Ethiopian Coffee – History, Brewing & Best Brands

SUBSCRIBE to our Newsletter and Get a DELICIOUS COFFEE RECIPES E-BOOK

Ethiopian Coffee

Welcome to Ethiopia. The land of history and culture. And if legends are to be believed. The place where it all began. It is said to be the site from where the key to the magic potion that over centuries has crawled its way into homes across all the continents of the world was discovered. That’s right. Ethiopian coffee claims its name in the history books as the homeland of the noted brown bean.

About Ethiopian Coffee

If you’ve ever wondered about the voyage of coffee from a small country in the horn of Africa, towards global domination; sit back and buckle in, cause you’re in for a crazy ride.

The Origin of Ethiopian Coffee – History

The year was 850 AD. The man of the hour was a goat herder named Kaldi. The location was the Kaffa Province, a region that lay to the southwest of Ethiopia.
The story goes, that it was a day like any other. And like any other day, Kaldi had left his goats to graze in a field. After some time he noticed them moving weirdly, he almost thought they looked like they were dancing. When he went closer to investigate, it was clear that the behavior of the goats was the result of these new berries that they had eaten.

Intrigued by the fruit, Kaldi, like any good Samaritan at the time, presented his find to the monks in the area. The monks didn’t seem very accepting and deemed the berry as sorcery and the work of the devil. They threw it in the fire as a form or rejection. They were pleasantly surprised by the result and intrigued enough to give it a second chance.

Coffee left Ethiopian shores for the first time during the fourteen hundreds. It is said the beans were requested by monks in Yemen so they could consume the berries for proper concentration during their prayers. A few years later, coffee in the region met religion and was banned by Ethiopia’s orthodox church. The world had to wait till late in the nineteenth century when the coffee cravings of the country’s Emperor Menelik II revived the industry. The rest as they say is history.

Growing Conditions in Ethiopia

Coffee growing in the wild

The landscape of the country provides the perfect canvas for coffee to grow. Do not be surprised if you find coffee growing in the wild in Ethiopia in what is referred to as forest coffees. Once ready, these berries are gathered by locals of the area. Up to twenty percent of the country’s coffee is sourced this way. Ethiopia does have its share of acres of sprawling coffee fields.

These are usually a part of large estates owned by the government. They account for only a small percentage of the coffee produced in the country. The majority of the coffee in the country grows in what they call garden coffees. This is where you will see the coffee growing side by side with a number of other crops the region cultivates. The altitude in the mountain ranges, abundance of vegetation and fertile soil, work together to allow most of the coffee crops in the region to flourish without the aid of any artificial chemicals or fertilisers.

Types of Ethiopian Beans

Every region has it’s own vividness of beans as the climate and geography plays an important role in nourishing the final outcome. Ethiopia therefore get’s subdivided into 3 major types of coffee beans classified by the growing regions. Though, there are more, but these are the most acclaimed and have gained popularity.

Harrar

The eastern part of Ethiopia claims for this region and the coffee is grown in smaller farms. These beans after being bought from farms are dry-processed and are subdivided into longberry, shortberry and Peaberry. Harrar coffee beans are mostly heavy body, have wine to fruit like acidity and an intense aroma of blackberries or blueberries. These beans are often used for creating espresso blends to gather the very fine aromatics within the crema.

Sidamo (Yirgacheffe)

So, the region were this coffee is grown is Sidamo, located in southern Ethiopian region. It’s mostly known to the world as Yirgacheffe coffee. Most of the coffee fans must have heard this name or better might already have tasted it. This coffee is medium bodied, mild, has fruity notes and is floral aroma.

Ghimbi

Ghimbi is located in the western part of Ethiopia. The beans from this region are wet processed and have heavier body than the Harrar. They also are more balanced with longer lasting body. Ghimbi beans are known for their rich, sharp acidity and complex flavors.

Ethiopian Coffee Flavour – Characterisitcs

So now down to the main question? 
What does coffee from Ethiopia taste like?

While the brain first connects the country to Arabica beans; the fact is Ethiopia claims to be home to close to ten thousand varieties of coffee. Some of them have still to be documented and categorised. The varieties you’ll probably encounter can be broadly classified by the regions they hail from. Namely Ghimbi, Sidamo (Yirgacheffe) and Harrar. 

The most common connection with Ethiopian coffee is a meld of floral and fruity flavours. These medium bodied beans are the contribution from Yirgacheffe, a small town to the south of the country. 

The richer full bodied offerings with a sweet and slightly more complex flavour call the area of Ghimbi their home. Lastly the beans from Eithiopia that bring a slight spicy kick to the drink, are nourished, grown and dry processed in Harrar; a city to the east of the country. The taste of this particular variety has often been compared to blackberry jam 

Coffee Field

The method by which the beans are processed after they are grown also plays an important role in altering their taste. When the automatic process, also known as the wet method is used, the end result tends to lean towards a crisper taste with a hint of lemon grass and jasmine.

The technique that Ethiopians have been using for eons though, is the natural process through which the fruits remain attached to the bean for a longer period of time. This is why the end result is fruity with just a touch of chocolate.

How to make Ethiopian Coffee

If you’ve managed to bag yourself a few beans from Ethiopia, there are a number of ways you can choose to brew your batch.

Cold Brew

If you ever feel the weight of a hot summer day pulling you down, a cool cup of coffee can be just what the doctor ordered. Ethiopian beans can best be experienced through a cold brew. It’s  the perfect marriage of method and produce. It’s one of the best ways to truly appreciate the fruity tastes of blueberries, blackberries, peaches, melons, apricots and more waiting to burst out of the beans.  

Cold Brew

Now this can be anything from simply sticking your hot coffee in the fridge for a few hours, to brewing hot coffee into a cup filled with ice. But if you opt to use a device especially created for some cold brew coffee; you can opt for anything from the OXO Cold Brew Coffee Maker, Primula’s Burke immersion brewer, the Toddy Cold Brew System or whatever else suits your needs and tastes. 

The cold-brew process is also often the go-to choice for beans that are low in acidity as hot water is not an element in the preparation process. If this is how you choose to enjoy your daily caffeine, don’t forget to check the freshness of the coffee before you brew. While grind size is always a gamble,this is one of the more forgiving methods of brewing. Start with a coarse grind, and alter according to your taste preference whenever you need your next cup. 

Automatic Drip

There’s a famous saying that goes; “In a world full of trends, I want to remain a classic.” And there is nothing more classic to coffee than an automatic drip coffee maker. It’s a no muss no fuss method of brewing. And luckily for us, it fits perfectly well with Ethiopians coffee beans. The body of the beans are an important factor in deciding how to brew. The lightness of Ethiopian coffee can be best extracted and experienced perfectly through filter coffee. 

Like you should with any other beans you brew, be sure to check the date on the pack. And like you would with any other beans in this method, a medium-fine grind size would be ideal. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference it makes when you get these two things right. 

If you’ve got an automatic drip coffee machine calling your house their home, great. If you don’t and are confused about which one to get your hands on, there has been some noise in the market about the BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker, Black & Decker coffee maker and a few others. Pick whatever suits the needs of your kitchen and demands of your countertop.

Pour Over

Using a Chemex to brew

Constructing a daily cup of coffee is often a personal and fairly personalised process for many. And no one would understand that better than the Ethiopians, who have great patience, and take great pride in the creation of their daily coffee.

No other method will give you the amount of control over the various elements that come together to create the perfect cup of coffee that the pour-over does. From the size of the grind, to the temperature, flow rate and direction of the water used. And even the rate and speed of extraction. Everything can be monitored and altered from one brew to the next. Whether you choose to use an immersive option like a French Press or AeroPress, or prefer to opt for a Chemex, V60, or Kalita Wave. Trial and error is what if going to help you get it right.

While it might sound tedious, once you’ve locked in your apparatus and thought through the type of beans you’re going to use. The end result is totally worth it.

What Makes Ethiopian Coffee Different

Coffee is so deeply ingrained in the culture of the country that Ethiopians have created a ceremony that takes place as a part of their daily routine. It truly is a pleasure to witness and is a treat for all the senses. The ceremony that is usually conducted by a woman of the house, works as a thread that pulls the whole family together, with a role for each and every member. The youngest in the family is usually the server. And the first person served the coffee at a ceremony is usually the oldest male relative present. 

Before the ceremony begins, the stage needs to be set. This involves the host laying out a carpet of fragrant flowers and leaves. They also burn incense so that no harmful spirits can interrupt the ceremony. A Jebena; a traditional round bottomed clay pot is filled with water and placed over hot coals. 

The Coffee Ceremony

Coffee bean being roasted

The ceremony begins by hand roasting the green coffee beans being used over a live fire. A flat iron pan is usually used for this process. Once the beans start popping and reach a medium brown, they are taken off the fire and placed on a straw mat or at times a clay plate. If you’re lucky to be in attendance at one such ceremony, this is when you can truly appreciate the mesmerising fragrance of the beans.

Fair warning though, only attend if you have time to spare. The entire ceremony can take up to anything between two to three hours. Once these beans are roasted, a local version of a mortar and pestle called a mukecha and zenezena. is used to arrive at a coarse grind size. The beans are then poured into the Jebena. The host of the ceremony takes it on themselves to ensure you’re getting the best result. You might see them tasting the coffee at regular intervals during the brewing process. Once the blend is boiling, it is taken off the heat.

The coffee is usually served in ceramic cups or glasses. They are filled evenly by the host without allowing the dregs of the coffee to fall in. While sugar is an active ingredient in Ethiopian coffee and is offered up at a ceremony. Milk is not. If you’re concerned about going hungry during this time, allow us to set your mind at ease. You are usually offered some bread or popcorn with your drink during this time.

Roasted coffee being ground

As part of the overall process, frankincense tree sap is burned while you wait for the coffee to brew just to add to the ambience of the place. Once you’re through with your first cup, more water is added into the pot and the process is repeated roughly two more times. 

It is not just a cultural role that coffee plays in the lives of people. Coffee also stands as a special rope that connects the Ethiopian people to their history. For some it is even the embodiment of their connection to the religion of Islam. 
To get an idea of just how vital a role coffee plays in Ethiopian society; you’ll have to hark back to one of the most famous sayings in the country which is “Buna dabo naw”.  When literally translated this says “Coffee is our bread”.

Current Scenario of Ethiopian Coffee

Since we’ve already covered the past, it’s only fair to sweep over the present as well.
As of today, Ethiopia stands first in the line of coffee producers in Africa. They hold the title despite the fact that locals consume almost half of what the country grows. The locals are responsible for activity on both sides of the chain. From sowing the crop and nurturing it while it grows,. To picking, processing and packaging the berries and finally through to shipping them overseas. Over twelve million Ethiopians are involved in ensuring the coffee industry in the country thrives.

Ethiopia’s contribution towards the coffee community of the world tallies at three percent, earning them fifth place on the worldwide stage. As stated earlier, of the total produce of the country, only a small percentage is grown in government owned estates. The bulk of the country’s coffee is grown in small farms owned by the common people. The country had a system in place, to ensure the farmers were able to sell their crop, in a clean and simple process since 2008. However it wasn’t perfect. Nine years later, a few amendments were added in to help smoothen relationships between the farmers growing the crops and the companies selling them to the world.

Best Ethiopian Coffee Beans

Since Ethiopian coffee has a legacy that is revered both locally and internationally, the beans from this country are at the top of everyone’s shopping list. With the wise range though it can be a bit confusing when it comes time to actually pick one. To make life a little easier we’ll walk you through a few of the varieties everyone seems to be talking about.

Volcanica Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

A bag of Volcanica Yirgacheffe beans

It is almost impossible to mention Ethiopian coffee beans without talking about the Volcanica Yirgacheffe beans. The name is a pretty strong hint towards the region from where the beans hail. Almost all of the beans in this blend are gathered from wild trees that grow in the shade of forests of Yirgacheffe. These 100% Arabica beans are grown, processed and packaged without any interference from outside elements like chemicals, pesticides or herbicides.

Once brewed, you’re treated to an avalanche of flavours. The medium bodied blend manages to seamlessly transfer between hints of fruits like guava, strawberry, pineapple, to the taste of both sweet and bitter chocolate. It fishes off with whispers of lavender and cedar and leaves your palate with a wine like finish. Tempted? Well you should be.

The beans in the batch you order will only be roasted after the order is confirmed to guarantee fresh produce.

Ethiopian Yirgacheffe By Fresh Roasted Coffee

A bag of Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC beans

Next on our list we have beans from the region of Yirgacheffe again. Normally we would try to be more geographically diverse, but these beans are just that good. The Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC offers a very refreshing mingle of sweet lemon tea with lime and tangerine. It is the perfect pick for a cold brew to brighten up a hot sunny day. 

The blend wears two badges of honour, claiming to be both USDA organic and Fair Trade. So be assured that there are no harmful artificial elements impairing the taste of your drink. Additionally the people working to prepare your blend are treated and paid fairly. 

Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC, Organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe...
  • OUR ORGANIC ETHIOPIAN YIRGACHEFFE COFFEE IS...
  • USDA ORGANIC. FAIR TRADE CERTIFIED....
  • ALL FRESH ROASTED COFFEE IS Kosher Certified,...

The beans are even roasted in Loring Roasters while taking special note of the carbon footprint they’re leaving behind. 
The coffee is available as both whole beans as well as pre ground options.

Civilized Coffee Ethiopian Sidamo 

Civilized Coffee Sidamo beans

The next bag of beans on our list hails from the highlands in the region of Sidamo. The altitude and climate in the region allow the coffee to grow without the need for any external aid in the form of herbicides, pesticides or other chemicals.

The taste of the coffee lies somewhere around a mix of the flavours of the previous two blends on the list. Civilized Coffee Ethiopian Sidamo beans provide a rich texture melding mocha with lemon zest and blueberries.

Civilized Coffee Ethiopian Sidamo Whole Bean Arabica...
  • ARTISAN COFFEE Single Origin 100% Arabica...
  • CLASSIC ROAST Small Batch Roasted to ensure...
  • TASTING NOTES Coffee rich in flavors of Wild...

For the best results, opt to brew these beans using an immersion brewing method like French Press or AeroPress, or pour-over methods like the Chemex or Hario V60. If you’d rather brew yourself a cup of the coffee to lift up a scorching summer day, the flavour profile of the blend marries well with a cold brew too.

FAQS

When did Ethiopia start trading their coffee overseas?

It was only recently, in 2008 that Ethiopia began trading in coffee through the country’s commodity market.

How often is the Ethiopian Coffee ceremony conducted in the country?

While there is no strict rule, there are houses that conduct the ceremony between one to four times a day.

Where is the coffee from Ethiopia exported?

Close to fifty percent of the Ethiopian coffee calls the continent of Europe their new home. The remaining is split between Asia and North America.

At the End of the Day

If you ask us, you’d be hard pressed to find people that put more love and care towards the creation and nurture of the commodity of coffee than Ethiopians. Coffee is an ever present existence in the lives of the people there. The country respects the bean and treats it well. A fact that is reflected in the end result of caffeine in your daily cup. It comes as no surprise that the world is a fan of the flavour profile that Ethiopia offers. And as far as we can tell, each year only adds new members to the Ethiopian coffee fan-club. So it won’t be long till they take over the coffee world.