Just like reggae lovers associate the music with Jamaica, for coffee lovers, no coffee beats the one that comes from Ethiopia. Ethiopia is considered the birthplace of not only coffee but the coffee drinking culture.
It is thought that coffee in Ethiopia was discovered sometime in the 9th century.
Fast forward today, more than 12 million people in Ethiopia cultivate and pick coffee and it remains a central part of their culture, whereby Arabica and Robusta are the main coffee types produced in the country.
When it comes to Ethiopian coffee culture, the greatest reflection is in their language. Coffee plays such an important role in the culture that it appears in so many expressions that are associated with not only food but life and interpersonal relationships.
One of the most common Ethiopian expressions is “Buna dabo naw,” which translates to “Coffee is our bread,” demonstrating just how much of an important role coffee plays in the Ethiopian culture.
When one says that they don’t have anyone they can drink coffee with in Ethiopia, it is taken to mean that such a person doesn’t have any good friends that they can confide in. This goes to show that coffee also plays an important social role in Ethiopia, whereby it is common for people to gather together over coffee to catch up.
What Is Ethiopian Coffee
Ethiopia is well known for its diverse topography with altitudes that range from 100 meters below sea level, such as the Danakil depression to 4,600 meters above sea level on the Semien mountains.
It boasts of beautiful landscapes and cloud forests, such as those found in the Kafa Biosphere Reserve, home to many of the wild coffee varieties.
Ethiopia is also known as the motherland of Arabica coffee, producing the world’s best coffee beans. The coffee is rich with original aroma and flavor thanks to the geographical, genotypic and cultural variety.
Coffee has been growing in Ethiopia for thousands of years, mainly in the southwestern highlands. The word coffee was coined from Kaffa, which is the place in South-Western Ethiopia, where coffee was first discovered.
Ethiopia was also the first country to start importing Coffee Arabica and today; it is the fifth-largest producer of coffee in the world. When it comes to coffee varieties, Ethiopia boasts of between six to ten thousand of them.
In fact, the coffee types are so many that there is still a large number of them that are yet to be classified. As such, most coffee that comes from Ethiopia is labeled as Ethiopian heirloom. Specialty buyers, however, can differentiate the different types based on altitude, region, and cupping score.
At the end of the day, however, the most grown coffee variety is the aromatic Arabica coffee accounting for 70 percent of the coffee produced in the world. The origin of Arabica is Ethiopia and it is believed that it was the first coffee type to be cultivated.
Benefits of Drinking Ethiopian Coffee
Ethiopia is considered the motherland of coffee and is today the fifth-largest coffee exporter in the world.
As such, Ethiopian coffee remains the most highly sought after by coffee lovers all over the world. Here are a few benefits of drinking Ethiopian coffee that you won’t find in other varieties.
As it is, Ethiopia boasts of between six to ten thousand coffee varieties, most of which have not even yet been classified.
As such, when you drink Ethiopian coffee, you know you are drinking coffee that comes from one of the richest regions, and therefore you get to experiment with different flavors.
Ask anyone who has tasted Ethiopian coffee and they will tell you that the flavor is like no other. Ethiopian coffee taste is unique, with the beans encapsulating the very essence of Ethiopia.
The coffee has floral and tea-like notes that the country is famous for. In addition, despite the light roast, the coffee still comes out naturally sweet with vanilla hints.
When you understand the history of coffee in Ethiopia, then you can understand why Ethiopian coffee is unique. When it comes to coffee grown in other parts of the world, to a great extent, the coffee is derived from a few plants stolen from Yemen.
Compared to the coffee found in Ethiopia, these coffees lack the substantial genetic variation that is only found in the coffee plants of Ethiopia. Today, it is believed that over 90 percent of the genetic materials of coffee Arabica is found in Ethiopia.
How Does Ethiopian Coffee Work
Ethiopia is the 5th largest coffee producer in the world and highest-producing in the African continent.
Ethiopian people consume about half of what is produced and only 3.5 million bags are exported out of the 6.5 million produced. Coffee, as it is, is very important in Ethiopian culture and plays a central role in social gatherings.
Most of the Ethiopian coffee is produced by small scale farmers who sell it through the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange. Once the coffee has been brought to the ECX, the coffees are mixed and then sold.
The challenge that this creates is that tracing the coffee back to the region it was grown becomes difficult, something that is important to specialty coffee roasters. As of 2017, however, policies were passed that made it possible for farmers to keep their coffees separate, making it possible to be purchased through individual washing stations.
When it comes to coffees grown in Ethiopia, they are of two types that include a garden and mountain coffees, with the divisions referring to the landscapes where the coffee is grown.
However, some people divide Ethiopian coffee into forest or shade-grown, semi-forest, garden-grown, or plantation coffee. At the end of the day, however, if you want instant coffee that delivers a rich roast flavor, one clear thing is that Ethiopian coffee is unique thanks to the many varieties that are grown in the country.
Short History of Ethiopian Coffee and Coffee Ceremony
The legend of the discovery of coffee in Ethiopia goes like this: Kaldi, a goat header from Kaffa, was herding his goats near a monastery.
He would later notice his goats behaving weird, whereby it is said that they were dancing with excitement. He discovered that the source of their excitement was the bright red berries that they had consumed.
Out of curiosity, he decided to try the berries himself, and just like his goats, he found himself feeling energized. He filled his pockets with the red berries and rushed home to tell his wife, who advised him to go to the monastery and share his discovery with the monks.
On arrival, he presented the berries to the monks, who greeted them with elation as well as disdain. In fact, one of the monks considered them the “Devil’s work” and tossed them into the fire.
According to the legend, however, the aroma that the berries produced as they burned was enough to make the monks give them a second chance. As the story goes, they removed the beans from the fire, crushed them, and covered them with hot water to preserve them.
All the monks would later on smell the aroma of the coffee and give the drink a try. They would later find out that the coffee effects allowed them to stay awake during their spiritual practices and it was that day that they vowed to always consume the drink and hence the coffee culture came into existence.
Since the days of the goat herder from Kaffa, coffee has become important in the Ethiopian culture in that they spend hours drinking it. The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is the most important social connection among Ethiopians.
Being invited to such a ceremony is a sign of friendship and great honor. Coffee plays such an important role in the Ethiopian culture that it appears in a lot of expressions related to food, life, and interpersonal relationships, as mentioned earlier.
Each coffee ceremony lasts for two to three hours and it is very common for families to have 2 to 3 ceremonies in a day. It is a family event whereby even children participate in serving coffee to the elders.
Guests are often invited and conversations range from politics to what is happening in the local community. The coffee beans are roasted in a large pan then ground by hand using a tool that is similar to a mortar and pestle before being brewed slowly in a clay pot over an open fire.
The coffee is then poured out slowly to ensure that the grounds don’t pour into the cups. A majority of people take the coffee with a spoonful of sugar or salt, but milk is never added.
Water is added to the pot and re-boiled two more times and even though the brew is not as strong as the first batch, the second and third brews are just as important as the first one.
Pros and Cons of Ethiopian Coffee
A majority of historians strongly believe that coffee originated from Ethiopia and as such, coffee from this region remains one of the most sorts after.
However, just like coffee from other regions, Ethiopian coffee has its advantages and disadvantages.
- Ethiopian coffee remains the most diverse, with between six to ten thousand varieties. In fact, the varieties are so diverse that some have not even been classified yet.
- Ethiopian coffee has a flavor that is unlike no other, which makes it one of the best coffee varieties in the world.
- With the rest of the world’s coffee being derived from a few plants that were stolen from Yemen, Ethiopian coffee has a genetic variation.
- Just like with so many countries where coffee is grown, the climate shifts in Ethiopia cause serious issues to coffee farmers and since coffee is grown by small-scale farmers, rain pattern disruptions can cause serious damages.
- Most coffee that comes from Ethiopia is labeled as Ethiopian heirloom, which makes it difficult to differentiate the many types.
Ethiopian Coffee Production
Ethiopia started importing coffee in the 15th century. Coffee was usually brought to Yemen by Somali merchants, where the Sufi mystics drank it to better concentrate on their chanting.
A few centuries later, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church banned coffee, and it wasn’t until the 19th century when the coffee drinking culture returned thanks to Emperor Menelik II, who was fond of the drink.
After that, Ethiopian production and exportation of coffee soured and today, coffee accounts for almost 70 percent of export earnings and it is estimated that a quarter of the population makes their living growing coffee.
Nearly all coffee that is grown in Ethiopia is grown by small scale farmers except for the few large government estates. Coffee farmers usually grow “garden coffees” in plots that cover less than a hectare of land, yielding about 300kg every year.
Around 20% of Ethiopian coffee is, however, wild-grown in coffee forests, with the most common being the Gesha forest, which produces the original gesha coffee often labeled as wild coffee.
Besides being the biggest producer and exporter of coffee in Africa and the fifth in the world, Ethiopia is also the biggest coffee consumer, with nearly half of the coffee produced being consumed locally.
Types of Ethiopian Coffee
Most of the coffee that is grown in Ethiopia is grown in the southern part of the country and the coffee is classified into the following types:
Yirgacheffe is one of Sidamo sub-regions bordering the Great Rift Valley and happens to be a sub-region on its own.
The region is famous for its wet-processed coffees with fine acidity, rich body, and intense flavors. Top grade Yirgacheffe coffee has a clean acid taste that is accompanied by citrus and floral notes like lemongrass and jasmine.
The flavor profile is the same as that of Panamanian Geisha coffee and is considered one of the best Arabica coffees worldwide.
Harrar coffees come from the wild native trees that grow in small farms in eastern Ethiopia. The region is the biggest coffee producer in the country and produces the highest quality beans.
As such, almost all coffee that is produced in the region is sun-dried. The beans are harvested and then processed almost entirely by hand.
The shells are used to make hasher-qahwa, which is an Ethiopian tea. The Harrar coffees are usually full-bodied and bold. The sun-drying process leads to a fruity taste that resembles red wine with apricot and blueberries hints.
Because of its winy nature, this type of coffee is not ideal for single origin coffees and is best used in espresso blends.
Limu coffee comes from the southwestern part of the country that has elevations of between 3600 to 6,200 feet. It is considered the premium gourmet of washed coffee with varieties revealing a well-balanced body that has low acidity.
Limu coffees are sharp-tasting and have a vibrant sweet as well as fruity flavor with traces of spice.
When it comes to Ethiopian coffee, there are other varieties that you might come across when you are sampling the coffee. These varieties include Tepi, Lekempti, Kaffa, Bebeka, Djimma, Wellega, Illubador, and Gimbi.
In general, Ethiopia Arabica coffee tends to be smooth, with a rich acidity and citrus notes. However, coffees from different regions vary one way or another, which creates unique flavors.
How to Choose the Best Ethiopian Coffee
If you are purchasing Ethiopian coffee, here are a few things that you need to look out for:
The best Ethiopian coffees are the ones that come from a single region mainly because such coffees contain predictable flavors. This is ideal for those who like to try one flavor and if they like it, stick with it.
Most of the time, if a company is specific about where they got the coffee beans, chances are that the coffee is of high quality.
When you are buying any Ethiopian coffee, look for an organic seal on the bag. What this indicates is that no synthetic chemicals or pesticides came into contact with the beans.
Besides, organic coffee contains nutrients that improve its taste, which is the best way to get value for your money.
However, some coffees found in the market come from wild coffee trees or family farms that incorporate organic farming practices, which is why you need to research the company before you make a purchase.
A Fairtrade certification is a great way of ensuring that the coffee farmers who produced the coffee were treated in an ethical way, which is very important, especially considering that most coffee grown is exported.
When you are buying any Ethiopian coffee, the company needs to have indicated whether the coffee was freshly roasted, and if not, they should indicate their roasting policy.
So, how long do coffee beans last? When it comes to coffee, the sooner the beans are roasted, the fresher the coffee will be, hence the reason why you need to ensure that the roasting time is within two weeks.
It would also be helpful if the roast day is printed on the bag so that you have an idea of when the beans were roasted.
Ethiopian coffee mostly has a floral and fruity taste, but there are varieties that are more citrus and sour.
The flavors depend on the region; the coffee was grown, so be sure to try different coffees to find the one that suits your taste preferences. If you end up not liking the coffee flavor, however, syrups can improve your coffee’s taste when used.
How to Roast Ethiopian Coffee
When dealing with Ethiopian coffee beans, there are so many variations as well as roasting adjustments that you need to consider. With that in mind, here is a step by step guide on how to roast Ethiopian coffee:
Step 1 – Prepping and sampling
When it comes to roasting, Ethiopian coffee doesn’t differ from other coffees. As such, you need to have a strategy. A good quality sample roasting will provide insights into the flavor profile at different color intensities.
As such, Ethiopian coffee beans are unpredictable and this is something that you need to be prepared for when roasting.
Step 2 – Roasting temperature and level
Ethiopian coffee beans are unique and these differences play a role in the roasting process. High-quality Ethiopian coffee tends to be packed with sugar as well as exciting flavors, which means that it is often best to roast them lightly.
Roasting is often used to make coffee sweeter and bring out the caramel flavors, but when it comes to Ethiopian coffee beans, this is not necessary. Rather, the trick when roasting is to roast them as light as possible to preserve the unique characteristics and flavors.
Ethiopian coffee beans are smaller than those found in other parts of the world, therefore charge them at medium temperatures and drop them as soon as the first crack has rolled, which is about 30 seconds. This is enough to ensure that sweetness and acidity is retained.
How to Brew Ethiopian Coffee
Since Ethiopian coffees are medium roasted, they are versatile when brewing. Here are a few ways to brew Ethiopian coffee to enjoy the rich flavors.
Ethiopian coffee is best known for bright as well as citrus-like flavors, which makes it perfect for cold brews.
There are so many coffee grinding methods and ways and since you can make a cold brew using either the immersion or drip style, it’s easy to control the intensity as long as you use coarse grind to avoid over-extraction.
Additionally, a cold brew is a great brewing choice if you are looking to avoid the acidity of the beans.
If you prefer something hot, then a drip brewer will also work with Ethiopian coffee. With this method, however, both roasted beans and grounds must be fresh, just like when grinding fresh coffee in a French press.
This method is ideal for those who like to keep things light to appreciate the complex flavors. The only thing you need to ensure is that you use a premium stainless steel coffee maker for the best brew.
This is the go-to method for a lot of people when it comes to brewing coffee. Just like with a drip brewer, the paper filter helps enhance the clarity of the brew.
Does More Spending Mean More Quality
Ethiopia is considered the motherland of coffee and coffee drinking culture, which is the reason why the country is the fifth producer and importer of coffee in the world. The coffee has a rich flavor and is sought after by many coffee enthusiasts.
Once sold, roasted, and packaged, it can be difficult knowing which coffee is the best and which one will give you value for your money. However, at the end of the day, when it comes to coffee, in some way, more spending does mean more quality.
This is because the coffee quality is largely determined by the roasting process. Coffee beans that are roasted in the shortest time possible produce fresh coffee, which will always be more expensive.
Additionally, coffees from companies that also have organic or fair-trade seals also tend to be more expensive.
Do’s and Don’ts With Ethiopian Coffee
When it comes to Ethiopian coffee, the roast is everything. As such, ensure that you roast the beans lightly to retain the flavors. Ethiopian coffee is best consumed black. Since it has acidity qualities, it doesn’t stand well to sweeteners and milk.
- Do consider the roast time of the coffee beans. Coffee beans roasted within two weeks are best since the coffee is fresh.
- Do ensure that the coffee you are buying has a Fairtrade certification and an organic seal to ensure that you are consuming quality conflict-free coffee.
- Don’t over roast Ethiopia coffee beans since you will be covering up the many flavors that Ethiopian coffee is known for
FAQ About Ethiopian Coffee
Is Ethiopian coffee good?
Ethiopian coffee is considered the best coffee in the world, mainly because the beans are cultivated in high altitudes as well as excellent climatic conditions. Additionally, most coffee farms in Ethiopia grow the heirloom variety of Arabica, which is the queen of all coffees.
What does Ethiopian coffee taste like?
Ethiopian beans are unique, which is why the country is the fifth largest producer and importer of coffee in the world, which plays a critical role in the roasting process. High-quality Ethiopian coffee comes packed with sugar as well as exciting flavors derived from nature, which makes it ideal for a light roast.
Does Starbucks sell Ethiopian coffee?
Yes, Starbucks retail stores now carry Ethiopian coffee and consumers can sample the different varieties at any participating Starbucks store.
Does Ethiopian coffee have more caffeine?
Ethiopian coffee is strong since it is wildly grown in appropriate altitudes. When it comes to the caffeine levels, it differs from one bean to another. For instance, Ethiopian coffee is 1.13% caffeine, while that grown in Tanzania is 1.42% caffeine. However, the popular coffee Arabica grown in Ethiopia contains 1.5% caffeine while the strongest bean, which is the Robusta, contains 2.4% caffeine content.
Why does Ethiopian coffee taste like blueberries?
The blueberries flavor that is associated with Ethiopia coffee is usually imparted in the bean from the coffee cherry itself, which is a result of the high altitudes the coffee is grown in. The blueberries note is prominent in dry-processed coffees and less prominent in pulp-natural and semi-washed coffees.
There are so many countries that produced coffee across the world, but there is a reason why Ethiopia is considered the motherland of coffee growing and coffee drinking culture. Ethiopian coffee is unique and has rich flavors; hence it is roasted lightly. The rich soils, natural diversity, and unique flavors make it the best coffee producing country in Africa.
Unlike other countries, Ethiopia imports only a fraction of the coffee produced, with almost half being consumed locally. Whether you choose the citrusy Sidamo, the heavy-bodied Harrar, or the delicate floral Yirgacheffe coffee, one clear thing is that Ethiopian coffee makes for some of the finest coffees in the world.
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