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Ethiopian Coffee: Everything You Need To Know About The Birthplace Of Coffee

The birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia is revered for its beans. It produces some of the best single-origin 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?

TOP PICK
Clumsy Goat Fairtrade

Clumsy Goat Ethiopian Sidamo

The Clumsy Goat brand was inspired by the story of Kaldi and his discovery of coffee. The goats serve as a reminder of just how important it is for companies to pay fair prices for beans – this supports not only the farmers but also the greater community (and their livestock). All Clumsy Goat coffees are ethically sourced and 100% Fair Trade certified.

Must Know Facts About Ethiopian Coffee

ethiopian coffee facts

Ethiopia: The Source Of Coffee

Ancient Ethiopian history claims that an Ethiopian goat herder, Kaldi, first discovered coffee and its magical benefits 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.

Kaldi’s Dancing Goats

When Kaldi presented their benefits to a monk, he threw the beans 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 freshly roasted coffee. (The first signs of brewing coffee as a beverage, however, are from much later.)

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.

The Perfect Growing Conditions For Coffee Beans

Ethiopia is the original home of coffee. Coffee trees have grown in the wild here for centuries. The environment is perfect to produce amazing coffee, without adding anything to it. More than a thousand different varietals of coffee grow in Ethiopia. High elevations in the southern mountainous region make for excellent growing conditions.

freshly picked coffee

Source: Flickr, David Uttley

The soil is deep and the vegetation is lush. Most coffees are grown without the use of agricultural chemicals (1) in the shade and among other plants. In contrast, coffee 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.

The Flavour Profile Of Ethiopian Beans: What To Expect

Coffee from Ethiopia is known for its bright fruited and floral flavours. These coffees typically have a higher acidity, light to medium body and complex flavour notes.

The beans are either washed or naturally processed. The processing method used (​2​​​) 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 flavour clarity, showcasing bright, complex notes. The final cup is very clean tasting.

Ethiopian flavor profiles

Naturally processed coffees are dried with the fruit left on the bean. The fruit pulp is not removed until just before export.

These 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.

>>> Click Here To Try Authentic, High Quality Ethiopian Coffee Beans

Honourable Mentions (don’t miss these)

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 (or Sidama), is where many of the coffee growing areas are located.

Within the Sidamo region is the beloved Yirgacheffe, a small town whose nearby farms consistently produce some of the best coffees in the world. Many producers in this region of Ethiopia favour the wet processing method. This yields a bright coffee, higher in acidity with a light body and sweet fruity flavour and floral notes. Here’s where you can learn more about Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee.

Another fantastic region is Guji. Located in the south of the Sidamo region, coffee from Guji is 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, and a tea-like body.

Harrar is located in the east of Ethiopia, just east of the capital city of Addis Ababa. This region almost exclusively produces dry-processed coffee. These coffees will be winey, contain wild fruit character and have a syrupy body. Confusingly, some Ethiopian Harrar coffees are labelled as Mocha Harrar, named for the Red Sea port from which some of the finest coffee in the world (including coffee from Yemen) was traditionally shipped.

The Importance Of The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

ethiopian coffee ceremony

Coffee is so important to Ethiopians that they will literally spend hours each day drinking it. The coffee ceremony is the Ethiopian culture’s most important social connection. To be invited is a sign of respect and friendship (3).

Coffee plays such a heavily ingrained role in Ethiopian culture that it appears in many expressions dealing with life, food and interpersonal relationships. One common saying is “Buna dabo naw”. This literally translates to “Coffee is our bread”.

Each ceremony lasts 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.

Watch this video to see the coffee ceremony in action.

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 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.

How Large Is Ethiopian Coffee Production Today?

Ethiopia is the world’s 5th largest coffee producing nation in the world, and the highest producing nation in Africa.

Ethiopia is the 5th largest coffee-producing nation in the world, and the highest producing nation in Africa. Ethiopians consume about half of their country’s coffee, exporting only 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 through a standardized procedure.

ethiopia industry

Once brought to the ECX, coffees from similar regions are mixed together and sold.

The problem with the ECX is that it makes tracing coffees back to specific farms quite difficult, which is important to specialty coffee roasters.

As of March 2017, however, new policies allow farmers to keep coffees separate before auction and allow for purchase directly through individual washing stations. This will enable companies to 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.

Tips On How To Brew Coffee From Ethiopia

ethiopia brew

Automatic Drip

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 flavours of the coffee, giving it the perfect amount of acidity and body.

Pour Over

For best results, however, you should try brewing it as a pour over coffee. This allows for more control in the brewing process and slows down the brew enough to pull out the best flavours of the coffee.

Do you prefer washed Ethiopians? I might recommend a Chemex because their thick paper filters yield a cup of coffee with a tea-like body and clean, bright flavour notes.  How about naturals? Try a V60, with a thinner paper filter to showcase the syrupy body and bright, acidic fruit notes. The Hario, when used with a medium-coarse grind, focuses on the fruity, bright acidity and prevents over-extraction of any bitter elements.

Cold Brew

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 coarsely for cold brew, so as to not over-extract the coffee’s acidity.

You can also brew 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 To Buy Real, Quality Ethiopian Coffee Beans

coffee roast profiles

Source: Flickr, Emile Haddad Seattle

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. If you just want to order something quickly online – make sure you choose a roaster that roasts only AFTER you pay. Not before. We’ve done some research and tried a few companies and here are our picks.

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.

IMAGE PRODUCT DETAILS
Best Overall Best Overall Clumsy Goat Fairtrade Clumsy Goat Ethiopian Sidamo
  • Medium roast
  • Stone fruit, citrus, lemongrass
  • Whole bean
Click to check price
Best Value for Money Best Value for Money Decadent Decaf Ethiopian Sidamo Decadent Decaf Ethiopian Sidamo
  • Roast not specified
  • Lemon, honeysuckle, green tea
  • Whole bean or ground
click to check price
Budget Pick Budget Pick Ethiopia-Yirgacheffe Brown Bear Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
  • Medium roast
  • Red berries, citrus
  • Whole bean or ground
click to check price

1. Clumsy Goat Ethiopian Sidamo – Best Overall

Specifications

  • Roast: Medium

  • Tasting notes: Stone fruit, citrus, lemongrass
  • Whole bean or ground: Whole bean

The Yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia gets the most press, but the surrounding Sidamo area should be just as high on your list. Coffees grown here will offer you the same light and bright characteristics that good Ethiopian coffee is known for. 

This coffee has been wash processed, which creates a clean cup while allowing you to fully experience its aromatics. Expect a light-bodied brew with a complex flavour profile, including stone fruit sweetness, citrus acidity and heady lemongrass notes. 

The Clumsy Goat brand was inspired by the story of Kaldi and his discovery of coffee. The goats serve as a reminder of just how important it is for companies to pay fair prices for beans – this supports not only the farmers but also the greater community (and their livestock). All Clumsy Goat coffees are ethically sourced and 100% Fair Trade certified.

2. Decadent Decaf Ethiopian Sidamo – Best Value for Money

Specifications

  • Roast: not specified

  • Tasting notes: Lemon, honeysuckle, green tea
  • Whole bean or ground: Either

Decaf and specialty coffee aren’t terms that naturally go together, but Decadent Decaf wants to change all that. The Littlehampton-based roaster si giving decaf the love it deserves, sourcing high-quality beans from top growing regions such as Sumatra, Costa Rica and Ethiopia.

Like our top pick, this coffee comes from the Sidamo region, where the local Sidama people have been growing coffee for centuries. The plants here are often heirloom Arabica varieties, which grow under the shade of other crops like avocado and papayas. Decadent Decaf’s Ethiopian Sidamo is a burst of citrus lemon flavours, which gives way to aromas of honeysuckle and a more subtle green tea finish.

All Decadent Decaf coffee is decaffeinated using the Swiss Water Process. This method removes up to 99.9% of the caffeine in the beans without the use of chemicals.

3. Brown Bear Ethiopian Yirgacheffe – Budget Pick

Specifications

  • Roast: Medium

  • Tasting notes: Red berries, citrus
  • Whole bean or ground: Either

Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans are considered some of the best coffee beans in the world, so with Brown Bear, you’re getting an incredible deal. It ties in with the company’s mission to make great quality coffee accessible to everyone.

Brown Bear’s Ethiopian Yirgacheffe is sourced from farms at 2000 m.a.s.l., and exhibits the complex flavour profile you should get with a high-altitude coffee. The coffee is more fruity than floral, despite being wash processed, with notes of juicy red berries and bright citrus. Like many Ethiopian coffees, this comes from heirloom Arabica plants – uncategorised varieties that grow wild in the area. 

This is an excellent choice for anyone curious about Ethiopian coffees. If you need any further incentive to snap up these beans, your purchase will also help a good cause, with 5% of all sales going to the Free the Bears UK charity. 

How To Roast Ethiopian Beans

ethiopian roast

The ideal roast for beans from Ethiopia is a classic medium roast. This will yield the best balance between bright acidity, sweet flavours, and a medium body. If you roast any darker, you would cover up many of the flavours that make Ethiopians great. Many roasters today prefer to roast their Ethiopian beans very lightly. Their goal is flavour clarity. This would yield a tea-like body and would showcase its complex flavours.

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.

coffee ceremony roasting

Source: Flickr, Tonx Coffee

It is best when consumed black. With higher acidity and lighter body, it won’t stand up to milk or sweetener very well. But with enough natural flavour and sweetness in the cup, you won’t mind drinking this coffee black.

Bunawoni Yidesetu (Enjoy Your Coffee)

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 favourite coffee from Ethiopia? Let us know in the comments what you’ve tried and what you still need to try.

ethiopian coffee ceremony

FAQs

Sufi monks in Yemen brewed coffee first. In the 15th century, historical records note that coffee was brewed, and consumed, by Sufi monks to help them keep alert for their religious rituals. By the 16th century, coffee had spread throughout the Middle East, Turkey, Persia, and North Africa. By the mid-17th century, coffee had spread to Europe.

Coffee from Ethiopia is important to Ethiopian culture because it reflects a sense of community, of participation, and of tradition in which they forge new bonds and strengthen old ones. To the rest of the world, it is important because of its place in history, and because much of it is still harvested from wild coffee trees in their natural habitat.

Coffee from Ethiopia is arabica. Coffea arabica originated in the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia; it is the original coffee cherry tree that has been exported and transplanted around the world.

  1. Goodwin, L. (2019, February 06). Ethiopian Coffee Culture – Legend, History and Customs. Retrieved from https://www.thespruceeats.com/ethiopian-coffee-culture-765829
  2. Coffees from Africa and Arabia: Ethiopia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.coffeereview.com/coffee-reference/coffee-categories/geographic-origins/coffees-from-africa-and-arabia/ethiopia/
  3. Welcome! (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cafeimports.com/?r=Y29mZmVlLXByb2Nlc3Nlcw
Alex Mastin
My world consists of coffee, travel, water sports and dogs...sometimes all at the same time! I spent years traveling and working in various coffee establishments, and it was on my travels that my love affair with coffee began. I've been involved in every part of the coffee production process from farm to cup and love nothing more than sharing my knowledge of my favorite morning brew with the world.

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