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  • Cherraldine Dayrit

Ethiopian Coffee

Updated: Dec 11, 2019

Coffee fans have built their palates around the Arabica bean, so Ethiopian coffee production has a happy and welcoming audience for their hearty, fruity bean.

What Is Ethiopian Coffee?

The majority of the coffee beans grown in Ethiopia are Arabica beans rather than Robusta beans. Ethiopia is known for its diverse topography with altitudes ranging from around 100 meters below sea level in the Danakil depression to 4,600 meters above sea level in the Semien mountains. It is home to a huge variety of geographical sub-regions, ranging from dry sandy deserts in the extreme east to lush tropical jungles in the far southwest. It has exceptional topography that is scintillating. It consists of mountain ranges, plateaus, and high valleys between these mountains. Within the same district, one can find the diverse topography that would lead to diverse ecologies.


Where is coffee grown in Ethiopia?

The Ethiopian Coffee Regions are spread across the southern half of the country and include both mountainous growing regions (similar to Kona coffee) and "garden" regions, or those growing at a slightly lower altitude. Many Ethiopian coffee farms started when farmers harvested beans from the wild trees, then began to transplant or start coffee trees under the forest canopy. As previously stated, Ethiopian coffee is grown on very small plots.

Ethiopia boasts landscapes of stunning beauty and dramatic contrasts from the soaring pinnacles of the Simien Mountains – the Roof of Africa – to the plummeting depths of the Danakil Depression, the lowest – and hottest – place on Earth. You will find cloud forests such as those in the Kafa Biosphere Reserve – the sole home of many wild coffee varieties – active volcanoes, hot springs, cool underground caverns, rugged gorges, spectacular waterfalls, rivers and shimmering lakes. Ethiopia is the fourth largest biodiversity zone on Earth and you can see plants and animals here which are found nowhere else.

Ethiopia is the motherland of Coffee Arabica. It is endowed with a rich variety of coffee and its diverse origins. Ethiopian coffee is rich with original flavor and aroma because of the geographical (altitude, soil, temperature, rainfall, topography, ecology), genotypic and cultural variety within the country. Coffee has been growing in Ethiopia for thousands of years, in the forests of southwestern highlands. The word coffee drives from Kaffa, name of a place in the South Western Ethiopian highlands where coffee was first discovered. It is also known to be the first Coffee Arabica exporter in Africa and is currently the fifth largest coffee producer in the world.


Ethiopian Coffee History

About 1,000 years ago, coffee was a goatherd in Ethiopia southwestern highlands. It was discovered in Kaffa area where it first blossom gave its name to coffee. It is believed that coffee cultivation and drinking began as early as the 9th century in Ethiopia. It cultivated Yemen earlier, around AD 575. While, it originated in Ethiopia, from where it traveled to the Yemen about 600 years ago, and from Arabia began its journey around the world. Among the many legends, Kaldi, an Abyssinian goatherd, who lived around AD 850 found the origin of coffee.

The most famous story was that of the goat herd, Kaldi (who lived around the 9th century) who observed his normally docile goats had suddenly behaved exceptionally lively, skipping, rearing and bleating loudly after eating the bright red berries from a shiny dark-leaved shrub nearby and that Kaldi tried a few berries himself and soon felt extraordinary, stimulated or a novel sense of elation. Ethiopian cultural ceremonies and rituals were using the beans in early periods of domestication as a stimulant and a special solid food, for instance, the ripe berries were squashed, combined with animal fats and shaped into balls, which can be carried and eaten during the long journey since time immemorial by Oromo people.

According to the botanical evidence, Arabica Coffee have originated on the plateaus of South western Ethiopia from where it spreads to Yemen and then around the world. Arabica Coffee is endemic to the afro montane rain forests of Ethiopia where wild coffee populations still grow in the highlands of southwest and southeast parts. Research confirmed that within a small area, the wild coffee plants of Ethiopia have relatively high genetic variability as compared to the wild coffee populations from Yemen that showed a characteristically low genetic diversity.


Ethiopia is endowed with an ideal production environment for growing coffee with a combination of appropriate altitude, temperature, rainfall, soil type and its PH value. Ethiopia, being the epicenter of the origin for Coffee Arabica, possesses a diverse genetic base. Ethiopia produces a range of distinctive Arabica coffees and has considerable potential to sell a large number of selections of specialty coffee. Ethiopian coffee produces hard-type coffee beans, with intense flavors and aromatics. Fruit flavors are common in all regions, though the specific fruit character varies from region to region. Berry aromatics are relatively common, as are citrus and chocolate. Basically, Ethiopian coffee is organically produced and it is low yielding with highest cup quality.


The Culture of Ethiopian coffee

The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony is typically performed by the woman of the household and is considered an honour. The coffee is brewed by first roasting the green coffee beans over an open flame in a pan . This is followed by the grinding of the beans, traditionally in a wooden mortar and pestle. The coffee grounds are then put into a special vessel which contain boiled water and will be left on an open flame a couple of minutes until it is well mixed with the hot water. After grinding, the coffee is put through a sieve several times. The boiling pot (jebena) is usually made of pottery and has a spherical base, a neck and pouring spout, and a handle where the neck connects with the base.


Ethiopian coffee in a cup

Roasting will subdue some flavors and bring others out, but coffee fans agree that there is nothing understated about Ethiopian coffee.

The bean from a coffee tree is a fruit, and the process of washing and drying Ethiopian coffee beans keeps that fruity flavor front and center.

It's still possible to find coffee bean trees growing in the wild in the Yirgacheffe and Harrar regions. The coffee beans from this area around the city of Irgachefe are of medium body and have a bright citrus taste.

Ethiopian coffee flavor is hearty and complex, but there's nothing subtle about it. If you're a fan of mild or delicate flavor, you may struggle to find an Ethiopian bean that suits your taste.

If you like a cup of coffee that will wake your brain and your taste buds, Ethiopian coffee purchases are a great option to support small farmers and enjoy wonderful, well-flavored coffee.

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