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A Comprehensive Guide to Ethiopian Coffee

Not only is coffee the national beverage of Ethiopia, it is consumed throughout the day but never by oneself, unlike the coffee-to-go culture we're accustomed to in the United States.

Ethiopian coffee is famous for its exquisite, single-origin coffee beans and for being the birthplace of this beloved brew. So superior is Ethiopian coffee beans that they have earned the title of greatest single-origin specialty coffee beans in the world. The country's social structure is so intertwined with coffee and has been for centuries. Coffee drinking is reportedly referred to by the widespread expression "buna tetu," which means "drinking coffee," and one of Ethiopia's most well-known proverbs is "buna dabo naw," which means "coffee is our bread." 

Ethiopian coffee should be on your must-try list if you're a coffee enthusiast. But where should you begin when there are so many options? In this guide, learn about the history of Ethiopian coffee, the top coffee beans, flavor profiles, roasting processes, and cultivating regions.

ethiopian coffee beans

The History of Ethiopian Coffee

Kaldi, an Ethiopian goat herder, is said to have discovered coffee's mystical properties in 850 AD. According to legend, he found his goats dancing wildly and eating the coffee fruit from the trees. He brought the "magic beans" home since their impact so enthralled him.

When Kaldi explained their advantages to a monk, the monk flung the beans into the fire and declared that this magic effect was the devil's work. Naturally, the beans started to roast, and the aroma of freshly roasted coffee filled the entire space. Thus, the Ethiopian coffee roaster method began.

According to coffee historians, it is more likely that coffee was being chewed when it was first discovered, despite the origin myth's reference to it as a stimulant beverage. During the long, exhausting trips under the hot sun, people, mainly enslaved Muslims, would combine coffee with butter or animal fat to form little balls to chew on that combated fatigue. Additionally, coffee fruits were also consumed along with milk and oats.

After some time, people began brewing coffee as a beverage. Although it was first popular in Africa, it eventually spread to Muslim countries in the 13th century. Soon after, the Ottoman Empire, one of the first major empires to embrace coffee and disseminate its culture around the world, helped coffee gain popularity in Europe.

The Optimal Environment For Coffee Bean Growth 

Coffee trees has existed in the wild for many centuries in Ethiopia. The area in southwest Ethiopia where coffee was first found growing wild is where the word "kaffa," or "coffee," comes from. Here, coffee trees grow organically. The climate is ideal for producing great-tasting coffee without additional ingredients.

Most coffees are produced in the shade and among other plants without using agricultural chemicals. In contrast, coffee growers in other parts of the world must plant particular varieties and create ideal conditions by growing more trees to offer shade for their young coffee trees.

Indigenous coffee plants are regarded as heirloom kinds because they have a long history of flourishing in conditions tailor-made for coffee's growth. They primarily grow on soil that is just slightly acidic enough for the plants to flourish. Ethiopia is the ideal location for coffee to thrive because of its high altitudes in mountainous areas and the perfect amount of rainfall. In addition, the vegetation is abundant. 

What to Expect From Ethiopian Coffee Beans' Flavor Profile 

Coffee from Ethiopia is renowned for its vibrant fruity and flowery characteristics. They often contain complex taste nuances, a light to medium body, and a stronger acidity. The processing technique significantly influences the coffee's final flavor.

The plant Coffea Arabica comes in three varieties of Ethiopian coffee beans:</>

  • Longberry: The biggest and best-quality of the three.
  • Shortberry: Smaller than longberry but still great quality
  • Mocha: A modest variety but one with a diverse flavor profile, a bit of acidity, a touch of spice, and a hint of chocolate

best coffe beans

Processes Used to Prepare Ethiopian Coffee Beans 

Most Ethiopian coffee is grown as garden coffee, typically produced sustainably. "Garden coffee" is frequently intercropped with other plants planted by farmers near their homes. Additionally, it's typical for farmers to cultivate coffee in a semi-forest system, which involves removing bushes and weeds to control shade before introducing coffee seedlings. As a result, only about 5% of coffee from Ethiopia is produced on specific plantations. Furthermore, Ethiopian coffee beans are either naturally processed or washed. 

Sun-Drying

The cherries are manually sorted to ensure that only the denser and higher-quality ones exist. After that, they are put on elevated drying racks made of wood poles, wrapped in burlap or nylon netting, and left in the sun for many weeks to dry. After the husks are removed, they are then packaged for sale.

This coffee is deeper and far more nuanced, frequently with intense flavors of berries and citrus.

Wet-Processing

When sorting cherries using wet processing, also known as washing, the cherries are submerged in water. As a result, the less-dense cherries will float, and the denser cherries will sink. The fruit is then mechanically removed by eco-pulpers, which remove the skin to access the parchment coffee. The parchment coffee is then fermented for two to three days to eliminate the inner layer of pulp, also known as mucilage. 

The coffee is dried for around two weeks on a raised bed after spending the previous twelve hours in a soaking tank. The damaged beans are removed from the dried coffee, and the superior beans are sent to a warehouse for dry processing. It is then packaged and prepared for sale. 

These beans stand out for their flavor purity, which displays a vibrant, light, lemony, and complex palate. The finished cup has a noticeably fresh flavor.

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Ethiopian Coffee Today

Ethiopia's coffee industry is seriously threatened by climate change, especially given the frequency and length of droughts, which are both growing. Still, Ethiopia is the top producer of coffee on the African continent and the fifth-largest globally. They export a little over 3.5 million bags of coffee annually. 

The majority of the country's coffee producers are small growers. Because of this, coffee plays a significant role in the economy of both growers and the entire nation. They can sell their coffee harvests through the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX), founded in 2008. The ECX intended to simplify the process of selling a farmer's produce. Unfortunately, after farmers deliver their coffees to the ECX, they're mixed and sold together, making it impossible to trace the origin of the coffees back to their original farms. Fans of specialty Ethiopian coffee beans naturally frown upon this process.

The government permitted direct purchasing through certain retailers in accordance with a law that went into effect about five years ago. As a result of that rule, farmers can now keep their output apart before selling, which is a more open and customer-friendly method of doing business. This discovery has enabled companies and individual coffee roasters to identify better coffees. It also benefits farmers since producers are motivated to develop better coffees to increase their profits since better-flavored coffees often carry a much higher price tag. 

The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

In some regions of Ethiopia, the woman of the home, or a younger woman living with her, performs or takes part in the three daily 2 to 3-hour coffee ceremonies. These ceremonies occur once in the morning, once at noon, and once in the evening. Additionally, it is usual for women to conduct the ritual when entertaining guests and on festive occasions.

The ritual entails brewing coffee from raw, unwashed coffee beans in cups. The dining area goes through several ritual preparation ceremonies prior to this event. First, a table with food and all the coffee cups is set up. Next, recently cut grass covers both the floor and table. And to purify the area, fragrant incense is burned.

In many villages, the coffee ceremony is the most significant social event. Being asked to a coffee ceremony symbolizes respect and friendship. During a ceremony, attendees may talk about politics, local issues, and rumors. Additionally, the ceremony's host and the brews she creates and serves are highly praised.

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Ethiopia's Coffee Regions

Ethiopia is home to thousands of coffee varieties. The locations that produce coffee in Ethiopia are incredibly diverse. Each region, micro-region, and even farm has a distinctive flavor profile. They are often distinguished by area, altitude, and cupping score.

Only coffees with 80 or more points are given the title of "specialty coffee," whereas commercial-grade coffee receives a score of less than 80 points.

Below are a few regions where some of the best Ethiopian coffee hails from:

Sidamo

Sidamo possesses some of Ethiopia's highest-yielding soils. Due to regular rainfall, high altitude, and ideal temperatures, the region produces some of the highest quality coffees. Although the area has a broad range of flavors, fruity and earthy flavors are the most prevalent. It is comparable to some wines in that it is full-bodied and mild in acidity, with detectable but faint blueberry notes.

Yirgacheffe

Situated near the Great Rift Valley, Yirgacheffe, one of Sidamo's subdivisions, is considered to be among the best Ethiopian coffee. Wet-processed coffees with robust flavors and a hint of acidity are its main claim to fame. Yirgacheffe coffees have a powerful and recognizable taste, complemented by floral flavors, making the nuances easily distinguishable.

Limu

The famed Limu coffees, a well-balanced brew regarded as premium gourmet (not many coffees have this prestigious title), are grown in portions of Ethiopia's southwest. Limu coffees have a fruity, spicy flavor with a sweet aftertaste that is low in acidity.

Harrar

This wild Arabica is raised on small farms in the Oromia region (formerly Harrar) at altitudes ranging from 4,500 to 6,500 feet. The entire process of growing and producing Harrar coffee is done by hand. Fascinatingly, the hand-removed shells from these coffees can be utilized to make hasher-qahwa, one of Ethiopia's most delectable, famous teas in the Eastern highlands.

Primarily sun-dried, Harrar coffees typically have a fruity flavor. They are best suited for espresso blends due to their wine undertones. However, they aren't frequently used in single-origin coffees. 

Jimma

This area in the southwest of Ethiopia produces a lot of coffee suitable for commercial use, developed between 4,500 and 6,900 feet above sea level. Coffees from Jimma, also spelled Djimmah taste finest when washed.

These beans run the risk of developing a medicinal flavor if naturally processed. The coffee is held together by a wonderful silky body and a lively citrus acidity. The finish is clean and palate-pleasing.

Guji

In many ways, Ethiopia's Guji region is yet to be explored. The rural location is nothing but lush green forest, gently swaying across vast hills and valleys. Gold, precious stones, and other coveted minerals can be found in mineral-rich Guji. This is one of the reasons why the region's coffee potential has only recently been recognized. The Guji region remained off-limits to non-residents for a long time due to its immense mineral wealth.

There is some disagreement about whether all Guji coffee can be lumped into a single flavor profile, despite the fact that there is little doubt that Guji coffee can be easily distinguished from the Yirgacheffe and Sidamo profiles. This region's coffee typically has a balanced and pleasantly complex character, making it ideal for both filter coffee and espresso.

coffee bean

So, whether you're looking for a superb coffee subscription service, local Atlanta coffee chosen by a licensed Q Grader, or simply some of the best single-origin Ethiopian coffee this side of the Mississippi, Peach Coffee Roasters has got you covered. Thankfully, I don't have to travel all the way to Ethiopia to score the best Ethiopian coffee near me. With multiple Ethiopian coffees to choose from, including Guji coffee and Yirgacheffe, Peach Coffee Roasters boasts some of the best coffee beans in Atlanta. Visit one of its two Atlanta locations or order online today!

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