Navigating Ethiopia's Specialty Coffee Shipment: Washed vs. Naturals

Understanding shipments and how container mix impacts timing and delays

Courtney Smith
September 21, 2023

In an already-nuanced coffee market, each detail and choice can make a substantial difference — not just in flavour and quality, but also logistically. The journey of a specialty coffee bean from Ethiopia's rich soils to your roastery is dotted with key decisions (some made by us, others made by you). One such decision revolves around filling your container based on your coffee selection between washed and naturals. We thought we'd briefly dive into how this choice impacts shipment times and why an informed decision can make all the difference in your coffees arriving on time versus being unduly delayed.

Washed Coffees Lead the Way

By regulatory standards in Ethiopia, washed coffees are processed first and are the first to arrive to our Addis Ababa warehouse. This not only dictates their order in the processing cycle but also places them at the front of the shipping queue. In layman's terms, if you're selecting washed and naturals, know that the washed coffees are ready to board the shipping container well before their natural counterparts.

Early Contracting

When you settle on an early contract, you are effectively securing a spot at the forefront of this shipping queue. And this doesn't mean mere days; it can translate to saving weeks in shipping time and subsequent associated costs (find out more by reading our detailed overview on the benefits of early contracting).

Full Containers vs. Mixed

Given the lead of washed coffees in the shipping game, it's a wise move to contract a full container dedicated solely to one type of process. If you contract a full container of washed coffees set for February shipment, the process can be as straightforward as it can be in the realm of Ethiopia logistics.

But what if you’re not in the market for a full container? There's often the inclination to contract containers that mix washed with naturals. While this seems like a balanced approach (and can be), it also has its pitfalls. With your washed coffees processed and ready to go, they could potentially be held back, waiting for the naturals. And there can be inherent uncertainties with naturals: finding the right flavor profile, potential shipment delays, and more. This can result in your entire Ethiopian coffee selection being delayed, causing ripple effects down your supply chain. This is why we recommend contracting (for example) the full container of washed coffees for shipment in February and additional bags of natural coffees to either be consolidated with other roasters in your vicinity or sent in a shorter container later (at a slightly higher cost).

Think Ahead, Plan Smart

While the allure of both washed and natural coffees is undeniable, a strategic approach to contracting and shipping can save roasters and importers time, money, and unnecessary logistical hiccups. By understanding the nuances of Ethiopian coffee shipment, you can ensure that your beans arrive not just with the desired and expected flavour profiles and standards of quality, but also with a fair degree of punctuality.

Courtney has 10+ years of experience in creating, building, and scaling strategies, brands, and content.