5 Minutes With: Demissie Tulu, coffee pioneer, Buna Oromia


One local took a gamble with this Ethiopian coffee specialist on Brecknock Road. And now Ed Miliband is a fan



Demissie Tulu:
Demissie Tulu: ‘Ed Miliband visited the café yesterday afternoon to buy a pack of Yirgacheffe.’
How long have you lived in the area?
I was born and brought up in Oromia, Ethiopia. I came to the UK in early 1980 to UCL, and then worked for The Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust. I’ve lived the whole time in Kentish Town, and am currently on Agar Grove.

Why did you get into the business?
Coffee is the main export commodity for Ethiopia, and what people very much associate the country with. However, when I actually lived in the capital Addis Ababa, I did several years’ campaigning for refugees and support for war victims and displaced people in Ethiopia.

What does the name of your shop mean? Buna in the Oromo language means coffee. It’s not widely marketed in UK due to its quality and price. In the Middle East it is also called Bunn. Coffee originated in the Kaffa region of Ethiopia; the word comes from there.

Exterior on Brecknock Road. Photo: SE
Exterior on Brecknock Road. Photo: SE

Tell us about your beans.
We are currently promoting five types. These are:
1) Harar: strength 4, a strong mocha taste with fruity aroma.
2) Yirgacheffe: aromatic, jasmine and natural lemon.
3) Sidamo: spicy and natural citrus flavours.
4) Jimma: chocolatey taste.
5) Limu: distinct winey flavour.

Why is your coffee special – and how should we order it?
Everything on sale here is organic, single state (not blended or mixed) arabica coffee from its origin, the farmers’ cooperative union in Oromia/Ethiopia. I don’t believe there’s any other single state coffee from a known origin sold in Camden. Many are blended or mixed with other low quality robusta beans.

Yirgacheffe and Sidamo are known by all coffee companies as quality enhancers. For instance, Costa uses Yirgacheffe for blending to create their brand, while Starbucks uses Sidamo beans. Many companies are of course making a huge profit in this way.

How did you come to open on Brecknock Road?
I’m a member of the Fairtrade Foundation and Camden Fairtrade Network. We registered our coffee brand in 2011, which was supported by the then Mayor of Camden, Jonathan Simpson, at the Town Hall. I had done marketing research for over three years: at Camden Market, Queen’s Crescent, Chapel Market, Liverpool Street, and festivals in Camden and Islington. I then decided to open the shop so that people find out the difference between blended coffee and single state coffee from a known origin. After searching for a shop for few months my business partner Tigist and I found 13 Brecknock Road.

A woman harvesting coffee in Ethiopia. Photo: Buna Oromia
A woman harvesting coffee in Ethiopia. Photo: Buna Oromia

Is business good?
Our coffee has been admired by customers at tastings both here and over at Earth Natural Foods in Kentish Town, but the business at the shop has not yet grown as expected due to the location. However, as a result of this article appearing in your latest print issue, many readers have turned up and tasted the coffee, including Ed Miliband, who visited last week to buy a pack of Yirgacheffe. I thank him and everyone else very much for taking the effort and support given to us.

So would you say there’s a good sense of community here?
From my observation, it is quite good. But some of the business owners on Brecknock are not so optimistic about their growth.

Finally, what else should we know about Buna Oromia?
If you can’t make it up here to the shop, in the last few years we have developed relations with other supermarkets and stores across the area: as well as Earth Natural foods there’s Pomona in Belsize Park, the Quaker Centre at Euston Road, the People’s Supermarket in Holborn, and Bumble Bee right across the road. And as we are marketing the coffee on the internet, you can always order a bag there. Thankfully, online sales are picking up.

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Buna Oromia is at 13 Brecknock Road N7, open 10am to 6pm. You can find out more about them on bunaoromiacoffee.co.uk

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