Morning Rituals: Abenezer Asfaw

Abenezer at the Canyon Coffee headquarters in Los Angeles

From the time we started Canyon Coffee, we had the goal of identifying great coffee producers and building real relationships with them the right way — over time. SNAP Coffee in Ethiopia was one of the first producers we began committing to and buying multiple consecutive harvests from. Relative newcomers to the coffee industry (SNAP formed the same year we did, in 2016!), SNAP quickly made a name for themselves for their great organization and internal communication amongst farmers, and meticulous attention to detail when it comes to processing freshly-harvested cherries.

The person behind that structure and quality control is a young man named Abenezer Asfaw. Abenezer was recently in Los Angeles, and we were lucky to host him at our weekly Canyon team breakfast. We took advantage of the time to cup some coffees together, and ask him some questions about his morning ritual, SNAP, and working in the coffee industry.

We hope you enjoy our first of what will be many morning rituals with one of our coffee producers!

Abenezer at the Canyon Coffee office doing a cupping
What’s your morning ritual?
When I wake up, I take time to write in my notebooks and plan what I’ll accomplish during the day. I enjoy running, so I also take the time to run in the morning. Afterwards, I walk to work.

I also have an evening ritual. At the end of each day, I review my plans and make sure I was successful. I then take extra time to walk around my neighborhood on my way home.

What do you enjoy, outside of work (hobbies, interests, etc.)?
I like working out at the gym as well as running in the fields outside of work. Often, I go to a bakery nearby in my village to eat their many various pastries!
Abenezer Asfaw at the Canyon Coffee offices in LA
How did you get into coffee?
I grew up in a town where coffee was often centralized before being shipped out, and I always wondered where it would go. My passion for coffee started when traveling to a wet mill owned by my friend's family back in 2010, thereby deeply exploring the processing, varieties and learning about markets abroad. I met Willem Boot in 2013, and got the opportunity to work with him, learning the basic coffee cupping skills. This turned my whole coffee career into a journey filled with excitement.


What’s a typical day like for you?
Our coffee and quality control lab is on the 12th floor of the SNAP Plaza in Addis Ababa. I walk to and from work every day. I keep very busy cupping coffees, responding to emails, and visiting processing facilities.

I spend most of my day at the lab. If I find coffees that are super nice — fruity, bright, clean — I’ll take them and brew them on the Chemex or V60.

I often invite roasters and Ethiopian locals to our lab to try our coffees. In Ethiopia, 95% of coffee is home-roasted. People buy green coffee at the market and bring it home to roast and brew. The other 5% will go out to enjoy a coffee somewhere, maybe an espresso. Ethiopia has the highest domestic coffee consumption in the coffee world.

Typically, people roast the green coffee over charcoal fires, and the coffee is almost always over-roasted. There’s a belief that the coffee is supposed to be roasted until the oils come out. A traditional clay brewer called the jebena is often used to brew the coffee. First, water is brought to boil in the jebena, then ground coffee is mixed with the boiling water. Once it starts to boil again, it’s remove it from the flame. It’s always served with sugar.

I’m not a jebena lover because I don’t like over-roasted coffee! We make pour overs at the lab for our guests, and this is an important part of showing people how others around the world typically enjoy our coffees.
What do you love about working in coffee?
Working in coffee makes me love the farmers, the processing and flavor of coffee that we enjoy each season. Cupping the best coffee at our Lab gives me the best joy working in the coffee industry.

Can you tell us a little about SNAP, and the story of how the company got into coffee?
SNAP is a family-owned company, the name was taken from the first initials of different family members. The company began as an importer of computer parts, trading computers, toners and related equipment. The founder, Negusse D. Weldyes, built the company from the ground up in that industry, and today he’s the leading distributor of computer equipment in Ethiopia.

I met Negusse in 2016. That’s when we started talking about building a new importing company that could produce the best coffees in Ethiopia. We began by identifying and establishing management for different washing stations with mills across the south of the country. We then set up a coffee cupping lab, and set out to create the best washing stations possible.

 

Yes, you’ve made a reputation for being meticulous when it comes to coffee processing!
We’ve become successful because we work closely with the farmers. We’re selective with who we work with and where. We work primarily with farms above 2,000 meters above sea level (MASL). And we work with farmers who have received training.

The best bridges we’ve built have been through hiring experts on the ground, who travel to meet with the farmers on a weekly basis. These experts providing training, access to facilities, and support to help farmers maximize their productivity and improve quality. This is a vital bridge between farmer-producers and us, the company. There’s a clear communication of how we want the coffees to be produced.

By certifying our coffees organic, we pay the farmers premium payments throughout the year. The farmers get paid mostly in September, before the coffee harvest. Our member farmers — those who are certified organic and belong to our supply chain — number close to 860 farmers around the Worka Chelbesa washing station, and close to 1,000 around Danche washing station.

It’s all about communication. We tell the farmers clearly what we need, what’s on the top of our priority list, so they have the time and resources they need to prepare and make sure they are in line with our agreement — with regard to quality, delivery time, and handling of the farms. We want to make sure they clearly value our partnership, and that the organic certification is being followed.

Are you concerned about climate change?
The real impacts have been and are being felt. The worst effects that we’ll see are from erosion. It can destroy coffee farms immediately. The good news is that coffees growing in the Danche and Worka areas are naturally shade grown and highly protected thanks to dense tree cover. They’ve planted bananas, cereals, and other trees that they raise for food. As a result, they’ve created a complex root structure that will continue to protect their farms against erosion.
How often do you get to travel?
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I traveled very often to South Korea, Japan, and the US. I’ve even guest barista’d at Momo’s Coffee in South Korea!

I like traveling. I want to experience how people enjoy the coffees we produce. Talking with roasters and customers helps me learn more about flavors and therefore informs my work with farmers. It’s very good to have a bridge of communication between us all, and traveling helps me accomplish that.


The coffee doesn’t belong to any of us, at the end of the day. We are really facilitators in the supply chain. Together, the many roles we play oversee and track the success of brands, delivery, roasting, processing… this whole effort is the sum of what we all do, and it’s all about bringing that final cup to customers.
What’s your favorite place to visit?
I like LA! It’s diverse. You have Hollywood, the stars. Venice Beach and all its craziness. You can go to Beverly Hills, go to the East Side. The diversity is a big part of what I appreciate—all the lifestyles. I love going to Smorgasbord at The Row DTLA, where you can taste foods from all over the world.


Ethiopia is diverse—we have 18 different nationalities. So, diversity feels important to me. It’s what makes experiencing and exploring different cultures enjoyable. Here in Los Angeles, you have people coming from all over the world. It’s really the beauty of life, to me. All these places to visit… concerts! I went to the Hollywood Bowl this past weekend.



No way! Who’d you see?
Sheena Easton.

What do you love about Ethiopia?
Again, a lot of what I love comes from Ethiopia’s diversified population. There are different foods to experience. The weather is amazing. The country is built on mountains. Addis is 2,400 meters above sea level, it’s up in the highlands. One of the highest elevation cities of its size in the world.


I don’t like the weather all the time. In summer, it’s the rainy season. It can get cold and windy! That’s why I like to travel during this time. And coming from that high elevation, it just feels easier to breathe and therefore relax in places like LA.

Again, a lot of what I love comes from Ethiopia’s diversified population. There are different foods to experience. The weather is amazing. The country is built on mountains. Addis is 2,400 meters above sea level, it’s up in the highlands. One of the highest elevation cities of its size in the world.


I don’t like the weather all the time. In summer, it’s the rainy season. It can get cold and windy! That’s why I like to travel during this time. And coming from that high elevation, it just feels easier to breathe and therefore relax in places like LA.
 

 

 

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Comments

Firehun 3 days ago

I like

Firehun 3 days ago

I like

Sam

So great! Loved getting a glimpse into his day… looking forward to reading more interviews with your partners!