February 02, 2018 4 min read

What is Ethiopian Coffee?

Ethiopia the Birthplace of Coffee

Ethiopia is whereCoffea Arabica, the coffee plant, originates and it accounts for around three percent of the global coffee market and around sixty percent of foreign income comes from coffee. Ethiopia is the world's seventh largest producer of coffee, and Africa's top producer. Coffee Production is a longstanding tradition which dates back centuries and Ethiopia is considered to be the birthplace of the coffee plant and coffee culture. It is thought that coffee was discovered in Ethiopia as long ago as the ninth century. According to legend, the 9th-century goat-herder Kaldi discovered the coffee plant after noticing the energizing effect the plant had on his flock.Kaldi reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery, who made a drink with the coffee cherries and found that it kept him alert through the long hours of evening prayer. The abbot shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and the energizing power of coffee began to spread. 

Ethiopian Coffee and Culture

“Coffee plays such a heavily ingrained role in Ethiopian culture that it appears in many expressions dealing with life, food and interpersonal relationships. One common Ethiopian coffee saying is "Buna dabo naw". This translates to "Coffee is our bread". It demonstrates the central role that coffee plays in terms of diet and illustrates the level of importance placed on it as a source of sustenance. Another common saying is "Buna Tetu". This is an Amharic phrase that literally means "Drink coffee". It applies not only to the act of drinking coffee but also to socializing (much like the way people use the phrase "meet for coffee" in English).” (Source: The Spruce)

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is central to the communities of many Ethiopian villages. An invitation to attend a coffee ceremony is considered a mark of friendship or respect and is an excellent example of Ethiopian hospitality. Performing the ceremony is almost obligatory in the presence of a visitor, whatever the time of day. 

Ethiopian Coffee Farming

Most Ethiopian coffees are grown without use of agricultural chemicals in the most benign of conditions: under shade and intercropped with other crops. Harrars and Yirgacheffes in particular are what Ethiopians call "garden coffees," grown on small plots by villagers using completely traditional methods. The question remains, what is the best Ethiopian Coffee? Let's discuss the three categories of coffee arabica beans to get some insight into the differences in coffees.

Three Categories of Coffee Arabica Beans

Longberry: consists of the largest beans and are often considered of the highest quality in both value and flavour.

Shortberry: smaller than the Longberry beans but, are considered a high grade bean in Eastern Ethiopia where it originates.

Mocha: highly prized commodity. Mocha Harars are known for their peaberry beans that often have complex chocolate, spice and citrus notes.

Ethiopian Coffee Processing Methods

Variations in the wine and fruit tones of Ethiopian coffees are determined by the processings method.

Ethiopia Casual Dry-Processed Coffees

Coffee trees can be found growing uncultivated and often these beans are picked for local consumption. Beans are put out to dry in the fruit and are often roasted and consumed on the spot or sold to local market.

Ethiopia Wet-Processed Coffees

This is a more sophisticated large-scale method of processing the coffee bean. The best and ripest coffee fruit is sold to wet processing mills, called washing stations. The fruit is immediately removed from the beans in a series of complex operations before the beans are dried. The immediate removal of fruit involved in wet-processing apparently softens the fruity, wine-like profile of dried-in-the-fruit coffees like Harrars and turns it gentle, round, delicately complex, and fragrant with floral innuendo.

Washed coffees of Ethiopia include Ghimbi and Yirgacheffe.  Ghimbi coffee beans are grown in the western parts of the country and are more balanced, heavier, and has a longer lasting body than the Harrars. Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, high-toned and alive with shimmering citrus and flower tones, may be the world’s most distinctive coffee. Other Ethiopia wet-processed coffees — Washed Limu, Washed Sidamo, Washed Jima, and others — are typically soft, round, floral and citrusy, but less explosively fragrant than Yirgacheffe. They can be very fine and distinctive coffees, however.

Ethiopia Dry-Processed Harrar

This dry-processed coffee does not fall into the second class category with the rest. These celebrated beans from the Harrar region are put out into the sun fruit and all. Often, the fruit is allowed to dry directly on the tree which produces a wild, fruity, complexly sweet, with a slightly fermented aftertaste. This distinctive flavor is called the Mocha taste. In the best Harrar coffees, one can observe an intense aroma of blueberries or blackberries.  Ethiopian Harrar coffee is often used in espresso blends to capture the fine aromatics in the crema.

ethiopian coffee map

The Future of Coffee in Ethiopia

Coffee farming in Ethiopia is currently being threatened by climate change. In parts of Ethiopia, spring and summer rains have alreadydeclined by fifteen to twenty percentsince the 1970s. The frequency of droughts has increased in recent years, affecting coffee growing regions as well. Ethiopia could lose from thirty-nine to fifty-nine percent of its current coffee-growing area to climate change by the end of the century, according to a new study published inNature Plants.However, coffee farmers could adapt by moving their plantations to newer, more suitable regions in the coming decades. As lower-altitude regions become too inhospitable for Arabica coffee, it may be possible to grow them at increasingly higher altitudes. While there are some large, commercial farms, most are smallholder farms. Many farmers don't even have their own transportation and can't afford to take steps to mitigate the effects of climate change. Many smaller farmers are switching out of coffee into farming other drought-resistant plants. 

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