Last Updated on January 19, 2022 by John Moretti
It is believed that the birthplace of Arabica coffee was Ethiopia. Get ready. Here we go all the way back to the origin. Learn everything about Ethiopian coffee beans, and you will want to try some today.
Ethiopian coffee is medium-bodied, rich, notably bright acidity with a variety of fruity notes. Its intense and complex aroma offers a delicate tasting experience.
There are many Ethiopian coffee brands to choose from, making it difficult to know where to start. In this article, you will find everything you need to know about Ethiopian coffee that we think any coffee connoisseur will love.
The Legend of Kaldi – Where It All Began
The word coffee comes from a place called Kaffa, where it is thought coffee was first discovered. There is a fascinating story with a mixture of history and legend behind the discovery of coffee in Ethiopia.
The legend of Kaldi, the goat herder who saw his goats, became particularly energetic after eating the bright red berries from a bush. Kaldi ate a few berries himself and soon felt extraordinary, stimulated with a sense of joy.
He brought some of the berries back to his Sufi monk-friend, who then unwittingly tossed the berries into the fire. The fire eventually roasted the coffee beans, and an aroma filled the air.
Kaldi put the roasted beans in a pot of water, making the first cup of coffee. The monks used the traditional tea-making method and brewed the coffee beans.
They soon realized the drink’s beneficial effect, particularly when doing meditations. So, it is believed true or not that coffee drinking was born in Ethiopia.
The Old Ethiopian Traditions
The Ethiopian nomadic Galla mountain tribes ground coffee beans up and mixed them with animal fat, forming nutritious balls of energy that they ate on long journeys.
It is said that other Ethiopian tribes ate the beans like porridge and drank a wine created from the fermented, crushed coffee beans. Coffee’s stimulating characteristics were famous in the Islamic world by the 13th century.
Coffee was used as a medicine and a religious brew that left people feeling energized and focused. In the 15th-century, coffee gathering places quickly became a favored meeting place.
The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
In modern-day Ethiopia, old customs are still honored. Every day Ethiopian families still gather around the coffee pot, known as a “jebena,” and brew the coffee in a traditional coffee ceremony that’s anything but instant.
The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is important for the Ethiopian people. It involves roasting raw unprocessed coffee beans on the fire and turning them into a fine cup of coffee. The coffee beans are then brewed in a traditional pot. The coffee is poured out slowly to stop grounds from entering the final cup.
In Ethiopia, the woman performs the two- to three-hour coffee ceremony three times, morning, noon, and evening. When the coffee begins to crackle as it is roasted, the woman may add cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. They also perform the ceremony when welcoming visitors and in times of celebration.
The traditional coffee ceremony in Ethiopia is a common and important social event. It is a sign that you are respected when you are invited to attend a coffee ceremony. Coffee ceremonies can take as long as 2-3 hours.
However, there can be some modern-day variations. Some restaurants in the West may use an electric grinder to speed up the grinding process. The coffee is typically unfiltered. Some women may filter it through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the grounds.
In some parts of the country, coffee may be served with salt instead of sugar, and other parts add butter or honey to the coffee. Some snacks are served, like roasted barley and peanuts that may accompany the coffee.
Ethiopian Coffee Growing Regions
Coffee is mainly grown in the southwestern part of Ethiopia. The most famous regions where coffee is grown are:
Arabica is the only coffee species grown in Ethiopia at altitudes usually higher than 1,000 meters above sea level. With specialty, quality coffees grown at even higher elevations.
Around 95% of coffee production from Ethiopia’s diverse coffee varieties is organic and traditionally cultivated without the use of any fertilizers or pesticides.
Ethiopian coffee beans grown in the Yirgacheffe Harar or Limu regions are kept separate and sold under their regional names. These regional varieties are trademarked with the rights owned by Ethiopia. Ethiopia is currently home to almost 5000 wild coffee varieties.
Like some other African countries, Ethiopia is famous for its system of cooperatives. High fragmentation is the main reason. Each farmer has only a small piece of land where they grow coffee. All coffee crops are bought in, processed, and sold by the cooperatives.
Unique Character of Ethiopian Coffee Beans
Ethiopian coffee is rich with original aroma and flavor because of the country’s geographical altitude, temperature, soil, topography, rainfall, ecology, and cultural variety. For thousands of years, coffee has been grown in Ethiopia high up in the forests of southwestern highlands.
- 90% of Ethiopian coffee is hand-picked in forests or small plots of land, and just 10% of the coffee beans come from commercial farming.
- Coffee in Ethiopia still grows ‘wild’ and is picked just like mushrooms and blueberries from the wild.
- The Ethiopian heirloom is the botanical variety description found on most Ethiopian coffee packaging. This description means that you cannot say what is inside.
- Their wild coffee is a mixture of hundreds of varietals combined in one bag and cannot be separated again. That makes the flavor of heirloom Ethiopian coffee very interesting and exceptional.
The situation changes yearly, and you can buy the beans from a monoculture where just one specific varietal is grown, which allows you to try individual endemic varietals, like the famous Geisha, which is still a rarity is worth finding.
3 categories of Ethiopian coffee beans from the Arabica species:
- Long berry: This is the largest of the three and is considered the highest in quality.
- Short berry: They are smaller than long berry but still of high quality.
- Mocha is quite different, and it is filled with a complex flavor profile- acidity, spice.
Processing by Region
Describing the distinctive flavor profiles of specific regions, keep in mind the heirloom diversity we mentioned. Ethiopia is a kaleidoscope of flavors, and there is often a world of differences between coffees from the same region. Here are a few of the most famous ones.
The Harrar coffee is grown in Ethiopia’s Eastern highlands with a high altitude between 1510 and 2120 meters. It is naturally processed, sun-dried on concrete slabs. The Harrar coffee bean is thought to be one of the oldest coffee beans still produced today
Harar coffee beans have hints of wine, fruit, and mocha undertones with a strong, rich taste and a whiff of blackberries. Harar coffee beans are more balanced and full-bodied and very different than coffee from the Sidamo region.
Processing method: Dry
These coffee beans are grown in this highlands and it is believed where coffee is originated. Ethiopia certifies and labels all its green coffee as Strictly High Grown or Strictly Hard Bean.
Due to the high altitudes, Strictly High Grown coffees are grown slower, allowing more nutrients to be delivered to the coffee beans. The increased nutrients make the coffee denser and flavorful.
Coffee beans from the Sidamo region have distinct citric, berry-like, and lemon notes and are more acidic while maintaining a medium body. Sidamo includes Yirgacheffe and Guji coffee.
Processing method: Washed/Dry
This coffee is among the best coffee in the world. Yirgacheffe coffee beans are grown at roughly 2000 meters and are usually wet-processed. Premium Yirgacheffe coffee offers a medium body with a bergamot aroma, nutty and chocolate undertone, with a bright aftertaste of wine and sweet berry.
Processing method: Washed/Dry
Guji coffee is originally from southwestern Ethiopia. The heirloom varieties produce full-flavored strong coffee beans. The flavor profile of these beans includes floral, dark chocolatey coupled with a sweet-tart acidity.
Processing method: Washed/Dry
Djimmah coffee is unique and thought to be the variety closest in original flavor to the wild coffee plant. The coffee plants are well protected by the large forest trees, which keep the moisture in the ground and shade the sun.
Djimmah coffee beans have a rich body, deeply aromatic intense sweetness, with wine-like undertones with a complex earthy finish.
Processing method: Dry
This coffee comes from within the Limu Sakka area within the Greater Djimmah region. Limu coffee beans are well known for their low acidity. This coffee has a well-balanced body and distinct spicy and wine flavors like a smooth red wine—an elegant coffee from the Highlands of Southeast Ethiopia.
Limu coffee has its own special genetic profile and its own unique cup profile; it is not just “Washed Djimmah.” All sundried coffee from Limu has been traditionally exported as “Djimmah,” while all washed coffee from Djimmah has been exported as “Limu.”
Unfortunately, this contributed to the incorrect perception that “Limu” is simply a “washed Djimmah” when coffees from Limu are quite distinct.
Processing method: Washed
Coffee Production in a Global Market
Arabica coffee beans from Ethiopia represent 59% of the world’s coffee production. Ethiopia is the world’s 5th-largest coffee producer.
The International Coffee Organization states that Ethiopia is Africa’s top coffee producer, with 880 million pounds of coffee produced. Some of Ethiopia’s high-quality coffees have recently been selling for over three times the average export price.
The governmental body Tea and Coffee Authority of Ethiopia, oversees business related to coffee and tea in the country. They also determine the price at which the washing stations buy coffee from the local coffee farmers. Almost all Ethiopian coffee production is still done by hand, from planting trees to the final harvesting.
The 7 Best Ethiopian Coffee
Volcanica Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Whole Bean Coffee is one of the best coffees out there. It is a combination of wild coffee beans gathered in the Yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia and estate coffee that comes from a single farm.
Volcanica coffee beans have delicious fruity notes of strawberry, dark chocolate, and pineapple flavors. Volcanica roasts its coffee fresh before it is shipped out.
The only thing about this coffee is that it is not organic certified. Most Volcanica coffee beans are harvested from trees growing wild and probably are not exposed to any pesticides.
2. Cooper’s Ethiopian Coffee
Cooper’s Ethiopian coffee offers Farm Gate beans which means the coffee was directly bought from the farmer’s gate. This way, you know you are directly supporting coffee farmers in Ethiopia.
This coffee is a micro-lot and single-origin coffee. This means Cooper’s coffee beans come from one farm in Ethiopia. If you like a one flavor profile, then buying a single-origin coffee is the perfect way to go. Cooper’s coffee has citrusy-floral notes of lemon, floral nectar, and raw honey.
Unfortunately, there’s no roast date on the package to confirm when the beans were roasted. Cooper’s Ethiopian coffee is single-origin beans and certified Organic.
3. Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC’s Ethiopian Coffee
This delightful Ethiopian Yirgacheffe whole bean coffee is organic and Fair Trade Certified. It is from the Yirgacheffe region in Ethiopia and offers a flavor profile of tangerine and lime.
This coffee company freshly roasts their beans and immediately ships them out. Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC’s Ethiopian Coffee is a medium roast suitable for a wide variety of tastes.
Even though the company states that they roast their beans and directly ship, there are no roast dates on the packaging to confirm. This variety could be overly citrusy for some palettes. Many people described it as “sour” for this reason.
4. Cubico’s Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Coffee
Cubico’s Ethiopia Yirgacheffe freshly roasted whole beanse. This company source their coffee beans from a family-owned farm in Yirgacheffe that practices organic farming. Cubico’s coffee is a single-origin coffee. The packaging clearly states a roasting date when it is shipped.
Though this farm where the coffee beans are produced practices organic farming methods, it is not officially Organic or Fair Trade Certified. When this coffee is grounded, it goes stale quickly. Make sure you store it in an air-tight container. Sometimes this coffee can have a sour aftertaste.
5. Marley Coffee’s One Love Ethiopian Coffee
This 100% Ethiopian whole bean coffee comes from a company that cares deeply about sustainability and ethical business practice. Marley Coffee is Fair Trade Certified and partners with One Tree Planted for forest sustainability. These coffee beans are medium-roasted and offer a delicious, smooth taste.
Marley Coffee is no longer organic and is now a blend of Ethiopian coffee, which means you can’t predict the flavor notes.
6. Coffee Bean Direct Ethiopian Whole Bean Coffee
Coffee Bean Direct offers a Dark Ethiopian Yirgacheffe variety in whole beans. This coffee is Organic and Fair Trade Certified. They also have it in light roast or unroasted bean. These dark roasted beans have flavor notes of lemon, blueberry, and chocolate.
We like that the company claims small-batch roasting, which keeps the beans fresher, but no actual roast dates are printed on the packaging. The quality of these coffee beans differs from bag to bag.
Coffee Bean Direct does not name the source of their coffee beans other than that they are from the Yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia.
7. Equal Exchange’s Organic Ethiopian Whole Bean Coffee
This highly ethical company is the one that brought the Fair Trade policy with small coffee farmers to the U.S. Equal Exchange’s Organic Ethiopian Whole Bean Coffee is USDA Organic and Fair Trade Certified. This coffee has flavor notes of chocolate, ginger, and blueberry.
This coffee has an unpredictable quality despite the ethical status of the company. They don’t list any information about roast dates on the packaging. This company also does not specifically name its source for the beans, other than they are from Ethiopia. The roast is much darker than advertised since the chart lists it somewhere between a light and medium roast.
How are Ethiopian Coffee Beans Processed?
They are two ways of processing Ethiopian coffee beans, either washed or dried.
1. Wet Processing
Wet-processed coffees beans go through a fermentation process that has the berries soaking in water. This soaking softens the berries and allows workers to remove over-ripe or green berries that float to the top.
The fleshy parts of the berries are then removed from the bean using a mechanical de-pulping machine that removes most of the skin and fruity parts.
The beans are then left for 12 hours in a tank where the fermentation process is completed. Finally, the beans are placed in the sun on concrete slabs to dry.
Then, the dried coffee is sorted, damaged ones removed, and the rest sent to a warehouse for dry processing, where the coffee beans are packaged and ready to be shipped.
2. Dry Processing
Dry-processing involves drying the whole intact coffee berry naturally in the sun. This way of processing can take a while and only end when the coffee berries have fully dried.
Producers closely watch this process and rotate and stir the drying berries to dry the batch evenly.
When the berries are completely dry, they are washed like the wet-processed berries but use half the water. This process differs because the dried fruit retains its moisture, and the enzymes are not lost from the bean.
Naturally, sun-dried coffees taste different than wet-processed coffee and have more body and sweetness.
Ethiopia is the 5th largest producer of Arabica coffee beans globally; coffee beans from Ethiopia undergo intense processing to maintain high-grade coffee. Globally Ethiopian coffee is considered one of the best coffees because the beans are cultivated in high altitudes and perfect climate conditions.
Ethiopian coffee farmers produce the heirloom variety of Arabica coffee. These coffee beans are indigenous to Ethiopia and harvested from wild coffee trees that offer a variety of intense flavors.
Most Ethiopian coffee, especially those grown in Yirgacheffe, Sidamo, and Limu regions, is complex, fragrant-rich, and offers subtle hints of fruity and floral undertones. They are processed naturally, which improves the taste of the coffee beans.
Every coffee bean in Ethiopia reflects its rich history and culture. No matter how fast the world modernizes, Ethiopian coffee farmers still stick to old traditions like the Ethiopian coffee ceremony to keep families and communities together.