DARREN CALABRESE, GUELPH MERCURY
Biruktait Yemhane of Guelph prepares coffee in the traditional Ethiopian
fashion at Planet Bean Coffee yesterday. Yemhane was on hand to celebrate
Planet Bean becoming the first Canadian company to sign an agreement with
the Ethiopian government to use Ethiopian trademarked coffee beans such as
Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe.
DAVE CARTER, GUELPH MERCURY
Gary Aguto, left, and Doug Slauenwhite have a cup of coffee at Planet Bean
yesterday. The Guelph coffee company became the first Canadian coffee
retailer to sign an agreement with Ethiopia to use trademarked coffee beans
after the country's lengthy battle with Starbucks over trademark rights.
DAVE CARTER, GUELPH MERCURY
Dave Barrett, roast master at Guelph's Planet Bean, fills the hopper with
coffee beans yesterday. The roastery signed an agreement with the Ethiopian
government to use Ethiopian trademarked beans.
Spilling the beans
Ethiopia signs deal with Guelph's Planet Bean after doing
battle with Starbucks over trademarked coffee
Guelph's Planet Bean has become the first coffee retailer in Canada to sign
an agreement with Ethiopia to sell its beans following the country's lengthy
battle with Starbucks over trademark rights.
Representatives from the Ethiopian embassy in Washington, D.C. were at the
coffee company's location in the Grange Road Plaza yesterday to seal the
It was followed by an Ethiopian coffee ceremony where beans were roasted
the traditional way, ground, boiled and served in tiny porcelain cups.
"Ethiopians know their coffee," said Bill Barrett, one of the owners of Planet
"They know how to grow it, roast it and drink it. Unlike other places, they've
developed regionally specific coffees."
The palates of coffee drinkers are also becoming more sophisticated and
people are beginning to recognize the regional differences in the beans, he
Coffee was born in Ethiopia and it is in the forests of the Kaffa region that
coffee arabica grew wild.
Despite the country being recognized as the originator of coffee, it didn't
translate into farmers being offered a better price for their coffee beans.
In 2003, Ethiopia began an initiative to trademark specialty coffees around
the world including the European Union, United States, Japan, Middle East
and Canada. Since then, it has succeeded in trademarking three of its finest
coffees: Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe.
However, in 2005 when Ethiopia tried to register its brand Shirkina Sundried
Sidamo at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, it was denied the request
as Seattle-based coffee giant Starbucks made a similar application for the
Sidamo brand, said Solomon Mekonnen, economic officer with the Ethiopian
embassy in Washington, D.C. who made the trip to Guelph.
A lengthy public campaign, led by anti-poverty organization Oxfam,
eventually saw Starbucks back down, he said.
Mohammed Garad, senior consultant with Light Years IP, an intellectual
property firm advising the Ethiopian government, said the farmers get very
little for the coffees they produce, compared to retail prices.
For example, Starbucks would sell a kilogram of specialty coffee for about
US$26 and the farmer would receive about 26 or 27 cents for each kilogram,
"This was even stunning for those in the coffee industry."
Planet Bean pays fair-trade prices for these specialty coffees. Securing the
rights to the coffee names would allow Ethiopia to get better value for its
coffee and enable farmers to receive a greater share of the retail price,
He added there will be a trickle down effect, which will assist the farmer in
improving the quality of coffee.
"The demand for these coffees will increase and consumers are then willing
to pay a better price for this coffee," he said.
Under the agreement, the companies are obligated to promote the specialty
coffees. Two dozen companies around the world have already signed an
agreement with Ethiopia. The government is also in negotiations with about
40 other companies.