Amatte: Empowering Female Farmers, One Bean at a Time
Coffee has an unrivalled role in the Ethiopian community as a long-standing tradition and source of livelihood. The Coffea arabica plant originates in the region and contributes to the country’s GDP. In 2006, revenue from exports amounted to $350 million. Ethiopia is the world’s seventh largest producer, and Africa’s top producer with 260,000 metric tonnes in 2006. The country also leads the continent in domestic consumption. Amatte founder, Amani Kiflemariam, with her multifaceted identity encompassing Eritrea, Sudan, and the United Kingdom, is using the tools of globalisation to enhance the coffee brand. In this interview, Kiflemariam shares the intricacies of coffee and where Amatte is headed.
Congratulations on the recent launch of your luxury coffee brand, Amatte! With Ethiopia being the largest coffee exporter in Africa, employing about 15 million people, what sets Amatte apart?
Amatte is the first company founded by an African female that’s specifically targeting the West. My African heritage and British identity have both played a part in the formation of Amatte and set it apart.
Named after your grandmother, Amatte was established to promote African heritage, as well as support small-lot coffee farmers. By providing good quality jobs, how are you also fulfilling your corporate social responsibility?
Fulfilling our corporate social responsibility is at the heart of what we are aiming for with Amatte. The Amatte Foundation is a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping female coffee farmers and artisans in Africa to thrive by connecting them to education and pathways to employment. Five per cent of direct sales advance this goal. In Eritrea, Amatte’s first Artisan Training Initiative workshop supports the Samaritan Sisters by training weavers in rural villages in leadership and life skills, and placing them in work. We also support the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and the Samaritan Sisters’ Orphanage in Asmara (Eritrea).
What is the cultural significance of coffee in Ethiopia?
For every Ethiopian, coffee is at the heart of daily life and represents a sensory experience with religious and social significance. This is reflected in the Ethiopian coffee ceremony undertaken as a sign of respect and friendship when welcoming visitors, or when gathering together to discuss important matters, for example. I performed this coffee ceremony for my grandmother as a child, which makes the ritual and the Ethiopian traditions around coffee very close to my heart.
Your brand is built from the hard work of female farmers, which you explained with the pertinent quote: “I’ve combined my passion for fine coffee and gender parity into Amatte, which offers high-end coffee cultivated by these amazing, hard working women.” Why is it necessary to adopt this strategy?
Because Amatte is a manifestation of the values which I live by. As a woman, you can’t help but be aware of issues around equality and pay. The relevance of this becomes even more significant when trading with women who work in developing countries. So often the hard work and incredible skill of women such as African female farmers is simply not rewarded or even recognised by the big companies buying their produce. When the quality of the coffee so fundamentally depends on the skillful work of these women, it is essential that they are put at the heart of what we are doing as a brand.
Amatte’s debut coffee collection comprises five refined tastes with names like The Emperor’s Blend, Queen of Sheba, and Queen Nefertiti’s. What are the stories behind them?
The Queen of Sheba is an Ethiopian single-origin, whole-bean coffee dedicated to the Queen of Sheba, an ancient representative of female leadership. Its aromatic flavours are at the same time strong and sweet, with notes of strawberry, nectarine, and lavender, a creamy, full body and a hazelnut finish.
The Emperor’s Blend is another Ethiopian coffee. It is naturally processed and whole bean. The coffee gives praise to Haile Selassie I, who was revered for spearheading African unity. His noble qualities inspire the strong and full-bodied flavour of The Emperor’s Blend, with its notes of dark chocolate, strawberry, nectarine, lavender, pineapple, and raisin.
Queen Nefertiti gives praise to the queen who ruled ancient Egypt and established the cult of the sun god Aten. It is sourced from the central highlands of Kenya and boasts notes of honey, pineapple, blood orange, and sherbet.
Connoisseur’s Choice is a whole-bean coffee sourced from Rebuild Women’s Hope, a non-profit organisation based in the Democratic Republic of Congo that is committed to gender equity. It has a delicious, smooth, and rich taste.
Finally, 90 PLUS is a mixed heirloom coffee, grown at high altitude in the Guji zone of Ethiopia’s Sidamo province. It is naturally processed with a sweet and full-bodied taste and notes of intense blueberry jam, jasmine, and lime zest.
Amatte sources beans from Ethiopia yet blends in the United Kingdom. Considering costs, why is this necessary and what are some challenges you have encountered producing between two continents?
We source beans from Africa because I truly believe that this is where the most delicious, high-grade coffee beans are to be found. Roasting the beans in the United Kingdom ensures freshness. It is incredibly important to me to showcase African coffee in this way as it is part of my personal heritage. Having grown up understanding the depth and significance of Habesha coffee culture, combining my desire to run a sustainable and ethical business with sharing these beautiful and ancient rituals has made the multi-continent particulars of Amatte worth any extra costs.
What are your immediate and short-term goals?
My immediate goal is to get Amatte featuring on the menus of incredible restaurants and cafes all around London. It’s important that Amatte is experienced as a luxurious and interesting addition to the offerings of establishments that are already dedicated to high quality experiences.
Longer term, I want to expand the business and get exposure for Amatte in more of a commercial, retail sense. We are currently selling our coffee on our website www.amatte.co.uk to individual customers and focusing on wholesale to cafes and restaurants. In the future, I would love for Amatte to be a luxury brand that consumers can indulge in as part of their weekly shop, knowing that they are making a truly impactful, ethical choice.
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