Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts
Dec. 8, 2018

Traveling through the southern coffee lands this year was exciting and taxing at the same time. Picking our way between potholes and stray goats, there's really no straight line between Point A and B. Despite a lot of road improvement projects finally coming to completion, this is a huge area of ground to cover, and it's still a rough ride many Kms to the farms. I'm beat.

Dan and myself saw coffee harvest in full swing though, with washing stations and drying beds near capacity, and occasionally over it. We visited nearly all the stations we bought from last year and some pretty exciting new locations too. "Very highland coffee," as our friend and travel buddy Mubarak says. And by that he usually means 2200+ meters!

We headed to the west after a couple Addis Ababa coffee cupping days, and out to the birthplace of coffee, the forests of Kaffa. (Noting that the claim to "birthplace" is hotly contested here. A week ago there was near riot in Kaffa when claims of a different origin near Jimma town came to light.) Likely coffee came from a broad swath of forest though so both origins might be true. Who was there to say otherwise?)

Here's some pics of what we did, what we saw, and about 50% is actually about coffee. Well, for me the context matters, so in that regard it's all about coffee. And cars, and motorcycles, and monkeys and .... - T.O.

(PS- the banner photo is a bit of  humor about coffee tourism).

  1. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Man and Lion

    This trip we basically left from Addis Ababa, the capital, without so much as a jet-lagged "hallo" and headed to the southern coffee zones. On the way to the South from Hawassa, the occasional painted house, one of several I saw with a man vs. lion theme. I wouldn't say you see a lot of this in the coffee areas of Ethiopia.

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  2. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Monkey Love

    Mother and child looking for opportunities as we eat breakfast in Yirga Alem. Opportunities to steal our toast basically. This is a great waypoint when traveling south the coffee growing areas. Aregash Lodge is a stop for birders and naturalist tours as well as those buying coffee. Or photographing monkeys.

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  3. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Dan's Fashion Giveaways

    Dan brought some extras, hats, clothes, even a couple thrift store hand bags, intended for giving away. When he saw one of the porters at this lodge, he had a special hat in mind. I think Dan has great fashion sense. And the dude was stoked with the hat for sure.

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  4. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts


    The motorcycle is much more then it two person convenience in Ethiopia. It's a cargo mover, two wheel truck, taxi, a complete livelihood. This was one of the bulkiest loads I saw on this particular day. It's just amazing what people do, and the will they have to do it.

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  5. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    I WISH !

    ... that this was our ride for the whole trip. These Series 70 Toyota Land Cruisers can truly handle the roads here. Sadly we started out in a newer 80 series, and the driver was so bugged by the bad roads he turned back and went to Addis! We had to find another car. Later on we had some time in this beast tho...

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  6. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Sheeps of Coffee

    Outside of our first station visit, sheep grazing among the coffee. They're great for controlling weeds which might compete with the coffee plants. There's the myth that goats and sheep eat coffee ... and given that goats eat anything, I'm sure it's true. I've seen this effective form of weed control in many places. And it's such a win-win: Fattening up the livestock for a future feast and controlling the weeds growing around coffee without using any chemicals. (Not that they use sprays in Ethiopia for weed control...)

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  7. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Gedeb ?

    One of our first visits was to the washing station we purchased from last year. But we were a little miffed by the location. We were in the middle of Yirga Cheffe but the coffee was supposed to be from Gedeb, which is just on the southeast edge of the Yirg zone. It turns out this was the correct station, but because the license used for exports was labeled as Gedeb, that's how it was sold. Oh well, the coffee was great and all the other details were correct. "Gedeb" became the running joke of the trip.

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  8. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Classic 4 Disc Pulper

    This is the classic Disc Pulper used in East Africa and in Ethiopia. Disc pulpers are sturdy beasts, but you need to have a good water supply to use them. This is the traditional wet process, fermentation method, often times done underwater and taking as much as three days to ferment. The pulper seperates some defects such as unripe cherry and floaters too so it preselects for quality as well.

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  9. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Boji Yirga Cheffe

    Our next visit was to the station we brought in last year, and really loved. They were preparing natural coffees at this time, hand selecting the coffee cherries. Yirga Cheffe was not generally a great coffee last year, so it was hard to find a lot like Boji. I think part of last year's quality problem was an adjustment to the new rules for coffee exportation. I think a lot of coffee cherry is brought to Yirg from surrounding areas areas that now sell coffee directly. So likely the washing stations in this area have to look far and wide for new sources of fruit, and and therefore the flavor and quality shift last year.

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  10. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Kamping in Kercha

    We had more than a few nights on this trip camping at washing stations. It may not be the Hilton, but it's amazing to wake up right at the farm in the morning and see views like this. Any more in mist is typical in the coffee forests.

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  11. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Hambella Night

    We ended up in Hambella for the night staying at a large washing station. It's great to see the nighttime labor, so important in the cycle of the coffee washing station. Here the workers are wearing plastic ponchos and pieces of tarp as they unload coffee cherry from trucks. It is grueling work. And it goes on all night long.

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  12. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Clouds in My Coffee

    A morning walk around the station, and reflections in the fermentation tank. Here they do an underwater fermentation method, that is much slower than a dry ferment. This is mainly because less oxygen underwater and lower temperature. When it's done right underwater fermentation can be some of the best coffee

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  13. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Hat Bummers

    I don't remember who these guys were, but they got some CoffeeShrub Bucket hats off with me. Good job guys. This was also the station where some of us tented it. I took a bed in a oromo hut tho, but we were all comfy, and what a vew in the morning!

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  14. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Sweet Dreamz 2 U

    Our host Kedir supplied mattresses these great print designs. It's all the little things that make travel in Ethiopia It's all the little things that make travel in Ethiopia delightful! I am not joking at all.

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  15. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Happy Man

    I don't even remember who he was, but he got a hat and he was happy. We were getting a bit turned around on the roads, and our guy Kedir sent him out to guide us on his motorcycle.

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  16. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Pastoral Beauty

    The highlands of Ethiopia are beautiful, especially the areas above the altitudes for coffee production. These are mostly used for grazing, and some crops, especially grain. Most abodes are undecorated here, so I tend to snap photos of painted ones as we pass on by,. I don't think people have money for paint. But it's wonderful to see houses like this.

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  17. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Mr Mubarik

    Once again I traveled with Mubarik this year, the most entertaining travel companion. He has degrees in business and worked with the Ethiopia Coffee Exchange for years out in Jimma. He also is a master of the staged photo. For some reason he just doesn't look like the normal coffee picker in Ethiopia. I can't figure out why though. Lol. Lean in Mubarik!

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  18. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Daniel Boona

    The mastermind of our route on this trip was Daniel Shewmaker, his macro photo of coffee cherry. He also sports the dirtiest Sweet Maria's hat on the planet. True trucker style. Some think Daniel is a bit intense. But he gets his photo every time. (And PS this photo is also a bit of a joke.)

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  19. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    The Other Daniel Boona

    Dan Wood taking notes at Michica station in Kercha area. Dan was doing a lot of writing on the early part of this trip, mainly because he lost his phone at the airport. Amazingly we actually got it back from the lost and found in Addis Ababa! That was a good thing because he basically bought it the day before the trip, a brand-new iPhone. But the experience of traveling with no phone for pictures for notetaking was challenging in the extreme. We had lots of conversations about phone dependency... In a place where we didn't even have a cell connection

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  20. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Scrubbing Channel

    The washing channel is used to scrub the fermented mucilage from the coffee. It is also where coffee is graded by how heavy it is. The lower grade coffee floats in the washing channel and better coffee sinks. So the laborers are constantly pushing the coffee up against the flow of water and allowing lighter coffee to float past their rakes. It's a primitive and effective system!

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  21. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Sare Saba Station

    Washing channel work is difficult. The whole team works in unison with the rakes slightly crossed over each other is they push the coffee up against the water current. Wet parchment coffee is heavy! I've tried to do this before and my arms get tired very quickly. Respect to those who do it all day, every day, during the coffee season.

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  22. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Cherry Time

    We visited this new station just doing naturals, and some of the beds looked amazingly well sorted. Maybe too well. It's always a bit suspect when the beds closest to the entrance look good and as I walk to the back of the station they get progressively worse. Of course there're various grades of coffee with less work and picking going to the lower grades. But I want to make sure at the station owner isn't putting on a show for us; in this case it might've been true. But when we taste the coffee we will now.

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  23. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Kercha Zone Cherry Buying

    This is a private washing station so there isn't the extensive record keeping of the farmer-members as there would be at a cooperative. Nonetheless the payments to farmers bringing in and weighing their coffee cherry is carefully recorded. At this station the farmers are sorting out the green on ripe cherry from the ripe red cherry before they submit it for payment. Hopefully this will yield much better quality cup. You definitely should.

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  24. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Ride Share Extreme

    It's pretty uncommon to see a single person on a motorcycle from Ethiopia. And it's not uncommon to see four or five sharing a bike. I'm really not sure how the guy on the end keeps from falling off. Especially considering the bumps of the road. As a motorcyclist, I can't imagine sitting for people on any of my bikes. I am also sure that if any of these people visited the United States, they would be shocked to see only one person on a motorcycle. What a total waste!

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  25. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Dust Gets In Your Eyes

    And Nose. We were battling the dust for most of the trip south. It was a dry spell and the dust was intense. I feel for those subjected to this every day. The drives here can be very long, and the vehicles arent dust tight; door and window seals leak dust from the road. Motorcyclist get the worst of it but they seem prepared generally. Here a man walks home with the mattress on his head.

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  26. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Ants Galore

    After visiting Kercha and Hambella areas, we had a long drive to Shakiso town. We Took the route goes through the desert zone, a pretty treacherous road that I have traveled before. The problem is the type of rock on this road results in many flat tires. Luckily we only had one and had this great scenery along the way. I only wish I could take this drive slower and enjoy it more.

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  27. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Road Buddy

    Guess who is crossing the road near Bule Town? I helped him to the roadside, but he wouldn't come out thank me. I was unaware that Ethiopia had tortoise. This was a very arid desert zone but I'm told they thrive in wetter areas too. I asked Wikipedia and believe this is a leopard tortoise. At the Lodge in Yirg Alem they had one about quadruple the size! The markings we're not so distinct as they are on this younger one which was about 10" W x 14" L.

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  28. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Early Morning Cruises

    The other advantage of sleeping right at the coffee Farm is to get an in the morning. You don't have to travel all the way back to a town and return to the coffee areas. Plus the early morning views are amazing. I feel like I see more of farming life this way.

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  29. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Morning Mist

    Another amazing and beautiful morning as a heavy mist lays over the coffee Forest. We had camped at Mansiti station and we're headed towards Uraga for the day. It's great to see how many large forest shade trees maintained in coffee growing areas.

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  30. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Shakiso Area

    We spent the night at the washing station of Mormora, and then moved on to see Taro in the morning. Was one of our favorite coffees from last year. Here the coffees being washed out from the fermentation tanks in the morning, to be scrubbed in the channel and sent to the soaking tank.

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  31. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Tabe Coffee Cherry

    Another favorite last year was Tabe. Hear the coffee cherry is being delivered in bags and baskets. The point of this trip was to visit some of the best farms we bought from last year, and visit some new ones too. It's always important to go back to suppliers and talk to them about their practices, and potential improvements

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  32. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Leave Me Alona

    At Alona washing station in the outskirts of Shakiso they have switched most of their production to a Penagos ecopulper this year. I'm a little concerned how this change in processing will affect the cup flavor. But I admits the parchment from this machine looked very very clean. We were able to taste the traditional ferment sample versus the Penagos sample later in Addis, and each had its merits. Consensus was that the traditional firm and it was a bit better.

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  33. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts


    Back in Addis Ababa, we visited Mercato. I haven't been to the main market in several years but it was nice to see that it was the same chaotic, bustling, wonderful mess. I too thought this merchants was simply excited about coffee. I forgot that one of the local Addis Ababa teams is called coffee. He's basically just a huge soccer fan.

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  34. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Processing at Limmu Kossa Farm

    As already noted, another advantage of camping at farms is to see the nighttime work. So much coffee labor is done at night, as coffee cherry is received and pulping begins. During the season there is a crew working 24 hours in coffee processing. Yet we rarely get the pictures of the evening work.

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  35. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Puppies. Yep!

    And asnother benefit of farm stays is the other farm animals, in this case some month old puppie!! They were very shy, but also super playful funny. I think I took 50 pictures of these guys. I could feel a whole calendar with them!

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  36. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Limmu Kossa Farm

    It's hard to describe how beautiful and well-managed this farm is it's organic and rain forest certified, all the varieties of coffee are separated different blocks, in the shade of the large forest trees is maintained throughout the farm. When I visit here, I feel like this is exactly how I would manage farm if I had my own. The forest is largely intact, and coffee has been planted as the understory plant, which is exactly what the coffee shrub wants to be.

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  37. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Bee Farm

    Limmu kossa farm also features a honeybee operation using commercial type boxes using commercial type boxes. They maintain the hives and harvest honey the same way I do with my hives here in Oakland. We were given two types of honey, a golden yellow one in a very dark medicinal type. They're both amazing. Ethiopia honey is very special

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  38. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Skin Drying tables

    Limmu Kossa has a unique system with their coffee that includes fermentation, but also a mechanical scrubbing of the coffee afterwards. After a soaking period they wash the coffee onto skin drying tables to pick the primary defects

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  39. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Qota Cooperative, in Agaro

    We moved on towards the Agaro Area outside of Jimma. We based ourselves here for a few days visiting the various cooperatives we have bought from for over eight years now. Qota is fairly new to us, but actually it's a Cooperative that failed and was closed for a period of five years. But by joining the new regional union, Kata Muduga, they were able to reopen get out of debt. Here the coffee cherry is delivered bike donkey.

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  40. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Bashasha Prep School

    Another highlight of visiting the Agaro Area is to see a school project that we assisted with. This is Bashasha school, named for the nearby town, which also happens to be the birthplace of minister of Ethiopia. Three coffee cooperatives contributed to building structures with the profits from coffee sales. But they need supplies desks and equipment. We contributed $5000 dollars last year, and this year we're hoping to do more. We want to do a project where we try to get customers to match funds and double contribution for 2019. Look for more details site soon.

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  41. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Sadi Loya Coop

    At 1920 Meters, Sadi Loya is another favorite coffee from last year in the same zone as the better-known Duromina and Biftu Gudina. We noticed less coffee on their drying tables. I Asked about it and they said they were focused more on quality this year. They wanted to make sure all their coffees were well processed. It sounded very good to my ears.

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  42. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Jebena Break

    Jebena Coffee is an unfiltered type traditional Ethiopia. You may have of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Sounds a bit religious but it's just a genuine coffee break! Here we had some wonderful coffee and some amazing color coordination. Sometimes it's surprising that this coffee can be so good when it's basically roasted immediately before pan and often quite scorched. I chalk it up to Magic.

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  43. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Nano Challa Cooperative

    Nano Challa was one of the first coffee samples from this region that really made an impression on me. Aleco and I cupped it years ago while visiting Technoserve, the NGO that supported these western coops for some time. It was a super fresh sample and very fruity, it showed a lot of potential. Now it's something like 8 or 10 years later still buying visiting this cooperative. Here they're showing us some of the coffee varieties planted on poster in Amharic.

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  44. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Never Say No

    ... To another coffee break. Interestingly, some more amazing Color coordination. Jebena coffee is basically the mix of fresh roasted grounds coffee and water in the Jebena, boiled on coals. The key is and how it's poured, separating the grounds from the coffee. Nonetheless you can be very very strong. That's why the cops are so dang small.

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  45. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Yukiro Coop Parchment Sorting

    Our next visit was to Yukiro, a cooperative that always seems to be struggling, and yet produces some very fine coffee. Here the day workers are sorting the drying coffee on the tables. We're hoping to get more consistency from this cooperative and see some improvements in in their practices. This includes the benefits to the day workers, the hand labor, as well as returning better benefits to the farmers. After all that's what a cooperative is about: Sharing success.

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  46. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Michiti Cooperative, the Hike

    We also went to Bonga town in the Kaffa zone. This included the beautiful hike out the Mankira cooperative, a four hour walk but I've made several times. It's great to teach the cars and get some exercise. Along the way we walk through the small town and picked up about 30 kids to follow us. No we didn't ask them follow us they just did it's great to walk the pathways through the homes just this one the beautiful cat painting and just see the village life. You can't see it all from car

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  47. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    African Bees

    Flowers are in full bloom in the west, and the bees are plentiful. You can tell the difference between the European type bees common in the United States and African bees by their smaller size darker abdomen. African bees can be very aggressive when disturbed, which is a good reason why the hives are often placed in tall trees.

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  48. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Martial Arts/ Marital Law

    Maybe there's some relationship between last year's state of emergency and all be martial arts studios I see. It's really interesting that rural Ethiopians are getting into this. There's quite a lot in Shakiso, but this image is from Kaffa zone. Hi-Ya!

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  49. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Speaking of...

    I'm not a cat connoisseur, but it's interesting to see the differences with cats around the world, especially here in Africa as well as in Indonesia. We saw a few been hanging around please tipped back ears, but not this beautiful little guy. He just had says penetrating Jade Green eyes.

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  50. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Coffee Pot

    Jimma Style! This was at a busy street cafe in the town, and actually nobody I was traveling with was quite sure what it was. It just didn't look like coffee. I guess when a Jebena can't make enough, you got to go big!

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  51. Ethiopia - Road Dust and Deep Ruts

    Samples Samples

    Traveling through the west we were collecting parchment coffee samples all along the way. I don't know how we convinced the airline to fly with all the samples. This cart represents about two thirds of the total! In any case it left us with some very busy days of tasting in Addis Ababa before winding up the trip and heading home. Whew. --T.O.

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