Ethiopia, sustainability and success: Aroma Coffee spills the beans

Sustainability and coffee are two words that go hand in hand for managing director of Aroma Coffee, Gavin Gam.

Food Magazine recently caught up with Gam to chat about the relationships that he has cultivated with coffee farmers in Ethiopia, how he goes about sourcing his beans, and why sustainability and traceability in the coffee industry are at the heart of his business.

Six years ago Aroma Coffee launched their first Ethiopian coffee called Kilimanjaro, and as Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, Gam says that there isn’t quite anywhere else in the world that produces beans to the same standard.

“Coffee is a way of life in Ethiopia and they have a coffee culture that is unlike anywhere else in the world,” Gam told Food Magazine. “Half the coffee the nation produces is consumed locally so they really know what they’re producing and what good quality coffee should taste like.

“Most coffee farmers in Ethiopia have small farms on acreage, and they treat their coffee trees like their children, it’s an extension of their family. To grow this coffee is a labour of love for them and you can taste that love straight from origin to the fresh cup of coffee in your hand.”

In addition to its rich cultural roots, Gam says that one of the key reasons that Ethiopian coffee is so unique is because none of the beans – which are namely native heirloom varieties – have been adapted or modified for centuries, and as such, the beans have retained their unique flavour characteristics.

In relation to how he managed to secure his Ethiopian suppliers, Gam said that the process was a matter of developing relationships both locally and internationally.

“To cultivate relationships with local farmers it’s important to meet likeminded people and attend every coffee-related event you can,” he says.

“I attended conferences, cuppings and events, and was gradually introduced to people involved in growers associations, coffee unions, co-operatives and local coffee farms. Over time these acquaintances have become great friends and an essential part of Aroma Coffee’s business process.

“At the moment all of Aroma’s coffee beans are sourced directly from small family owned coffee farms. For Aroma, farm direct sourcing involves ethical sourcing of sustainable coffee beans, investing in local infrastructure to promote sustainable coffee farming communities, and acknowledging and respecting the people and processes involved in the value-added coffee supply chain,” says Gam.

“We’re also strong advocates for the traceable coffee movement (which) ensures that the coffee farmer has been paid the best price for their produce which in turn increases local incomes, investment in sustainable business practices, and improves the lives of everyone involved in the coffee supply chain.

“…We’re (also) currently in the process of perfecting a Fairtrade blend that will be available to cafés and consumers within the next six months.”

In addition to Kilimanjaro, Aroma has since released its Destinations Ethiopia blend which has become the brand's best seller, and won a silver Medal for Filter coffee at the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria International Coffee Awards. Aroma Coffee was also recently awarded the title of Champion Australian Roaster at the International Coffee Awards, an accolade the Gam credits to three factors: farm direct sourcing, using antique roasters combined with modern roasting practises, and an extensive tasting process.

“Great coffee begins with ethically sourced sustainable coffee beans that are grown from love and passion. Making the coffee isn’t just about money, it’s about giving back, paying a little extra and making sure the people who are producing the coffee are living a healthy sustainable life. If there’s love from origin, you can taste it, that’s the most important thing,” says Gam.

In relation to roasting, Gam says that it is important to be “true to the coffee”.

“Creating the perfect coffee roast is like alchemy; you take the green beans and turn them into gold by combining modern heat transfer technology with traditional roasting practices,” he said.

However the real secret to Aroma Coffee’s award winning roast according to Gam, is their extensive tasting process.

“We cup the coffee, we sniff it, we smell it, we taste it and we slurp it to make sure we get a real feel for the coffee. That’s the only way we can be sure that the coffee’s taste, character and flavour profile are of the utmost quality before we distribute it.”


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