Get to Know:

Finest Beans

with Dereje Belachew, co-founder

Interview with Dereje Belachew, co-founder of Finest Beans

In Issue 6, we featured a coffee from This Coffee Co. named Anchinalun. Named after the woman who produced it, this coffee is a farmer direct lot imported by Finest Beans based in Surrey, British Columbia. Founded by Dereje Belachew and Mengo McCall, Finest Beans is on a mission to advance coffee sustainability, traceability and transparency by directly connecting smallholder farmers with independent coffee roasters. They also have a goal of sharing Ethiopian coffee culture with their community, and Dereje further bridges the gap between consumers and producers at his shop Finest Cup Specialty Coffee. We sat down with Dereje, co-founder, to learn more about his story and Ethiopian coffee.
Can you tell us more about the cultural significance of coffee in Ethiopia?
Coffee is culturally, economically, and socially integrated with Ethiopia. Coffee, whether you drink, grow, or roast, has come to be a huge social hub. Economically, coffee is a normal export and a significant portion of the population benefits directly or indirectly from the coffee trade.
How has the Surrey community come to embrace Ethiopian coffees over the years?
Compared to Vancouver or Burnaby, there aren’t as many specialty coffees as there are commercial places in Surrey. In one way, it’s challenging as there is a lot of marketing work to be done to get people to pay attention to specialty coffee. On the other hand, since Surrey is a bit of a specialty coffee desert, this gives us the opportunity to serve people who would otherwise have to commute to bigger cities to get a good cup of coffee. 
But I think there will be significant change! We also sell coffee, both roasted and green, so I’ve even seen some people convert from being coffee drinkers to slowly graduating to roasting their own beans! 
What has been the most challenging part about sourcing from Ethiopia?
The challenge is navigating the red tape around the exporting process and the many delays and logistical issues that arise. Finances are also a big challenge, as when you buy coffee from Ethiopia you must pay in full, so your money is tied up until it arrives, which can take several months. We always want to be able to present well-priced beans from farmers, but it becomes a bit challenging to do so as all of these logistical problems incur cost.
If you could only pick one for the rest of your life: washed or naturals?
Naturals. Absolutely. I like the rich and fruity sweetness you can find in naturals. The acidity is great, but it’s not overwhelming.
Despite challenges, what do you love the most about your job?
When our customers appreciate the coffee and stories of farmers, I feel like I’ve done a great service to the supply chain. What we value most is making sure everyone in the supply chain benefits, and we want to create a shorter link between consumers and farmers. I feel a great sense of pride when people start to remember and ask for a specific farmer’s coffee. In these moments, I love how rewarding this job feels for me and how it helps my country.
Can you tell us more about Bette Buna and Anchinalun?
We receive this coffee from a small exporter named Bette Buna, and we love working with them as they care about where they source their coffee as opposed to bigger exporters who are more interested in securing bigger volumes and larger wholesale clients. All of Bette Buna’s lots are named after the farmer, family or community who produced them, and in this case, we have a coffee named after Anchinalun, the woman who produced this coffee.
Different from large estates in Latin America, in Ethiopia farmers only have 1 hectare of farmland or less, so it’s not easy for them to produce, process and export their own coffee; they need the help of exporters who understand and cater to their needs, and Bette Buna and Anchinalun's coffee is exactly what we love to represent here at Finest Beans.