Ethiopia: A Guide to My Favorite Coffee Origin

     As some of you may know, Ethiopian coffees are always my favorite. A dry-processed, fruit-forward Ethiopian bean is always a winner in my book. For many years, they have been the world's best-reviewed single-origin premium coffee beans. As the 5th largest coffee producer in the world, Ethiopia has mastered the art of harvesting and processing the beans, and the flavor profiles are perfectly complex and delicious.

 Ethiopian Coffee History and Geography

     Ethiopia has successfully offered premium grade single origin coffee beans for hundreds of years. There is some debate within the coffee community of the origin of coffee. Ethiopia claims to be the originating country of coffee. So does Yemen.

Yemen legend: So, the earliest substantiated origin of coffee is that a Sufi monk was the first to drink and show knowledge of coffee in the middle of the 15th century. Legend has it that they imported the coffee from Ethiopia and used the trees to create a 'wine'. They claimed that this wine provided a spiritual intoxication from their gods. With this legend, there is credible evidence, and it is considered proven. But here's the thing. Why would Ethiopia export a coffee tree if they didn't know the value?

Ethiopian Legend: This leads to the Ethiopian legend. Ethiopia is the much more popular assumptive originator of coffee, but as you read, keep in mind that this story is unsubstantiated. The story goes that a goat herder named Kaldi saw goats eating berries from what is now known as a coffee tree and then observed that it made them especially active. He reported this observation, and people started using these 'magic' beans for trade. The legend of this energizing bean grew, and by the 15th century, coffee was moving all over the Arabian Peninsula.

     So that leaves the question. Was Kaldi's observation enough to confirm that his country (Ethiopia) is the originator of coffee? Or was Yemenis conversion of the berry to a 'wine' the origination of coffee? The debate will continue. Either way, coffee is delicious, and I love it and am thankful to both countries for their contribution.

     It is no surprise that Ethiopia has the ideal growing environment for producing fantastic coffee. The high elevations and mountainous regions make for excellent growing conditions. There are more than a thousand varietals of coffee beans grown in Ethiopia. Because coffee trees grow naturally in Ethiopia, most of the coffees are under shade, among other plants, and without the use of agricultural chemicals. 

     Three coffee production methods are used in Ethiopia: Forest Coffees, Garden Coffees, and Plantation Coffees. For Forest Coffees, the beans are wild-grown and harvested by the locals. Garden Coffees are grown in smaller plots of land alongside a variety of crops and are measured by trees rather than hectares. Plantation Coffees are beans grown on large estates. Only a small percentage of Ethiopian coffee is harvested this way. The Garden Coffee technique is the most popular method for producing coffee in Ethiopia.

     Coffee is not only a popular crop in Ethiopia, but it is also an essential part of their culture. So much so, that they created a daily event known as the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony. During this ceremony, locally grown coffee beans are roasted on a flat iron pan over a small charcoal stove. After the roasting is finished, the beans are placed on a clay plate or straw mat, and the aromas are savored among the guests. The beans are then crushed by a stone block into small particles and brewed with boiling water and spices (cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom). The coffee is poured into small cups with sugar added, and incense is released into the air to cast away any evil spirits.

     As a sign of respect, the oldest male of the group is served first, and the youngest child is in charge of serving. This tradition symbolizes the connection between all of the generations. Three rounds of coffee are served during the ceremony, and bread or popcorn is often enjoyed with it. The complete ceremony takes about one to two hours, and an invitation to the gathering signifies friendship and respect. Can you imagine if your daily cup of coffee was this symbolic?

     In 2008, the Ethiopian Coffee Exchange (ECX) was created to organize pricing models and protect farmers from market variability. ECX improved coffee production and turned it into a stabilized asset by providing warehousing and trading assistance. With this system, coffee harvested by the farmers is delivered to local wet mills and sent over to warehouses where they are graded by region, physical qualities, and cupping experience. From there, the coffee is sold and delivered to Ethiopian exporters and brokers, who arrange the wholesale process with other countries. Although the ECX has improved the harvesting, processing, and exporting operations, the main downside is that their goal of consistency does not allow premiums for higher-grade crops. Instead, all crops are averaged together. 

Ethiopian Coffee Flavor Profile

     The ideal higher elevations in Ethiopia certifies all of their green coffee to be labeled as Strictly High Grown (SHG) / Strictly Hard Bean (SHB). Due to the altitude, SHG coffees are grown slower, allowing for more nutrients to be delivered to the coffee beans. This increase in nutrients makes the coffee denser and more flavorful. Dry processed beans were traditional more common, but wet-processed beans are increasingly becoming more popular. 

     There are three central regions that single-origin coffee is produced and sold: Sidamo, Yirgacheffe, and Harrar. Each one of these regions produces coffee with its own distinct flavor profile.

Yirgacheffe: These coffees have a sweet and fruity flavor and aroma, with a light to medium body. They are incredibly fragrant and are regularly rated and reviewed as the highest quality Arabica beans in the world. Since they are premium grade coffees, they are often more expensive.

Sidamo: Best known for its rich mouthfeels, full bodies, and sweet and complex flavor profiles. Sidamo beans often have low acidity, with a vibrant aftertaste. Because of their flavor consistency, they are a staple Ethiopian bean for many coffee roasters. 

Harrar: Most commonly dry-processed, these beans are heavy-bodied with a very spicy and fragrant aroma. They have a floral acidity and produce a bright, almost intensely flavored cup. The taste is often described as "wild" or "jammy" and is reminiscent of a blackberry. 

     Ethiopian beans as a whole are known for their winey quality and bright mouthfeels. They typically have a light to medium body, higher acidity, and complex flavor notes. Most of the coffees from Ethiopia are naturally processed, which means that they are dried with the cherry fruit still attached to the coffee bean. This style of processing gives the coffee fruity or winey tones and bright acidity. Wet processing is a newer method, and the fruit is removed. The final cups are clean, floral, and complex.

     From the rich and fruity flavors of Harrar to the bright and floral notes of Yirgacheffe, the unique characteristics that Ethiopian coffees have offered have become some of the best-reviewed and most sought after premium coffee beans in the world. With that in mind, here are some Sagebrush Ethiopian Coffees:

Quick Facts

The 5th Largest Coffee Producer in the world

Growing Altitude:

 1,500-2,200 meters (above sea level)

 Harvesting Season:

 November - February


¬†60-95 ‚ĄČ

 Small Scale Farmers:

 15 million

 Coffee Varietals:

 Arabica: Native Heirloom Varieties