Ethiopia – Speciality Coffee: The New Thing at ECX

Ethiopia’s coffee trading is soon to include speciality coffee trading alongside the trading of commercial coffee trading. The speciality coffee trading measure aims at connecting farmers directly with international buyers, opening a direct window for them, according to Eleni Gebre Medhin, CEO of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX).

To date the ECX has been handling only commercial grade coffee, whose origin is difficult to pinpoint. Specialty coffee is designated by origin, which adds value to it. The ECX and Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) organized the first specialty coffee event Wednesday, October 21, 2009, at the Sheraton Addis. This event was considered to be the first step towards commencing speciality coffee trading as it brought together key players in the global specialty coffee industry and international buyers to discuss how the ECX could handle the new trading.

“Over time, we think that tables will turn and we might be producing or trading a lot more specialty coffee than commercial coffee,” Eleni had said in an earlier interview with Fortune.

For coffee to be considered speciality coffee, its quality, socio-economic impact on the producer, environmental attributes, and traceability to the grower must be evaluated. Quality and traceability will be given greater emphasis Eleni says.


ECX started work to introduce speciality coffee trading by travelling to Atlanta, GA in the US for the annual event of the SCAA held in April.


ECX also started preparing the trade and capacity building of the professionals who will taste and grade coffee. That led to the professional accreditation of 37 people by the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI), including some of the coffee tasters who used to work for the old Coffee Board.

CQI is a non-profit organization working to improve coffee quality and the lives of the people who produce it. CQI’s Q Grader Program is the coffee industry’s only professional accreditation programme for cuppers (coffee tasters), according to the information from SCAA. The professionals thus accredited will identify coffee that meets the minimum SCAA standard.

The accreditation of these professionals has given Ethiopia the largest number of Q Graders in Africa. Some of these people were presenting speciality coffee from Yirga Cheffe, Sidama, Jimma, Limmu, Harar and a number of other places during the Sheraton event, proudly displaying their Q Grader badges on their chests.

There are currently 760 Licensed Q Graders worldwide; Brazil, Costa Rica, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the US have 10, 28, 18, 16, 18 and 74 Q Graders, respectively.


The Ethiopian government is also in the process of drafting legislation to recognize and accredit international and national certification agencies, such as those for organic coffee, according to Yacob Yala, state minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The state minister explained his government’s commitment at the opening of the specialty coffee event, focusing on finding appropriate solutions for marketing specialty coffee in such a way as to be fair to small producers. 

The participants left for Dilla on Saturday, October 24 for the inauguration of the Dilla Regional Laboratory and Warehouse. This centre is the third to open within a month, following the inauguration of one in Hawassa and another in Jimma. These regional centres are expected to help keep coffee sorted by origin without it getting mixed with coffee from other origins.

ECX has handled the transaction of 161,000tns of coffee worth almost three billion Br since December 2008, despite the challenges of the financial crisis resulting in the global recession.

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