Ethiopia, Project Origin General Manager Habib Maarbani was struck by how few options the people had for drinking water.
“Where this particular town is in the mountains, access to clean and fresh running water is limited. You always see kids, women, and people with donkeys and carts, carrying old, yellow watering cans and walking to get them filled up,” Habib says.
“Seeing that and coming from a country like Australia, where you turn on a tap and water comes out, definitely hits home. Servicing the community with convenient, reliable, and clean water is something we wanted to support.”
When Habib returned in October for his second biannual trip of 2019, construction had almost completed for the water well Project Origin financed from its community fund. He says this kind of work is essential to building stable relationships with producers.
“It’s easy to go into a farm and buy the best tasting coffees you can for the best price you can get them. While that is supportive in that one particular transaction, it doesn’t do much to maintain the environment – which is ever-shifting – and the producer’s livelihood,” Habib says.
“Working with a community year on year, at a particular washing station, provides stability of what they can offer and the price they will get for it, and the reassurance you’ll come back the next year.”
Project Origin sources large volumes of coffee from the nearby Muje Masina washing station. Alongside the water well, Project Origin donated four large shade drying tents to the station on behalf of four large buyers of its coffee. Habib says the tents will provide Muje Masina with a great level of control over its drying process, improving coffee quality.
“Often during the peak of harvest season, producers have to cover their drying coffee in the middle of the day when it gets too hot. Otherwise, they run the risk of the parchment cracking or over-fermenting the coffee,” he says.
“But when they cover the coffee, it no longer receives airflow, which affects how it ages in the long run. The shade drops the temperature two to four degrees, meaning a more stable heat, better airflow, and that they shouldn’t have to cover the coffee anymore.”
Muje Masina is also the site of many Project Origin carbonic maceration (CM) processing experiments, highlighted by its CM Selections range. CM involves placing coffee in sealed tanks with controlled exposure to carbon and oxygen, providing producers with greater influence over fermentation. Habib says the experiments have resulted in Muje Masina producing a wider variety of flavour profiles than it could with traditional processing.
“In 2019, Muje produced eight different CM Selections coffees and we also bought their traditional washed and naturals,” he says. “Instead of going to 10 different stations, we can go to one station with 10 options. Being able to share that traceability and connection is good for the roaster, but it’s also good for the producers, because they now have products to bring to the market.”
Project Origin has several more projects in Ethiopia planned for 2020. This includes a third CM processing station in Uraga, supporting a barista training school in Addis Ababa, and further investment in Muje Masina.
“I want to visit a place and have people be happy we’re there,” Habib says. “That means putting back into their community and trying to improve their standard of living as well as their coffee. This creates a win-win relationship, which benefits them as much as us.”