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Solidifying Ethiopia as the birthplace of coffee

Solidifying Ethiopia as the birthplace of coffee

Alexander Hizikias is a 20-something entrepreneur involved in the coffee business. He recently opened a signature café of his brand – The Goat – with partners in the Bole area. Here he reflects with Samuel Getachew of The Reporter on the business, on what makes the product he offers different, on how he wants to help improve the coffee chain and the partnership he hopes will take his and his partners business ambition forward. Excerpts:

The Reporter: Tell me about yourself?

Alexander Hizikias: My name is Alexander Abay Hizikias and I just celebrated my 25th birthday last month. I earned my bachelor's degree in Economics from the School of Commerce at Addis Ababa University. I graduated in 2016 and even then, I was very tempted to get into business and I wanted to use my education as a foundation to start a business that would have an impact. Ultimately I wanted to help create needed employment for young people my age that needed their first jobs after completing their education. That was and is still important to me.  

In addition, I wanted to bring value addition far from the poor quality products that are often exported from other nations within Ethiopia such as in coffee. And while I started my career in textile, I also decided to venture into coffee because I love coffee. While we know Ethiopia is the home of coffee, where it was first discovered, I feel we have not really realized our potential.

Just look at where Vietnam was in my father’s generation and where it is now. Do I think Ethiopian coffee is great? It is exceptionally great and that is why we have to have it reach the potential we all know it has in the world. That is as a source of forex as well as tourism and the way we market the nation to outsiders. I truly believe in the potential of coffee tourism as well, where tourists can come and see the coffee farms, the factories and really discover its home.

How did you get into the coffee business?

That is an interesting question and the answer is obvious. My progression to coffee business was to have been expected. My childhood friends saw that in me at an early age. I discovered the magic of it early on and I was certainly not a latecomer to it. As you may know, the coffee value addition chain never exceeds the plain roasting and grinding format in the last few years. The Goat Flavored Coffee and Café, as the name indicates, has a historical significance in the Ethiopian history in the invention of the product. Sure, as I indicated above, we are the birthplace of coffee, but our statement as the founders is practically nonexistent when one speaks of coffee in the world. Hence, we were inspired to add something new and thus create a worldwide statement in solidifying Ethiopia as the birthplace of coffee and coffee innovation.

As such, we now have a café in Bole that we opened earlier this year and that is where we showcase our products to our loyal and growing clienteles. Our café is located not far from Bole Medhanialem, near the Abyssinia building.  In short, I am happy I have become Ethiopia’s coffee ambassador and have others discover, you can actually find the quality coffee that is often exported elsewhere, but now available within Ethiopia.

Share with me the highlights?

With regards to our services as The Goat Café, we will be opening multiple locations around the city in 2021. As we serve our signature iced beverages in consideration of our peer group, the younger generation's appeal to The Goat Café will be ever-growing.

The Goat Café is the first flavored coffee company in Ethiopia. By flavored coffee, herbal and artificial flavors may be added to enhance the natural taste and aroma of coffee. It’s not added to dominate the flavor nor promote added sugar. Matter of fact, we try to promote sugar-free consumption of coffee. One of the first flavorings incorporated was Vanilla. We surveyed our products to randomly sampled customers’ of The Goat Café and found that more than 75 percent of the respondents told us that they were inclined to add sugar in their espresso or macchiato since the taste of traditional coffee is not pleasant to the taste buds. So why not add a flavor that has a creamy and pleasant character?

What is in the future?

The future for “The Goat Café” can be seen on the horizon with coffee based cosmetics. We have introduced the first innovative upcycled use of coffee for cosmetic purposes. Currently, we are opening a state-of-the-art roasting, packaging and bottling facility in the Kaliti area later on this year, most probably in December. And we have plans to export most of our production outputs to Europe, Asia and the US. Those that taste our coffee come to our café and find out from words-of-mouth, they often come back for more. When they see opportunities for us, where we are not able to, they always get in touch with us and encourage us to do more, market our products to those we have not reached and complement our products and give us advice where and how we can grow and improve ourselves. That is the greatest joy of what we do.

Our packaged products are also sold in various supermarkets throughout Ethiopia. One thing I have noticed over the years is the growing competition of local coffee products that are being sold throughout the country and what that has brought it a chance to compete and the products that are now being sold are evolving and quality is becoming a priority and this is helping all of us to grow.

Is there any partnership?

The partnership is currently owned by me, Alexander, Nahom Michael and Amanuel Sisay; all graduates in different fields of studies and contributing to The Goat Café in diverse ways. We also have partnerships with foreign companies in the export side of our innovative products. We are young, ambitious and even when we found ample opportunities to go elsewhere outside of Ethiopia, we decided to stay, some of us even moved back, because we see a potential in Ethiopia.

We have an amazing country with a large population and with an ever increasing middle class with spending power and still a young population. We have lots of opportunities to not look elsewhere and discover the best in the world, right here in Ethiopia. To those who come to me for advice, I always remind them the best of Ethiopia – withstanding the shortcomings – that Ethiopia is home and in everything we see, not per our expectation and standard, there is our opportunity to contribute.

While I cannot speak on behalf of my colleagues, I hope people know that we are not in business for the sake of making money, if that was to be the case, we would be involved in other business ventures. The coffee business is tough, very competitive and demanding but we see a role in it. In all we do, we hope to help change the narrative of Ethiopia where young people are given ample opportunity to succeed and discover themselves. I hope that will be our greatest legacy.