SEATTLE — Starbucks Coffee Co. has introduced Shirkina Sun-Dried Sidamo coffee, a high quality, natural process Ethiopia Sidamo coffee. The new coffee is the eighth coffee in Starbuck’s Black Apron Exclusives line-up.
"At Starbucks, we search every day to find new high quality arabica coffees," said Christopher Jordan, director of green coffee quality for Starbucks Coffee Trading Co. "The shirkinas — the partnerships — that we have with producers is a key to our success and a reason we spend so much time in coffee growing regions. Last year we traveled twice to Ethiopia and the development of this coffee was a focus on each trip."
Development involved convincing the farmers to use the natural method to process the coffee. Typically, the highest quality coffees from Sidamo are processed using the wet, or washed, method. Ripe, red coffee cherries are picked and quickly taken to a washing station, where a pulping machine separates the seed — the coffee bean — from the fruit.
This process produces a bright, crisp Sidamo with a floral aroma and lemony citrus notes, a coffee that Starbucks has offered for several years.
"With the natural process, coffee cherries are allowed to dry on raised drying beds in the sun," said Scott McMartin, coffee education director. "The coffee beans absorb flavor characteristics from the fruit as it dries around them. We asked ourselves, ‘what flavors can we entice from this coffee by using the natural method?’"
In the Sidamo region, the natural process is usually reserved for inferior, unripe or low quality coffee cherries at the end of the growing season. So when Mr. McMartin pitched the idea to a group of coffee farmers, they were skeptical.
"We were nervous that the natural process would ruin our best coffees of the year," said Asnake Bekele, general manager of Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, Ltd. "But Starbucks guaranteed purchase of the coffee, at premium prices, up front. This was a huge risk for them, but it illustrated their commitment to our partnership."
Mr. McMartin said the company was happy with the results.
"The application of the natural process on this coffee has given this coffee a distinctive black cherry flavor, with hints of chocolate and a dark rum finish," he said. "But more importantly, this has created a potential new revenue stream for farmers in this region. As early as next season, farmers may be able to use either process on their high quality coffees and have twice the opportunity to earn higher prices for their crop."
Through a non-profit associate of Starbucks — EcoLogic Finance — Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union will benefit from a $400,000 loan for its working capital needs. Coffee farmers often face a shortage of cash before harvest, which may force them to sell their crops early to local buyers for prices lower than what they might otherwise earn, or may cause them to forsake investments in improved farming techniques, structures, and equipment. Access to affordable financing helps ensure coffee quality and long-term economic sustainability in Ethiopia and throughout the world.
The loan to Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union is part of a $5 million coffee producer financing arrangement Starbucks has developed with EcoLogic Finance, a Cambridge, Mass.-based non-profit organization that offers affordable financial services to community-based businesses operating in environmentally sensitive areas. The loan to Sidama represents the first time a coffee cooperative in Ethiopia has been able to access affordable credit.
Starbucks awards $15,000 for each Black Apron Exclusives coffee for a project that will improve the lives of the farmers in the community. These projects have made immediate impacts in education, transportation, coffee-processing facilities and the environment.
The award for the most recent Black Apron Exclusives coffee, La Candelilla Estate coffee from Costa Rica, is being used to improve farm infrastructure and education, including the establishment of a seedling program of 10,000 plants; repairs to the main road access to La Candelilla Estate; new computers for several family members; and scholarships.
The Black Apron Exclusives line of coffee is named for Starbucks most knowledgeable buyers, roasters, tasters and Coffee Masters, who wear black aprons in the tasting rooms and in Starbucks coffeehouses. This is the final Black Apron Exclusives coffee for the year; the next selection will be available Jan. 5.
Starbucks Shirkina Sun-Dried Sidamo coffee is available starting Monday in company-operated stores throughout North America (1/2 lb price: $13) and at www.starbucksstore.com. It will only be available while supplies last.