A guide to Ethiopian coffee

The country of the greatest single-origin coffees.

Ethiopian coffee is famous for its exquisite, single-origin coffee beans and for being the birthplace of this beloved brew. So superior are Ethiopian coffee beans that they have earned the title of the greatest single-origin specialty coffee beans in the world. The country's social structure is closely intertwined with coffee and has been for centuries. One of Ethiopia's most well-known proverbs is "buna dabo naw," which means "coffee is our bread."

Ethiopia's coffee industry is seriously threatened by climate change, especially given the frequency and length of droughts, which are both growing. Still, Ethiopia is the top producer of coffee on the African continent and the fifth largest globally. Most of the country's coffee producers are small growers. Because of this, coffee plays a significant role in the economy of both growers and the entire nation.

Fun fact: Ethiopians consume just over half of their total production themselves!

The Optimal Environment For Coffee Bean Growth 

Coffee trees have existed in the wild for many centuries in Ethiopia. The area in southwest Ethiopia where coffee was first found growing wild is where the word "kaffa," or "coffee," comes from. Here, coffee trees grow organically. The climate is ideal for producing great-tasting coffee without additional ingredients.

Most coffees are produced in the shade and among other plants without using agricultural chemicals. In contrast, coffee growers in other parts of the world must plant varieties and create ideal conditions by growing more trees to offer shade for their young coffee trees.

Indigenous coffee plants are regarded as heirloom kinds because they have a long history of flourishing in conditions tailor-made for coffee's growth. They primarily grow on soil that is just slightly acidic enough for the plants to flourish. Ethiopia is the ideal location for coffee to thrive because of its high altitudes in mountainous areas and the perfect amount of rainfall. In addition, the vegetation is abundant. 

What to Expect from Ethiopian Coffee Beans' Flavour Profile 

Coffee from Ethiopia is renowned for its vibrant fruity and flowery characteristics. They often contain complex taste nuances, a light to medium body, and a stronger acidity. The processing technique significantly influences the coffee's final flavour. Most Ethiopian coffee is grown as garden coffee, typically produced sustainably. "Garden coffee" is frequently intercropped with other plants planted by farmers near their homes. Additionally, it's typical for farmers to cultivate coffee in a semi-forest system, which involves removing bushes and weeds to control shade before introducing coffee seedlings. As a result, only about 5% of coffee from Ethiopia is produced on specific plantations. Furthermore, Ethiopian coffee beans are either naturally processed or washed. 

Regions for Ethiopian Coffee

·       Yirgacheffe is highly prized for its clean, balanced, and mild flavor profile with hints of berries, nuts, chocolate, lemon, and wine.

·       The Sidamo region is known for medium-bodied roasts with strong blueberry flavors mixed with mild nuttiness.

·       Guji is another major region that wet processes their beans bringing out notes of tangerine, lychee, and strawberry with strong acidity.

·       Coffee from the Harrar region is dry processed and has strong wine-like characteristics with complex fruit flavours and a rich body. It’s a truly savoury cup.

Regardless of the region, the natural sweetness of Ethiopian coffees makes them best enjoyed without added sweeteners, and they make especially good espresso beans.

The History of Ethiopian Coffee

Kaldi, an Ethiopian goat herder, is said to have discovered coffee's mystical properties in 850 AD. According to legend, he found his goats dancing wildly and eating the coffee fruit from the trees. He brought the "magic beans" home since their impact so enthralled him.

When Kaldi explained their advantages to a monk, the monk flung the beans into the fire and declared that this magic effect was the devil's work. Naturally, the beans started to roast, and the aroma of freshly roasted coffee filled the entire space. Thus, the Ethiopian coffee roaster method began.

More than likely, however, the story of Kaldi is fictional. The Ethiopian nomadic mountain peoples of the Galla tribe gathered the coffee beans, ground them up, and mixed them with animal fat, forming nutritious balls of energy that served to sustain them over long journeys. Other indigenous tribes of Ethiopia ate the beans as a porridge or drank a wine created from the fermented, crushed coffee beans.

By the 13th century, coffee’s invigorating tendencies were well known in the Islamic world and beyond. Coffee was considered a potent medicine, as well as a religious brew that left worshipers feeling percolated and focused during long prayer hours. Coffee shops in the 15th century quickly became a favoured meeting place.

The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

In contemporary Ethiopia, old customs still hold true. Each day, families gather around the coffee pot, known as a “jebena“, and brew rich, pungent Ethiopian coffees in a traditional coffee ceremony that’s anything but instant. The green coffee beans are roasted on an open flame and then ground in a mortar and pestle. After a boiling and screening process, the coffee is served as it’s meant to be: amongst family and friends amidst conversation and relaxation.

Ethiopia and Waaqa

Finally, we have a strong connection with Ethiopia as well! The name Waaqa stems from the local Oromo language. According to Oromo lore, Waaqa is a Sky God and Ethiopia’s precious coffee crops grow from the water of Waaqa’s tears!

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