Danakil Depression, Lake Tana, and Great Rift Valley are some of the breathtaking landmarks that you’ll find in Ethiopia. Rastafarians see the country as their birthplace. Some regard it as the sacred keeper of the Ark of Covenant and a piece of the True Cross, where Jesus was crucified in 33 A.D.
But beyond these exciting facts, do you know what made Ethiopia famous? Coffee. Keep reading to learn all you need to know about Ethiopian coffee.
History of Ethiopian Coffee
A legend says the coffee beans were discovered by a goat herder named Kaldi. He noticed the unusual behavior of his goats every time they eat the wild berries of a bush.
Fascinated by this discovery, he picked up some cherries and went to the monastery to present what he thought to be heaven-sent food to the monk. A monk evaluated the coffee cherries he brought and threw them into the fire pit with the belief that they were the devil’s work.
The embers eventually roasted the coffee beans and a unique aroma filled the room. Kaldi took the roasted beans and put them in the water, giving way to the first cup of coffee ever made. Using the traditional method of making tea, the monks applied the same principle in making coffee. They realized its beneficial effect, especially when doing meditations and devotions.
Since then, coffee production has become a part of Ethiopians’ everyday life, and saw it as a staple food like bread (from the Ethiopian phrase, Buna dabo naw, translated as “Coffee is our bread.”)
True story or apocryphal, Ethiopia’s coffee production system flourished from 1800 up to the present. It has four categories: garden, plantation, semi-forest, and forest production system. Yet, many farmers harvest cherries from the natural semi-forest.
The Gesha forest in the southern part of the country is the most popular. It is where most geisha coffee plants in Central America come from. Yet, the modern geisha varietals are the result of natural mutations over time.
Ethiopian Coffee Today
As the largest producer of coffee in Africa, Ethiopia plans to triple its coffee production effort for the next five years. The government will focus on improving its production and marketing system and is expecting to harvest 1.8 million tons of coffee by 2024.
To boost its coffee productivity, old trees will be replaced by new coffee seedlings. Aside from the existing coffee plantations, Ethiopia sought to cultivate coffee on 5.4 million hectares of land. Part of the government’s plan in tripling the coffee production is penetrating the East Asian market.
To date, Ethiopia is the fifth-largest coffee producer in the world and is responsible for 4.2% of global coffee production. While 50% of its coffee production is consumed domestically, 25-30% of the region’s revenue came from Arabica coffee exports.
Ethiopian Regions Known for Their Coffee
To appreciate coffee is to understand its roots, the beans, and the processes down to the brewing methods to enjoy a coffee from Ethiopia. Surprisingly, there is more to discover from the coffee beans harvested from the significant coffee-producing regions:
Yirgacheffe coffee beans undergo what is known as wet processing or washing. This process involves removing the outer skin and pulping to expose the precious seeds within. What sets these beans apart is their Arabica Heirloom varietal, which adds depth and complexity to every cup.
The Yirgacheffe beans grow at elevations ranging between 1,700 and 2,000 meters above sea level. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, they also qualify as strictly hard bean (SHB) and strictly high grown (SHG). It’s no wonder they bring out some truly premium flavors.
The taste profile of Yirgacheffe coffee offers chocolatey and nutty notes, plus high-toned floral and citrus characteristics that will leave you feeling refreshed after every indulgent sip. For instance, Volcanica’s Ethiopian coffee sourced from an independent coffee farm in Yirgacheffe features bold and sophisticated, bright, and fruity flavors.
Like Yirgacheffe beans, Sidamo coffee undergoes wet processing before being dried on raised beds—a testament to fine craftsmanship right from harvest to your favorite mug.
Thriving at elevations between 1,500 and 2,200 meters above sea level, the Arabica Heirloom Ethiopian variety shines through in every batch brewed up by these captivating beans.
Sidamo doesn’t hold back when it comes to flavor either. Its well-balanced cupping notes feature delicate bursts of berries and zesty citrus, complemented by a complex acidity.
Harrar coffee beans are naturally processed—sun-dried in concrete slabs under the sun—and grown between elevations ranging from 1,510 to 2,120 meters above sea level, so they thrive among Ethiopia’s highlands.
When brewed into coffee, Harrar offers a satisfying cup. The heaviness of its body takes center stage alongside spiciness and fragrant undertones.
From each sip, you can also get delightful notes reminiscent of dark chocolate-coated blackberries and floral tones that add depth and complexity to this captivating brew.
Limu coffee beans undergo wet-processing which helps preserve their vibrant flavor profile that can go from elevated altitudes ranging between 3,600 and 6,200 feet above sea level right down to your cup.
With every sip of Limu coffee, you’re greeted by a well-balanced body with distinct spicy and wine-like flavors. There’s a delightful sense of sweetness intertwined with hints of floral overtones and a lower but a bit sharper acidity.
Quality & Standards of Ethiopian Coffee
Ethiopia takes the quality of its coffee seriously. As the homeland of all coffees enjoyed worldwide, their reputation will significantly be affected if they export low coffee quality.
So what standards does Ethiopia maintain?
Addis Ababa hosted the last UN Summit in 2018, so there’s no shortage of progressive thought in supporting a sustainable global economy and environmental development.
Specific certifications and standards are imposed on coffee farms that wish to sell their beans as the basis for high-quality coffee in Ethiopia which are:
- FairTrade certification: A certification required in Ethiopia and an economic strategy to alleviate poverty and develop sustainable farming.
- Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) and Rainforest Alliance (RA) or SAN/RA: A commission to promote social and environmental sustainability in agricultural methods by developing standards.
- Forest Stewardship Council (FSC): An independent, non-profit, non-governmental agency that promotes responsible management of forests around the world.
- Utz certification: An international private sector certification initiative that primarily focuses on coffee. It aims to achieve a sustainable agricultural supply chain in coffee by focusing on the implementation of the track and trace system.
- Shade-grown or Bird-friendly certification: Coffees labeled “bird-friendly” or shade-grown are considered 100% shade-grown and organic. This ensures that the coffee farm is a supporter of the “highest diversity of migratory birds, native flora and fauna.”
The quality of coffee has an impact on its price in the world market. As the 5th largest producer of Arabica coffee beans in the world, coffee from Ethiopia undergoes rigorous processing to maintain a premium-grade quality of the coffee.
Such processing methods that Ethiopians use are:
Dry-processing (unwashed): The depulped coffee cherries are sun-dried right after their harvest.
Wet-processing (washed): Right after the coffee cherries are harvested from the trees, they are pulped and fermented. The mucilage cover is removed by washing before it is sun-dried.
Farming Ethiopian coffee beans have provided a livelihood to over 15 million Ethiopian natives. But maintaining productivity is a challenge due to climate change. A 2017 study revealed the coffee farming regions that are susceptible to climate change. The regions mentioned in this study are:
North zone: Amhara and Benishangul Gumuz (in red/pink)
Southwest zone: Wellega, Illubabor, Jimma-Limu, Kaffa, Tepi, and Bench Maji (in light blue)
Rift zone: rift north and south (in light green)
Southeast zone: Sidamo, Yirgacheffe, Bale, and central-eastern highlands (in dark blue)
Harrar zone: Arsi, East and West Hararge (in dark green)
What are the most famous coffee-producing regions?
Most coffee roasters that contribute to Ethiopia’s coffee market come from the following regions: Harrar and Yirgacheffe (formerly Sidamo). The coffee farmers pride themself on the distinct flavor profile that every coffee lover loves.
Harrar coffee bean: It is located in the eastern part of the country. The coffee beans are dry-processed and usually labeled as peaberry (mocha), long berry, and short berry.
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee produces some of the most excellent coffee, with almost 60% of it being wet-processed while the remaining are sun-dried. It has an unusual flavor. Its character is almost similar to Mocha coffee from Yemen, which cannot be high-roasted, or you’ll lose its definitive qualities.
Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is an integral part of the Ethiopian culture. It’s a ritualized form of brewing and drinking coffee performed by the woman of the household. The coffee ritual is usually practiced 2-3 times a day and lasts 2 to 3 hours. The three servings of coffee are called abol, tona, and baraka (to be blessed).
The ritual starts with the roasting of the green coffee beans in a pan in a charcoal brazier. Once roasted, it is pounded with a wooden mortar and pestle. The ground coffee beans are placed in a unique vessel similar to the ibriks used in making coffee in Turkey through a sieve several times. This vessel contains freshly boiled water.
Once the coffee is ready, it is poured into handleless cups without stopping until every container in the tray is full. The Ethiopian coffee ceremony may also include the burning of incense. The coffee served is usually accompanied by simple snacks such as peanuts, popcorn, or ambasha. Tea or Chai is only served if the serving of coffee is politely declined.
Best Coffee Ethiopia Roasters Recommend
You can bring home the goodness of Ethiopian coffee straight to your door by checking out our coffee recommendations below:
Volcanica Ethiopian-Guji Coffee
Volcanica Ethiopian-Guji Coffee is an organic and shade-grown Ethiopian coffee harvested from coffee farms in the Shakiso district. It has a balanced, smooth body, and a winey aftertaste with hints of blackberry, almond butter, and cacao nibs.
Volcanica Ethiopian-Yirgacheffe Decaf Coffee
If you have weak tolerance against caffeine but still want to have a morning cuppa, then the Volcanica Ethiopian-Yirgacheffe Decaf Coffee is worth drinking. The coffee beans are harvested from the wild coffee trees accounting for an exotic flavor with pleasant acidity. It is decaffeinated using the Swiss Water Procedure, so you’ll still enjoy this medium-bodied coffee with hints of strawberry and cinnamon without worrying about the caffeine kicks.
You can also get a weekly or monthly dose of Ethiopian roasts from the following subscriptions we’ve gathered for you. In this way, your cupboard won’t run low. These are:
- Atlas coffee club
- Driftaway Coffee
- Heart Coffee
- Brothers Coffee
- Moustache Coffee Club
- Just Coffee
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are answers to some common questions about Ethiopian coffee:
It’s considered the best coffee in the world because the roasts are mostly cultivated in high altitudes and excellent climate conditions. Furthermore, most of the coffee farms grow the heirloom variety of Coffea Arabica, which is the “queen” of all coffees in the world.
Ethiopian coffee is strong. The coffee plants are wildly grown in appropriate altitudes, which explains the diversity in the coffee flavor profiles. Most of the Ethiopian coffee, especially those grown in the regions of Yirgacheffe, Sidamo, and Limu are complex, fragrant-rich, and display hints of floral and fruity tones.
The best Ethiopian coffee is the Yirgacheffe coffee. It is cultivated in the most favorable altitude of 1,700 to 2,200 meters above sea level and climate conditions. The coffee is known for its sweetness, fragrance, and light to medium body.
Ethiopian coffee differs significantly from any coffee because of its diverse flavor profiles and unique cupping notes. The coffee beans are indigenous to Ethiopia and harvested from wild coffee trees that offer extreme flavors, resulting from natural mutations over time. Most of these coffee beans are naturally processed, which has a significant impact on the overall taste of the coffee product.
Each coffee bean in Ethiopia reflects its rich culture and simplicity of life. No matter how rapidly the world modernizes, Ethiopian coffee farmers still practice old traditions such as the Ethiopian coffee ceremony to keep the community and families intact.
While the country might not be number one in the coffee industry, Ethiopia remains a commendable coffee producer sought after by countries like the United States, Canada, and Japan for their premium-grade coffee beans.
Have you tried drinking Ethiopian coffee? Did you like the taste? Share with us your Ethiopian coffee thoughts in the comments below.