As well as being the birthplace of our beloved coffee, Ethiopian coffee is mostly known for its delicious, single-origin coffee beans. In fact, Ethiopian coffee beans are so good that they have been regarded as the world’s best single-origin specialty coffee beans.
Today, we are going to explore the prominent coffee beans and industry of Ethiopia; its rich and mythology-filled history, current state of the industry, flavor profile and the Ethiopian coffee culture are all here and waiting for you.
Coffee’s Birth Place: Ethiopia
According to the legend, once upon a time, there was a goat herder named Kaldi who is from Kaffa. While he was herding his goats through a hill near a sacred monastery, Kaldi noticed that the goats were acting strangely active; bleating constantly, dancing and running around. It was as if they had an unlimited energy that day. After witnessing these strange behaviors Kaldi wondered, why had they suddenly become more energetic suddenly? Shortly afterwards, he found a small shrub which had magical and bright looking fruits on it.
You may have heard about this proverb: A man should go on living, only to satisfy his curiosity. Kaldi probably took the advice and tried the fruits himself. Once he felt the energizing effect of the fruits, he hastily ran to his wife to show the “miracle fruit” he had found. His wife, being the wise woman she was, told him to share these god-sent fruits with the monks in the monastery so that they could benefit from it. Believe me, some things are better when they aren’t shared with anyone.
Kaldi probably hoped for the monk’s admiration while he was running the monastery, yet, it was quite the opposite. He was greeted with not open arms, but with contempt. At the first glance, the monks thought that the fruits were “a trick of the Devil” and simply threw them into the fire. Yet, the smell of burning coffee fruits charmed the monks and convinced them to give another try.
Oh boy, was it worth it. After they removed the coffee fruits from the fire, crushed them and brewed with hot water, the monks were simply speechless. It was unlike anything that they had ever tasted before.
The word of its delicious flavor spread around the monastery and all the monks started to drink the coffee every day. It wasn’t long before they discovered the stimulating and refreshing effect of the coffee, as well. Once they did, they made a promise in front of God himself that they will drink it before every single ritual to keep them awake and make them more energetic.
To sum up, if it weren’t for Kaldi, the most underrated goat herder of all time; we might not have heard of this heaven-sent drink. Thank you, man, we owe you one.
Legend aside, the first cultivation dates back all the way to the 9th century according to the historians. Some historians, on the other hand, claim that the coffee was first cultivated in Yemen, 575 B.C.
Although coffee was used as a stimulative beverage in the origin myth, coffee historians say it is more possible that coffee was being chewed when it was first discovered. The coffee beverage was invented later on. Especially Muslim slaves consumed coffee by mixing it with butter or animal fat in order to make a food that could be consumed throughout the long and tiring journeys under the burning sun. In some regions of Ethiopia, however, coffee fruits were eaten with milk and oatmeal.
After a while, humanity started to make a beverage out of coffee. It was first popular among the Africa continent but in the 13th century, it made its way into the Muslim nations. Not long after, it became popular in Europe with the help of Ottoman Empire, which was one of the first great empires to embrace coffee and spread its culture around the world.
The rest is history. Nowadays, everywhere you look is a coffee shop and coffee is almost everyone’s go-to beverage. Students who are pulling all-nighters, white collars who need to finish their project by tomorrow, coffee aficionados who crave their daily coffee intake; coffee gathers all of them together and enriches our culture.
Current State of Ethiopian Coffee Industry
Today, Ethiopia is the 5th largest coffee producer of the world and the 1st in the African continent. Exporting about 3.5 million bags of coffee in a single year, their place in the coffee industry is undoubtedly strong. Ethiopians consume almost 3 million coffee bags in a single year. I mean, who can blame them when their coffee is one of the most delicious coffees in the world?
Small farmers constitute the majority of the nation’s coffee producers. For this reason, coffee is a major factor that contributes to both farmers’ and the country’s economies. They can sell their coffee yields through the ECX, Ethiopian Commodity Exchange. The organization was established in 2008 with an aim to make farmers’ life easier when selling a product.
Yet, the ECX poses a big threat to specialty coffee lovers: you cannot track the origin of the coffees back to their birth-farm as once the farmers bring their coffees to ECX, they are mixed and sold together. Mixing them makes the tracking almost impossible and therefore specialty coffee roasters complain about the inability to find out the coffee’s origin.
With a law that was implemented about five years ago, the government allowed for direct purchase via special washing stores. In addition, thanks to that law farmers now can keep their yield separate before selling, which is a more transparent and consumer-friendly way of selling.
Thanks to this breakthrough, now both companies and individual coffee roasters can find better coffees. It helps farmers too; as better flavored coffees tend to have a much higher price tag; the producers are encouraged to produce better coffees in order to make more money. Clearly a win-win situation for both sides.
What to Expect Before Tasting Ethiopian Coffee
Ethiopian beans are mostly known for their low acidity and well-balanced structure. Best Ethiopian coffees have a rich fruity and floral aroma which brings out the sweet and the sour flavor in the coffee. However, the flavor of the coffees can change from region to region and depends on a number of factors such as altitude, processing type, soil, etc.
Most of the Ethiopian coffee beans are believed to be arabica beans, the world’s most consumed coffee bean variation with a staggering percentage of 70%. In fact, arabica is the first cultivated coffee bean in history and therefore, the first coffee drink we consumed is arabica. Arabica coffee beans, which are originated in Ethiopia, tend to have an aromatic and well-balanced flavor with various acidity levels.
Yet, not all the coffee beans in Ethiopia are arabica beans, there are literally hundreds of species some of which are yet to be classified. Ethiopia’s regions offer a variety of flavor that are waiting for you to taste them.
Sidamo or Sidama, is the home of the high-yielding soils of Ethiopia and located south of Lake Awassa. The Sidamo region is extremely fertile due to consistent rains, high altitude and optimal temperatures. Being the perfect place to grow coffee, Sidamo region produces some of the highest quality coffees in Ethiopia.
Although the region offers us a variety of flavors, the main ones are the ones with the fruity and earthy notes. It is full-bodied and low in acidity which is similar with wine. One can even taste the subtle blueberry notes in it. Truly a heavenly experience.
Being one of the subdivisions of Sidamo, Yirgacheffe is located right next to Great Rift Valley.
It is mostly known for the intense flavored and slightly acidic wet-processed coffees. The coffees have a strong but clear flavor; you can distinguish the nuances easily. Bright acidity enhances the coffee’s already unique taste and the floral flavor notes complements it: the perfect coffee.
Region of Gimbi is mostly known for its high altitude growing and wet-processed coffees. The coffees from the Gimbi region are high in acidity and have a subtle fruity flavor and aftertaste. It may also be well-balanced or heavy in balance, depending on the altitude.
Southwestern parts of Ethiopia host the renowned Limu coffees, a well-balanced coffee that is considered as premium gourmet (not many coffees have this prestigious title). It is low in acidity and has spicy and fruity flavor with a sweet aftertaste.
In my opinion, Harrar coffees are the best coffees from Ethiopia. They are produced in small farms in the eastern Ethiopia, the highest growing region.
Growing and producing a Harrar coffee takes a lot of effort as the whole process (harvesting, processing, drying etc.) is done by hand. In fact, the shells of these coffees, which are removed by hand, can be used to prepare one of the most mouth-watering teas out there: hasher-qahwa.
As Harrar coffees are mostly sun-dried, they tend to have a fruity taste with wine notes in it. That wine flavor makes Harrar coffees the most suitable choice for espresso blends, but it isn’t commonly used in single origin coffees. To sum up, you should expect a bold coffee with fruity, wine-like flavor.
The Unique Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
As you can imagine, coffee plays an important role in Ethiopian people’s lives. In fact, they have a special ceremony, which is one of the main ways that people can socialize, devoted to coffee and it is performed all around the country.
Lasting 3 hours, Ethiopian coffee ceremony is an event that aims to gather the whole family together and make the bonds stronger than ever. Some families perform this ceremony 2-3 times a day, you can see how much they love coffee. During the ceremony, a wide range of topics are discussed; from politics to sports, everything can be the subject of this unique ceremony.
Ethiopian people roast coffee in a traditional pan before grounding it with a tool reminding of mortar and pestle. Afterwards, a brewing tool similar to cezve, which is used while brewing Turkish coffee, is put over an open fire. You should be careful when pouring coffee into the special cups, as you can accidentally pour the unwanted ground into them too.
After the first round of servings is done, the second one comes. While serving the second rounds, it tastes a little bit weaker as they add water in it. After every round, the coffee will get weaker.
This wholesome ceremony is one of the reasons why people love coffee. The ceremony is the everything that coffee stands for: solidarity, unity, and respect. We truly love coffee, just like the Ethiopians.
How to Make Ethiopian Coffee
Well, brewing a traditional Ethiopian coffee will indeed take your time, but it’ll be worth the effort. It might be a little unorthodox but I personally prefer the pour over method. Why, you ask? The reason why is that I have the full control on the whole brewing process in the pour over method. I can accelerate or decelerate the brewing process according to my personal preferred taste.
Yet, you can use automated drip while brewing and this will make a coffee which you can clearly distinguish even the smaller flavors and appreciate them more. It is also well-balanced and medium in acidity. Ethiopian coffee indeed makes a good filter coffee.
How to Roast Ethiopian Coffee
Roasting plays a big role in Ethiopian coffees’ flavors and you should be careful while roasting Ethiopian coffee. According to some expert baristas, it is best consumed when medium roasted as medium roast will adjust the perfect balance between sweet and sour flavors and acidity levels. If roasted any lighter, you’ll get an almost tea-like drink which has nothing to do with coffee; yet, for some odd reason baristas commonly prefer this level. If you roast darker, however, some of the unique flavors of Ethiopian coffee will be suppressed and it will be close to impossible to taste them. So, go for the medium, you won’t be disappointed.
In addition, Ethiopian coffees like to work on their own; they don’t like being blended with other coffees. What’s more, other beverages like milk or syrups shouldn’t be mixed with it as Ethiopian coffee will give everything you’re looking for on its own.
A proud coffee aficionado who is determined to share his passion and knowledge about coffee with others. Writing and sci-fi are sine qua non of my life. It is not a good day for me if I haven’t had my coffee in the morning.
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