Ethiopian Coffee: Everything You Need To Know About The Birthplace Of Coffee
The birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia is revered for it’s beans.
It produces some of the best coffees in the world.
Today we are going to dig deeper into this region and find out what makes this coffee growing country so special.
We’ll look at the rich history of coffee as well as the current state of coffee in this East African nation.
Are you ready to become an expert in Ethiopian coffee?
Some Facts About Ethiopian Coffee
Ethiopia: the original coffee
Ethiopia (formerly known as Abyssinia) is the birthplace of coffee.
Ancient Ethiopian history claims that an Ethiopian goat herder, Kaldi, first discovered coffee and it’s magical benefits way back around 850 AD.
Legend has it that he discovered his goats eating the coffee fruit off of the trees and dancing wildly.
He was so fascinated by these “magic” beans that he brought them home with him.
When Kaldi presented their benefits to a monk, he threw them in the fire proclaiming this magic effect was the work of the devil.
Of course, the beans began to roast and the whole room was filled with the fragrance of fresh roasted coffee.
The first signs of brewing coffee as a beverage, however, are from after another 50 years.
The original name for coffee, Kaffa, came from the region in southwest Ethiopia where coffee was first discovered in the wild. Unlike almost every other coffee growing country, coffee trees grow naturally here.
Growing Conditions for Perfect Beans
Ethiopia is the original home of coffee. Coffee trees have grown in the wild here for centuries.
The environment is perfect to continue producing amazing coffee, without adding anything to it.
More than a thousand different varietals of the coffee bean grow in Ethiopia. High elevations in the southern mountainous region make for excellent growing conditions.
The soil is deep and the vegetation is lush.
Most coffees are grown without the use of agricultural chemicals under shade and among other plants.
In contrast, Farmers anywhere else in the world have to plant specific types of coffee and create the perfect conditions, like planting additional trees to provide shade for the small coffee trees.
What is the Flavor profile?
Coffee from Ethiopia is known for it’s bright fruited and floral flavors.
These coffee’s typically have a higher acidity, light to medium body and complex flavor notes.
The coffee beans are either washed or naturally processed. The processing method used has a huge impact on the final taste of the coffee.
When coffees are wet processed, or washed, the fruit is removed mechanically right away. These beans are characterized by their flavor clarity, showcasing bright, complex notes. The final cup is very clean tasting.
Naturally processed coffees are dried with the fruit still on the coffee bean. The fruit pulp is not removed until just before export.
The coffee beans are infused more heavily with fruited notes, such as blueberry, and contain deep chocolate undertones with a syrupy body.
Most coffee from Ethiopia is processed naturally.
This is how they’ve done it for centuries, and it hasn’t changed much over time. Wet processing on the other hand is fairly new and is always changing as new equipment enters the scene.
Until 1995, Ethiopia was divided into provinces. The country is now divided into districts, but the province name is still commonly used to indicate location.
The southernmost province, Sidamo, is where many of the coffee growing areas are located. Within the Sidamo region is the beloved Yirgacheffe. Yirgacheffe is a small town whose nearby farms consistently produce some of the best coffees in the world.
Many producers in the Yirgacheffe region favor the wet processing method.
This yields a bright coffee, higher in acidity with a light body and sweet fruit and floral notes.
Another fantastic region is Guji.
Located in the south of the Sidamo region, coffee’s from Guji are sought out by some of the best roasters in the world. In the cup you can expect sweet floral notes, such as jasmine with melon and peach notes, and a tea like body.
Harrar is located in the east of Ethiopia.
This region almost exclusively processes their coffees naturally. These coffees will be winey, contain wild fruit character and have a syrupy body.
The Coffee Ceremony in Ethiopia
Coffee is so important to Ethiopians that they will literally spend hours each day drinking it. The coffee ceremony in Ethiopia is the most important social connection.
To be invited is a sign of respect and friendship.
Watch this video to see the coffee ceremony in action.
Each ceremony last 2-3 hours, and it’s common for families to enjoy 2-3 of these ceremonies per day.
This is an event for the whole family, where even children participate in serving the coffee to the elders.
Guests are frequently invited and conversation can range from politics to the local community and more.
The coffee is roasted fresh in a pan, ground by hand using a tool similar to a mortar and pestle, and brewed slowly in a traditional piece of pottery by boiling over an open fire.
The coffee is poured out slowly, to avoid pouring grounds along with the coffee.
Many will take their coffee with a spoonful of sugar, but never with milk. More water is added to the pot and reboiled 2 more times, getting weaker with each brew.
Though they may not taste as good, the 2nd and 3rd brews are just as important as the first.
The Ethiopian Coffee Production today
Ethiopia is the world’s 5th largest coffee producing nation in the world, and the highest producing nation in Africa.
Ethiopians consume about half of their countries coffee, only exporting 3.5 million bags out of the 6.5 million produced. Coffee is hugely important to these people.
Most of the coffee produced is by small farmers. Farmers are able to sell their coffee through the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange, which was established by the government in 2008.
The ECX made it possible for small farmers to sell their coffee through a standardized procedure.
The problem with the ECX is that it makes tracing coffees back to specific farms quite difficult; which is important to specialty coffee roasters. Once coffee is brought to the ECX, the coffee from similar regions are mixed together and sold.
As of March 2017, however, new policies will allow keep coffees separate before auction and allow for purchase directly through individual washing stations.
This will enable companies to more specifically seek out better coffee and establish relationships for future coffee purchasing.
This transparency also encourages farmers to invest in their methods and produce better coffees. Since coffees will be sold without being mixed with other beans, it will only yield a price for how good it is.
The better it tastes, the higher the price they are likely to fetch.
How to Brew Coffee from Ethiopia
Since coffees from this region tend to be light in body and brighter in acidity, it does best as filter coffee.
Using an automatic dripper will produce a great cup, so long as the coffee is roasted and ground fresh.
The paper filter will give a lot of clarity to the flavors of the coffee, giving it the perfect amount of acidity and body.
For best results, however, you should try brewing it as a pour over.
Brewing coffee via pour over allows for more control in the brew process and slows down the brew enough to pull out the best flavors of the coffee.
Do you prefer washed Ethiopians?
I might recommend a Chemex, because their thick paper filters will yield a cup with a tea-like body and clean, bright flavor notes.
How about naturals?
Try a V60, with a thinner paper filter to showcase the syrupy body and bright, acidic fruit notes.
Due to their fruited and floral notes, Ethiopian beans also make for a wonderful, refreshing cold brew or iced coffee.
Smooth with notes of blueberry or peach? Yes please.
Make sure to grind coarse for cold brew, so as to not over extract the coffee’s acidity.
You can also brew an Ethiopian as an iced pour over, if you like your cold coffee with a little more zing to it. Because you are brewing the coffee hot over ice, it will preserve more of the acidity.
Where Can I Get Good Coffee From Ethiopia?
Any roaster who claims to be passionate about coffee will carry beans from Ethiopia. So the best place to start would be your local coffee shop or roaster.
Try to find a washed and a naturally processed Ethiopian so you can compare.
Coffee is seasonal, however, and there may be times of the year where it becomes harder to find.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters will typically carry a few different Ethiopians at a time.
They have been partnered with the Nano Challah Cooperative since 2011, purchasing high quality coffees from them every year.
Stumptown coffee can also be purchased at most Whole Foods grocery stores around the country. They have their own cafes in major cities across the country, and supply to many other coffee shops as well.
You can actually contact them through their website to find the nearest place that serves their coffee.
Blue Bottle Coffee will roast to order and ship within 24 hours of roasting.
Plus, they usually carry an Ethiopian roasted for espresso, as well as regular medium roast Ethiopians for filter coffee.
Blue Bottle also has cafes across the country with many, many more retail partners as well. Check their website to see where you can get their coffee if you don’t like paying for shipping.
Do you like to roast your own coffee?
Buy green beans from Sweet Maria's. Tom from Sweet Maria's travels to Ethiopia frequently in order to buy the best beans and to understand why Ethiopia produces such great coffee.
On his site, he also offers tips for roasting each coffee for maximum flavor, pictures from each farm and mill, and an in depth description of where exactly each coffee came from.
Buying from Sweet Maria’s is always a learning experience.
What Is the Ideal Roast Profile?
The ideal roast for coffee beans from Ethiopia is a classic medium roast.
This will yield the best balance between bright acidity, sweet flavors and a medium body. If you roast any darker, you would cover up many of the flavors that make Ethiopians great.
Many roasters today prefer to roast their Ethiopian beans very lightly.
Their goal is flavor clarity. This would yield a tea-like body and would showcase its complex flavors.
Coffee from Ethiopia is best by itself.
You don’t want to blend it with other coffee because these beans have so much to offer on their own.
They are best when consumed black.
With a higher acidity and lighter body, they won’t stand up to milk or sweetener very well. But with enough natural flavor and sweetness in the cup, you won’t mind drinking this coffee black.
With Love, From Ethiopia
It’s pretty clear why Ethiopian coffee is so close to the coffee lover’s heart, it’s just that good.
It’s a region that produces some of the most unique coffee in the world. It’s where coffee was born.
Now you know a little bit about the history of coffee and about Ethiopia’s coffee industry and what makes these beans unique.
Time to put all that knowledge to work and brew some darn good coffee!
Do you have a favorite coffee from Ethiopia? Let us know in the comments what you’ve tried and what you still need to try.