Experiencing Ethiopian Coffee in Japan

We look at Dawit Woldetsadik’s coffee businesses in Japan, which introduce visitors to the Ethiopian coffee ceremony.

BY JOHN W. HORTON III
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Photos courtesy of John Horton III

At 40 years old, Dawit Woldetsadik is a busy coffee entrepreneur with three children. I met him and his assistant Natsuki Kimura at his office in Shibuya to discuss his coffee importing business, the coffee shop, and truck, but more importantly his coffee, which he imports directly from coffee farmers in Ethiopia. Walking to a new rooftop park in Shibuya, we sat down to talk about coffee. His cool demeanor adds to his plethora of knowledge about coffee. Like Japan, which has a traditional tea ceremony, Ethiopia has a traditional coffee ceremony, which Woldetsadik also presents to coffee lovers and people involved in the industry. During the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony, the process is done in front of you by a woman wearing traditional Ethiopian clothes, proving to be a truly unique experience in Japan. The artistic process depends on the personality, but more importantly the passion of the person performing the ceremony. 

Ethiopian Coffee House provides authentic Ethiopian coffee, imported from Addis Ababa, in Japan.

Prior to the pandemic, which forced him to close his Ethiopian Coffee House in Katsushika, Tokyo, the place had become his main base, a place where patrons could order traditional Ethiopian dishes and enjoy a variety of Ethiopian coffees carefully ground and dripped for customers. At the moment, he is looking to move operations to central Tokyo, where there can be enough space for him to host traditional Ethiopian coffee presentations and for a café. 

Since June 2020, he has been operating a small coffee truck in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, or at Tokyo Station. He is busy preparing delicious Ethiopian food and Ethiopian coffee served black to customers during lunch time in the busy city. The cool traditional Ethiopian tastes complement the fruity flavors of the Ethiopian coffee. 

Dawit coffee shop also provides the traditional coffee ceremony for visitors.

Dawit started his coffee importing company in 2015, supplying microlot Ethiopian coffee beans to micro-roasters throughout Japan. In 2017, he started Ethiopian Coffee House in Katsushika to promote Ethiopian coffee culture. It was also at this time that he expanded his connections with Temerachi Coffee Export PLC in Addis Ababa. In Ethiopia, he carefully selects coffee beans to import and processes every year to provide Japanese roasters with premium Ethiopian coffee beans. Starting with air cargo, he later was able to start shipping with a container in 2019. Along with coffee importing, Dawit leads coffee tours in Ethiopia for roasters and baristas so they can see for themselves the source of his fruity beans and how he handles his operations, helping coffee growers in Ethiopia. Tour packages would determine where he would visit, but it was a way for the global coffee industry to get a more intimate look at how coffee is produced there. 

Dawit’s coffee truck in Tokyo.

Originally, Dawit came to Japan to study media production and Japanese culture, and after meeting his wife, he returned to Ethiopia. Later he decided to come and live in Japan. Dawit says that doing media work wasn’t satisfying to him, though he is equally talented in graphic design, having created the logos for all of his businesses. He felt that he wanted to connect Japan with his Ethiopian culture, to provide a unique coffee-drinking experience and educate customers about its coffee culture and history. He grew up on his grandmother’s coffee farm, where he saw firsthand how coffee is grown and the struggles that sometimes hamper Ethiopian coffee growers. Fascinated by coffee, he was concerned by how many Ethiopian coffee farmers had no fair trading line and limited access to international markets. Education was a way of getting away from becoming a coffee farmer, but he realized later that the very things that he once sought to leave would become his destiny and a way to help his countrymen back home. 

The menu at Ethiopian Coffee House.

Two years ago Ethiopian Coffee Houses started to do seminars with UCC Coffee Academy in Japan. As a former UCC student himself, Dawit has worked closely with them to introduce students to the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Seminars are also held online, where UCC academy students can communicate directly with Ethiopian coffee farmers to get up-to-date information about coffee production.

Dawit currently has three enterprises—Ethiopian Coffee House in Katsushika, Temerachi Coffee Imports PLC in Addis Ababa, and Selam Store Trading. “Ethiopian coffee has become more popular … everyone is struggling to make better-quality coffee and a better price. I’m also importing into Japan high-quality specialty coffee from a single farm. I want to introduce what this means, the flavor, story, and taste. It will be very valuable for customers,” says Dawit. “I encourage everyone (farmers) to properly produce on their farm, don’t mix with other coffee varieties. Once you produce (on) your own farm, it will be valuable in international markets.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John W. Horton III is a 47-year-old writer and teacher who lives between Kawaguchi, Japan, and Los Angeles. His novel Alvarado, published by Atmosphere Press, will be available September 1 on Amazon.

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