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Ethiopia is the largest coffee producer in Africa and the fifth-largest in the world. Usually grown at an altitude of 1500-2200 metres above sea level and harvested between November and February, Ethiopian coffee accounts for 3% of the worldwide coffee market. Arabica and native heirloom varietals are most commonly grown on small plantations throughout the country. While over 850 million pounds of coffee is produced in Ethiopia, only around half of that is exported – the rest is consumed domestically.
It’s not very well known that Ethiopia is actually believed to be the birthplace of coffee. The legend goes that a goat herder named Kaldi discovered coffee trees after their goats ate some cherries and became incredibly energetic. You can read the whole story on our Journey of Coffee blog.
Ethiopia has a lot of traditions surrounding the consumption of coffee. It’s likely ground coffee was often consumed with butter or animal fat rolled into small balls to act as an energy hit on long journeys. Some historians believe chewing coffee beans was a custom brought to Ethiopia from Sudan. Eventually, coffee was consumed as a beverage in Ethiopia, and the entire world. Some Ethiopian tribes crushed and fermented the cherries into a kind of wine, where others roasted, ground and boiled the coffee.
Traditions of boiling coffee can still be found in Ethiopia, and most of the Mediterranean region.
Over the past few decades, Ethiopia has had quite an unstable government and economy. Amongst this instability, coffee farming took a massive hit in 2003, and the price of coffee crashed hard. Production costs were no longer being covered through sales, and the majority of coffee farmers had to abandon their crops.
The coffee industry was able to survive this hit, becoming the largest coffee producer throughout Africa today.
Ethiopian Coffee Ceremonies
Ethiopia has a very strong cultural tradition where all important events are opened with a coffee ceremony. The ceremony generally lasts from two to three hours and can happen up to three times a day. It’s a family-oriented event, with children participating through serving coffee. These coffee ceremonies are also quite a social event, with social connection very important, signifying respect and friendship. Topics often discussed include community, politics and personal life. The coffee beans are roasted in a pan, ground by hand and brewed in a pottery piece over an open fire. Coffee at these ceremonies will be consumed with lots of added sugar, but no milk.
There are many distinct growing regions throughout Ethiopia, with the most common ones as follows:
Yirgacheffe, Harrar and Sidama are the most well-known regions. Sidama produces some lower quality coffee so is usually the cheapest you can get from Ethiopia. Other beans, such as Yirgacheffe, can be more expensive, but tend to reflect better price-to-quality value.
Ethiopian coffee is typically sold by region, however the cheapest and lowest quality ones can sometimes be incorporated into blends.
Ethiopian coffees have a medium to heavy body, and can have slightly different flavour profiles depending on their processing method. Most Ethiopian coffees are naturally processed, resulting in a beautifully fruity cup with a bright acidity and dry edge. However, some farms prefer a washed process, which brings out flavours of jasmine and lemongrass with a lighter and drier palate taste. The best brew methods for Ethiopian coffee are pour-over, cold brew and drip.
More often than not, coffee produced in Ethiopia is best drunk black, but some Ethiopian coffees can go beautifully with milk.
We’ve been lucky enough to get our hands on some beautiful Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Grade 3 coffee beans for the month of June – get some while you can by clicking on the image below!