Guide to Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee Beans
What is Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee, and why does it rank among the best coffees in the world? Keep reading to learn more about where it’s grown, why it’s unique, and how to brew the best cup.
What’s So Special About Ethiopian Coffee?
Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. As the legend goes, Kaldi, a ninth-century Ethiopian goat herder, noticed that his goats were becoming very animated after ingesting these bright red and yellow cherries. He decided to bring some of these cherries back to the monastery. But after hearing Kaldi’s story, the monks immediately denounced these cherries as fruits of the devil and threw them into the fire.
But as the beans roasted, they permeated the air with a lovely aroma. It was this heavenly fragrance that caused the monks to relent. Realizing their mistake, they quickly salvaged the beans from the fire, preserved them in water, and brewed the world’s first cup of coffee (1).
To this day, Ethiopians still perform a traditional coffee ceremony for guests. First, green coffee beans are roasted until they begin to smoke. And as the coffee beans smoke, the host gives their guests a chance to inhale the aroma of these fresh-roasted beans. Then, the roasted beans are ground into a powder with a mortar and pestle, brewed in special clay pots, and served in small cups with a spoonful of sugar.
Ethiopian Coffee Regions
While Yirgacheffe is part of the Sidamo region, its exceptional coffee has earned it recognition as its own micro-region.
Yirgacheffe Coffee Cultivation
Yirgacheffe coffee is one of the world’s best coffee beans, and farmers cultivate it in the Sidamo region’s southern Ethiopian mountain town of Yirgacheffe. Yirgacheffe coffee is grown between 1,600 and 2,400 meters above sea level by the Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Union (YCFCU)—a collection of 28 members representing more than 45,000 coffee farmers.
This micro-region’s high elevation and tropical climate produce beans that run the gamut in flavour from floral to herbal.
While most of the coffee beans produced in this region are wet-processed, some are naturally-processed beans.
What Are Ethiopian Heirloom Coffees?
While many coffees sold today can be classified into one of arabica coffee’s cultivars, hybrids, or varietals, Yirgacheffe coffee beans are an exception. These arabica coffee varieties have been around for more than 50 years, but their genomes have not been fully mapped out due to the time and cost associated with this process (3).
According to Ryd Jeavons, Chief Espresso Officer of Coffee Beans Delivered:
Heirloom is used as a generic name for any variety that’s older than 50 years, and most coffees coming out of Ethiopia are called heirloom variety.
But gradually, the YCFCU is working to genetically map out each of the over 10,000 varieties of coffee beans found in Ethiopia. Once the project is complete, we may still have more flavour profiles to classify and explore.
Yirgacheffe Cup Profile and Best Brew Methods
While higher and lower elevations produce unique flavours in the final cup, the overall distinguishing characteristic of Yirgacheffe coffee is its floral, tea-like aroma. Melon, peach, and tropical pineapple notes dominate the cup, accompanied by bright, wine-like acidity.
To bring out the best cup profile in Yirgacheffe coffee beans, first determine how it was processed. If it was wet-processed, a filtration method—like the Chemex or V60—is the best way. Pour-over brewers will bring out all the delicate, bright notes of the roast. However, if it was processed naturally, use a steeping method—like the French press or the inverted Aeropress method—to brew a fruitier, bolder cup. But let your palate be your guide, and feel free to experiment.
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee is a light to a medium-body cup of coffee that’s a cut above the rest. With its unique floral, tropical flavours, and wine-like acidity, it’s the perfect single-origin coffee to kick off your Monday morning or beat the afternoon slump.
Yes, you can use Yirgacheffe coffee for espresso shots. However, to preserve the best flavour, be sure only to pull ristretto shots with these beans. Pulling full espresso shots will draw out too many bitter compounds and ruin the final cup.
The best roast level for Yirgacheffe coffee beans is light to medium, and this is because Yirgacheffe coffee is renowned for its floral, fruity, and herbaceous notes. Mild roasts will give you the best balance between flowery notes and the bright acidity characteristic of this cup profile.
The short answer is yes, but we don’t recommend it. Yirgacheffe is prized for its bright acidity and floral notes, which are relatively delicate. The intense sweetness of whole milk—or even a milk substitute like oat milk—would overwhelm the palate and drown out any acidity that’s naturally present in this coffee bean.
- Jones, J. (2015, June 11). The History & Legend of Ethiopian Coffee & the Story Behind Misty Valley. Perfect Daily Grind; Perfect Daily Grind. https://perfectdailygrind.com/2015/06/the-history-legend-of-ethiopian-coffee-the-story-behind-misty-valley/
- Charles, S. (2019, September 24). Yirgacheffe, Sidamo, & More: A Guide to Ethiopian Coffee. Perfect Daily Grind; Perfect Daily Grind. https://perfectdailygrind.com/2019/09/yirgacheffe-sidamo-more-a-guide-to-ethiopian-coffee/
- Jeavons, Ryd. (2020). Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Coffee Review [YouTube Video]. In YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Vjor-5spKM