Thousands of small farmers live in this area, growing coffee at high altitudes where the Rift Valley meets the Bale Mountains. Farms range in size from 1 to 20 hectares, and banana and mango trees grow alongside coffee trees, imparting their fruity flavors into the soil. For hundreds of years, people here have governed by the Gadaa system, an indigenous democratic process of electing a leader and local representatives.
The area is rich in history – and rich in coffee. Producers bring their ripe harvests to central washing stations, where the cherries are pulped and washed with mountain spring water the same day. The pulped coffee goes into a fermentation tank for 72 hours, then is washed, spread, and sun-dried for up to 2 weeks on raised beds. The people of the Guji region take pride in the high quality of this sweet, clean coffee
The road south out of Addis Ababa leads straight to coffee country. The new highway toll road makes travel to the lowlands quicker than ever, but the pace slows down when the road starts to climb into the mountains. At Shashamane town, the eastern road carries travelers into the heart of the Sidama Guji coffee region, past family farms and pointed huts made of curved reeds.