2013 Africa Braintrust

Africa Braintrust Panel

Representative Karen Bass and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation hosted the 2013 Africa Braintrust on Friday, September 21st.  The event was held at the Washington Convention Center and had as its theme, “50 Years of Unity and a Future of Progress.”

Tebabu was part of an afternoon panel discussion entitled, "African Diaspora:  Untapped Engine."  Other esteemed panelists included:   Reginald Maynor, Director International Sales, Luster Products Inc.; Kendal Tyre, Partner, Nixon Peabody; and Julie Ndjee,  VP Sales and Marketing, Neilly's Foods LLC.

The panel was moderated by Semhar Araia, Executive Director of the Diaspora African Women’s Network.  Ms. Araia opened the discussion with these remarks:  “The African Diaspora totals approximately 150 million people in the Americas.  With over $40 billion in purchasing power, the Diaspora, if properly leveraged, can have a significant and transformative effect on the growth of economies and local communities throughout the continent.  Today’s panel provides tangible examples of this transformative effect and is another example of the driving force behind Africa’s rise.”

For his part, Tebabu talked about the Virtuous Exchange business model, the personal story behind the model, and the exciting possibilities for, “changing the international narrative,” as it relates to trade. 

Please watch the video below to hear the full panel discussion.


Brewing Change at the 3rd Annual Ethiopian Festival

Coffee Ceremony Crowd Shot Blessed Coffee and members of the Brewing Change campaign team were among the more than 40 vendors at the 3rd Annual Ethiopian Festival held this past Saturday at Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring.

The Festival slogan, “Celebrating diversity—promoting the joy of unity,” could be experienced everywhere at the event.  Festival attendees from near and far enjoyed Ethiopian food, shopped for arts and crafts, and enjoyed the sights and sounds of Ethiopian performers.

Mannequin Kimberly and Gretchen Blessed Coffee’s tent was a popular destination.  A steady rotation of volunteers sold traditional and iced coffees as well as Blessed Coffee gift cards.  Seats were always filled for the coffee ceremonies that were held throughout the day. 

Multicultura Kids Statues Brewing Change campaign team members were at the event, in force.  They staffed a Brewing Change tent that was set up café style to promote conversation.  Team members answered questions about Blessed Coffee and the campaign.  They also managed to make time to sell specially designed “Ethiopia” t-shirts.

Family Lady in RedOf course, there were many people from the Ethiopian diaspora at the Festival.  But, downtown Silver Spring really embraced the event as well.  Many local leaders as well as individuals and families from the surrounding neighborhoods also came out to enjoy the culture and diversity.     

Mehbrahtu and Yared T-ShirtsPerhaps Dana Beyer of Progressive Neighbors Montgomery summed up the significance of the event best:  “This Festival represents what Silver Spring and Montgomery County have now become—people from all over the world are coming here and our community is being enriched by it.  . . .  Blessed Coffee and this Festival are part of the new way forward for a progressive economy.”    


Age-Old Ethiopian Spices, Offered in a New Way


Tebabu, Sara, Dawit, Stefanos


Where can you find some of the DC Metro Area’s most interesting and innovative young entrepreneurs?  If it’s a weekday evening in Takoma Park, probably at a Brewing Change campaign team meeting. 

The Brewing Change campaign team has been convening throughout the summer, meeting every other Wednesday in Sara and Tebabu’s living room.  The team will continue to meet regularly through the campaign launch date of September 22nd.    

Meetings are energetic gatherings full of ideas, planning, compromising, organizing and lots of good food and guests! Meetings are open to the public and all who are interested in learning about Blessed Coffee, the campaign, and Virtuous Exchange are invited to attend. 

Stefanos  Ghebrehawariat and Dawit Kahsai were among the guests at the team’s most recent meeting.  By day, Stefanos is a technology consultant and Dawit works on policy issues for AARP.  But the two are also aspiring entrepreneurs—hoping to bring high quality, traditional Ethiopian spices to the American market.

Stefanos and Dawit were drawn to the campaign team meeting as a result of an earlier conversation with Tebabu.  After learning about Blessed Coffee, they’d sought him out for a bit of sage advice on business start-up.  But, after an hour and a half meeting with him, they realized that they were getting a whole lot more. “We started off the meeting wanting advice on how to launch a business, but we walked away with a vision,” confided Stefanos. 

First, their business idea:  Stefanos and Dawit plan to sell high quality Berbere and Shiro (two Ethiopian spices) online in the US.  Berbere is a spice blend of red chili and garlic.  Ethiopian celebrity chef Marcus Samuelson calls Berbere, “the most essential spice blend used in Ethiopian cuisine.” Shiro is also a blend and has as its main ingredient dried chickpeas. 

According to Stefanos, it’s very difficult to get good Berbere and Shiro in the US because manufacturers are focused on the bottom line, not using high quality ingredients and processing with care.  The Berbere that they will be selling uses Stefanos’ mom’s recipe. 

Now, here’s their vision:  The guys will connect gifted women spice producers in Ethiopia directly to hungry consumers in the US.  Using the Virtuous Exchange model, Stefanos and Dawit are moving from what was formerly a brokerage relationship with the women spice makers to a partnership with more benefit sharing. 

“At first, we just thought it was enough to meet demand.  But, the Virtuous Exchange model tells us that’s not enough.  We have to genuinely serve each of these communities–producers and consumers,” remarked Stefanos.  Stefanos went on to say that he and Dawit are still figuring out how to bring consumers into the process in a meaningful way, but added that just thinking about it has been a rewarding exercise. 

Others will soon have an opportunity to meet Stefanos and Dawit and learn more about Berbere and Shiro than any resident of the DMV has a right to know.  They will have a tent at the 3rd Annual Ethiopian Festival in downtown Silver Spring on September 15th.  Join them and help celebrate the launch of their new new e-commerce website, happening that day!

Interested in attending a Brewing Change campaign team meeting?  Please contact Tebabu at tebabu@blessedcoffee.us.


Virtuous Exchange Goes Beyond Fair Trade

Over the past four decades, the work of socially conscious entrepreneurs and consumers has helped to turn the phrase “Fair Trade” into a household name.  More than ever, consumers are paying attention to the producers of the goods that they purchase—wanting to ensure that they are working in safe conditions, receiving fair pay, and have opportunities for growth.  Undoubtedly, efforts rooted in the principles of Fair Trade have resulted in improved lives for many small-scale producers in developing countries. 

But, some would argue that it is time to grow beyond Fair Trade in our efforts to provide equity in the global marketplace.    

In a recent article from IRIN (the news and analysis website for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), Abdullah Bagersh of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange had this to say:   "Despite farmers' praise, some remain concerned that fair trade represents another form of charity that does not enable self-sufficiency.  . . . Farmers must adhere to strict [fair trade] practices or risk losing the market they have committed to and become dependent on. Others argue the system splits communities along the lines of farmers who qualify for fair trade premiums and those that do not."

Blessed Coffee aspires to take that next step–improving upon Fair Trade by embracing what's best about it (fair prices, ethical treatment, sustainable practices), and then adding in the relationship building, mutual benefit and empowerment that have been missing. Blessed Coffee calls this next step Virtuous Exchange.    

Tadesse Meskela: The Inspiration Behind Blessed Coffee

Tedesse at Blessed Coffee InaugurationHave you ever wondered where inspirational people get their inspiration?  Well, for Blessed Coffee co-founders Tebabu and Sara you need look no further than fellow Ethiopian Tadesse Meskela. 

Tadesse is the founder and general manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Co-operative Union (OCFCU).  The OCFCU was founded in 1999 and today represents some 240,000 small coffee growers from Ethiopia’s largest region, Oromia.  Blessed Coffee gets its Arabica coffee beans from the farmers of this co-operative.

Tadesse was featured in the 2006 documentary Black Gold.  The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was a nominee for the Sundance Grand Jury Prize.  The film captures the paradox between the enormous sums of money generated by the global coffee trade and the meager existence of many of the farmers growing that coffee.  The film follows Tadesse’s efforts as he travels the world working to obtain better prices for OCFCU farmers than those set by the international commodities exchange.

The trailer for Black Gold opens with the startling statistic, “For a 3 dollar cup of coffee, the farmer earns 3 cents.”    It was this type of gross inequity that compelled Tadesse to develop a co-operative union system that allows farmers to retain much of the money that would otherwise be paid out to middlemen and exporters.   

The world has taken notice.  Shortly after the release of Black Gold, Tadesse met with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to screen the documentary.  Britain’s then Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Ed Balls, said, “Delivering trade justice is not just morally right, it is an economic necessity for Tadesse and the farmers.”  Also taking notice has been Oxfam America, an OCFCU partner and sponsor of a 7-city US tour that gave Tadesse a platform for continuing to raise awareness about the inequities in the global coffee market.

Perhaps most significantly, in 2012 Tadesse traveled to Washington, DC to participate in talks related to the 38th G8 Summit and to sign the “Private Sector Declaration of Support for African Agricultural Development.” It was the first time that the G8 Summit included private sector leaders in these discussions.

Tebabu and Sara met Tadesse in 2002 at a forum organized by Oxfam International and Global Exchange.  It was through this meeting that Blessed Coffee and its business model Virtuous Exchange were born. 

Tadesse has become a friend, mentor, and business advisor to Tebabu and Sara.  During a recent visit to the US, Tedasse stayed at their Takoma Park home and met with members of the Brewing Change campaign team.   His words to the team echoed his earlier message at Blessed Coffee’s inauguration event: 

“Anyone who has based their business on the hope of finding a permanent loser has [an un]sustainable business.  I’m always telling business people that in order for them to have a viable, prosperous, and sustainable business, every company needs to incorporate human dimensions.  Tebabu and [his] associates are one of the few who respond to the need of the farmers in returning $1 USD from a pound of roasted coffee.”

Want to be inspired yourself?  Click here to read the full text of Tadesse's inauguration remarks which are posted on Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s website.


About Blessed Coffee

Blessed Coffee (BC) is based on the philosophy, "from the farmer to your cup" and is established as a socially responsible business and trade geared towards development in coffee growing regions as well as in communities in the US where coffee is sold.

The Nation’s second Benefit Corporation
The significance and common good of the founding philosophy was recently confirmed through the enactment of the "Benefit Corporation," a new legislation signed into law in April 2010 in the state of Maryland. The first of its kind in the nation it is a hybrid of for-profit and nonprofit models that aims for community benefits as well as profits. BC is the second company to be registered under the Benefit Corporation law. BC's model is more than compelling; it resonates at multiple levels: the desire for the very best, the appeal of culture as well as the aspiration to produce common good for farmers in Ethiopia and communities in the US.

By working with Ethiopian coffee cooperatives and directly with 180,000 small farmers that have a stake in BC's success, BC brings light to the rich Ethiopian coffee tradition and introduces premium grade, shade grown, organic Ethiopian coffees. Getting the coffee directly from the farmers and bypassing several middle agents provides a bigger profit margin (US$2.50 per pound to US$13.00) for coffee growers.


High value profit sharing arrangements and BC's long standing association with the small coffee growers secures its access to the highest grade of beans in regions renowned for producing the world's finest coffees. The same arrangements guarantee that quality is maintained in each step of the logistics chain – including 18 quality control checks during the crucial sorting and washing processes. The result is a branded product with a discernable difference in both taste and consistency.

As BC grows and expands its market share and variety of supply, small coffee farmers from other cooperative unions in Ethiopia and other African countries will establish a business relationship with other small coffee farmers in Ethiopia and other African coffee growing countries. Support and endorsement of BC's business concept has been received from Congressman Mike Honda, Chair of the US Congressional Ethiopian Caucus; the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington DC; Governor of Maryland and the Governor's Commission for African affairs. BC has also been awarded a Congratulatory Citation is from the General Assembly of the State of Maryland.