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Ethiopian Coffee: Facts, Guide + Best Brands

Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. It doesn’t matter what coffee you’re drinking; you can probably trace its roots to this East African nation. So it’s no surprise that some of the world’s best coffees are still grown there, with its perfect growing conditions and centuries of evolved expertise.

If you want to try Ethiopian coffee for yourself, this guide is here to walk you through everything you need to know. Keep reading, and you’ll learn all about coffee in Ethiopia:

At A Glance:

Choosing an Ethiopian Coffee

Ethiopia is coffee’s homeland, and it remains the place on earth with the unique varieties of Arabica coffee (1). If you want to experience flavors you’d never anticipate in a cup of joe, Ethiopia is the place to start. 

It’s one of the world’s biggest coffee producers and the biggest coffee-producing nation in Africa. In 2016, over 375,000 tonnes of coffee were grown and processed. Coffee production makes up nearly a third of Ethiopia’s economy.

Knowing all that, it can be intimidating to choose an Ethiopian coffee to try. That’s where this guide comes in. We’ll cover some fascinating facts about Ethiopia coffee and highlight tips and tricks that will help you find the perfect beans for you.

CI_Ethiopian Coffee Bean Guide

Ethiopia’s Coffee Growing Regions

Coffee from Ethiopia is still primarily grown where it first evolved, in the southwest of the nation. But confusingly, the names of many coffee-growing regions overlap with geographical regions. And even more confusingly, many of the famous coffee growing regions are, in fact, small zones inside other growing areas. We won’t go too crazy trying to untangle it all.

The three central coffee-growing regions in Ethiopia are Sidamo, Harrar, and Kaffa, with Sidamo and Harrar known for specialty coffee. Within Sidamo lie Yirgacheffe and Guji, two distinct regions that warrant their designation thanks to their unique flavors and high-quality beans.

What to Expect from Ethiopian Coffee

Because the Arabica coffee plant first arose in Ethiopia, the country still contains the vast majority of its genetic diversity. Therefore, they must protect such a resource to keep the industry alive. There are thousands of varietals growing around the nation, many of which are unnamed and undescribed. They’re known only by the farm on which people grow them.

This is why many Ethiopian coffees will be listed as containing “heirloom varietals” rather than anything more specific. This can mean either a single varietal or a blend, either of which can be delicious in its own way (2).

I’ve found that because Ethiopian heirlooms are so distinct, blending instead separating varieties can really change the cup profile.

Erik Liao, co-owner of Triup Coffee

From a flavor standpoint, coffee from Ethiopia generally goes one of two ways, though, of course, there is plenty of overlap and variety (3).

Coffee from the southern Sidamo region, which includes Guji and Yirgacheffe, tends to be bright with citrus acidity and fragrant with florals like lavender and jasmine. This is especially true of coffees grown at higher elevations. Juicy fruits like blueberries and raspberries tend to dominate, along with notes of black tea. Sidamo coffee is typically very smooth, with a light body and subtle flavors.

In contrast, coffee from the Harrar region tends to be more intense, with rich winey and dried fruit flavors. It’s often compared with Kenyan coffee beans. It’s still very fruit-forward, with darker berries like blackberry and currant, but the citrus acidity and floral notes are less prominent. These coffees have more of a full-body, but the overall experience is still clean and mild. 

Processing Matters: Washed or Natural?

Most regions of the world concerned with coffee production prefer a particular type of coffee processing. That is the method by which the coffee plant becomes the dry coffee beans ready for roasting. They use either the washed (wet) method of the natural (dry) method. In the specific case, they use other methods like honey processing or wet-hulling.

But in Ethiopia, both washed and natural processing are common. Because the processing method used dictates some of the characteristics of the final coffee, it’s worth understanding a bit about how processing and flavors are linked when you’re buying Ethiopia coffee beans (4).

Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee and widely considered to be the producer of the most delicious coffees in the world, yet many of its farmers are among the poorest.

Geoff Watts, Intelligentsia Coffee

In naturally processed coffees, the whole coffee fruit is left to dry in the sun on raised beds that allow for air circulation. This is the oldest method of coffee processing, nearly as old as Ethiopian coffee itself. It requires no special equipment other than a keen eye to pick out any coffee cherries that might start to rot, a key factor in poor, rural areas (5).

As drying occurs, the coffee bean inside the fruit continues to absorb sugar from the surrounding flesh. As a result, dry-processed coffee beans tend to have a sweeter and more complex flavor.

In wet-processed coffees, the outer fruit is removed before drying. This avoids the risk of rotting coffee cherries, so it’s an exceptionally reliable and consistent method. For this reason, it is more popular worldwide. Washed coffees usually yield a cleaner and less sweet cup. However, a major downside is that washing coffee uses a lot of water, and managing the wastewater can be a severe hardship in rural regions.

Ethiopian Coffee Culture

Unlike many coffee growing regions, where coffee is mainly an export crop, Ethiopians LOVE to drink coffee! In fact, a common saying in the country is “buna dabo naw,” which means “coffee is our bread” — a clear indication of the vital role played by coffee in society.

Indeed, the Ethiopian coffee ceremony is a key part of the nation’s culture. In many villages, it is considered one of the most important social occasions, and it is a sign of great respect to be invited. 

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony can take up to 3 hours! It’s traditionally performed by a household woman.

It starts with green coffee beans and progresses through roasting, grinding in a mortar and pestle, and finally brewing and drinking the coffee. 

The 3 Best Ethiopian Coffees in 2021

product details Button
Artboard2 Ethiopia Golocha Harrar
  • Bean type: Arabica
  • Ground or whole bean: Either
  • Best for: Pour over, drip coffee, cold brew
CLICK TO CHECK PRICE
psfdqxunfavyvclwo0m3.jfif Anodyne Ethiopian Yirgacheffe YirgZ
  • Bean type: Arabica
  • Ground or whole bean: Either
  • Best for: Filter coffee, Aeropress, French press
CLICK TO CHECK PRICE
ESN-M_1_720x Peet’s Ethiopian Super Natural
  • Bean type: Arabica
  • Ground or whole bean: Either
  • Best for: Moka pot, espresso, French press
CLICK TO CHECK PRICE
Ethiopia Golocha Harrar
Artboard2
  • Bean type: Arabica
  • Ground or whole bean: Either
  • Best for: Pour over, drip coffee, cold brew
Anodyne Ethiopian Yirgacheffe YirgZ
psfdqxunfavyvclwo0m3.jfif
  • Bean type: Arabica
  • Ground or whole bean: Either
  • Best for: Filter coffee, Aeropress, French press
Peet’s Ethiopian Super Natural
ESN-M_1_720x
  • Bean type: Arabica
  • Ground or whole bean: Either
  • Best for: Moka pot, espresso, French press

As coffee’s place of origin, Ethiopia still holds much of the plant’s genetic diversity. There are thousands of heirloom varietals found in the country and nowhere else in the world (6). 

Despite this abundance and variety, Ethiopia coffee tends to be known for a particular set of flavor profiles, things like bright, acidic, fruity, floral. However, this can vary by growing region and even by an individual farm.

In this article, we’re looking at three coffees from three of the most popular growing regions in Ethiopia: Harrar, Guji, and Yirgacheffe. Each of these showcases the flavors of Ethiopia uniquely and excitingly. Try them all and find out why the country is known for having some of the world’s best coffee beans.

1. Ethiopia Golocha Harrar

Specifications

  • Bean type: Arabica

  • Ground or whole bean: Either
  • Best for: Pour over, drip coffee, cold brew

Volcanica Coffee’s Ethiopia Golocha coffee is from Harrar, one of Ethiopia’s largest growing regions. This particular selection is from a collection of 10 smallholder coffee farmers of about 5 hectares each. They’re located at high elevation, well over 5000 feet, ideal conditions for growing specialty arabica coffee.

The farms are growing heirloom varieties you cannot find anywhere else in the world, making this a unique blend that can change season to season.

They process the beans naturally after harvest, which adds additional sweetness to this already juicy and fruit-forward coffee. With the light-medium roast, you’ll taste the floral and fruity flavor Ethiopian coffees are known for in the form of dried blueberry and lavender. This is accompanied by sweet flavors honey and milk chocolate for a smooth and balanced cup.

Try them using a filter brewing method like a drip coffee machine or a pour over to get the most out of these beans. They are also exceptional coffee beans for cold brew, with their refreshing and bright flavors.

2. Anodyne Ethiopia Yirgacheffe YirgZ

Specifications

  • Bean type: Arabica

  • Ground or whole bean: Either
  • Best for: Filter coffee, Aeropress, French press

Right now, Yirgacheffe is probably the best-known region in Ethiopia for specialty coffee, with high-end roasters worldwide offering premium Yirgacheffe coffee beans. They’re typically light roasted to highlight the bright flavors typical to the region, but this medium roasted coffee from Anodyne is an exciting and worthy alternative.

Anodyne is a small batch coffee roaster based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They’re committed to exceptional coffees through the all-important combination of technology with skill and experience.

Their YirgZ still offers that classic Yirgacheffe profile of black tea, floral jasmine, and lemon citrus acidity, with just a hint of agave sweetness. With its extra degree of caramelization, the type of roast adds a rich chocolate note that takes this brew from good to remarkable.

3. Peet’s Ethiopian Super Natural

Specifications

  • Bean type: Arabica

  • Ground or whole bean: Either
  • Best for: Moka pot, espresso, French press

This rare dark roast Ethiopian coffee from Peet’s, a company with a rich history of dark roast expertise, hails from the region of Guji. Like Yirgacheffe, Guji also lies within the bigger zone of Sidamo, but its coffees are distinct enough to warrant its classification.

This is a limited-release coffee, showcasing only the best beans from the Hambela region of Guji. Like the coffee from Harrar, this one is also sun-dried and naturally processed for a sweet, dried fruit flavor. Dry processing requires meticulous care and attention, but the results are well worth the effort. Prepare to taste intense blueberries paired with candied citron acidity and floral notes.

The Verdict

If you’re a coffee-lover, the coffee and culture and Ethiopia are essential to understand. As the place where coffee was born. Ethiopia continues to produce varietals and flavors available nowhere else on earth. 

If you’re looking for the whole Ethiopian coffee experience, try all three coffees in this article. Because each stems from a different growing region and has a different roast level, you’re sure to end up with a well-rounded picture of what this East African nation has to offer. You might even want to try a coffee ceremony for yourself!

FAQs

Ethiopian coffee is Arabica. In many parts of the world where conditions are unsuitable for growing Arabica, Robusta coffee can be grown instead. But this is not the case in Ethiopia. The conditions here are so perfect for Arabica that it emerged there all on its own.

Coffee in Ethiopia was first discovered when a goat herder noticed his flock acting incredibly peppy and excited. According to the history of coffee, a goat herder traced the source of their behavior to the bushes they were eating, which, of course, turned out to be coffee trees!

Ethiopian beans are so good due to an ideal environment for growing Arabica coffee. That is why the plant arose there in the first place. The southern mountains have high elevation farms, which promote dense and flavorful coffee beans. This is paired with a dry and sunny climate, rich soils, and good drainage after rainfall.

References
  1. Motteux, N. (2020, February 28). Ethiopia to the World: The Origins of Coffee in Africa. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2020/02/ethiopia-to-the-world-the-origins-of-coffee-in-africa/
  2. Castellano, N. (2020, October 20). Exploring Ethiopian Heirloom Coffee Varieties. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2020/10/exploring-ethiopian-heirloom-coffee-varieties-nardos-coffee-export/
  3. Palaikyte, P. (2018, January 26). African Coffee Bean: Vivid Flavors from Ethiopia & Kenya. Retrieved from https://www.baristainstitute.com/blog/paulina-palaikyte/january-2018/african-coffee-bean-vivid-flavors-ethiopia-kenya
  4. Garcia, O. (2020, September 29). Washed or natural? Two approaches to heirloom Ethiopian coffee. Retrieved from https://www.seattlecoffeeworks.com/blog/Washed-or-natural-Two-approaches-to-heirloom-Ethiopian-coffee
  5. Brown, N. (2020, June 29). First Ethiopia Cup of Excellence Auction Generates Record High $1.34 Million. Retrieved from https://dailycoffeenews.com/2020/06/29/first-ethiopia-cup-of-excellence-auction-generates-record-high-1-34-million/
  6. Kornman, C. (2019, February 7). The Coffee Roaster’s Complete Guide to Coffee Varieties and Cultivars. Retrieved from https://dailycoffeenews.com/2019/02/07/the-coffee-roasters-complete-guide-to-coffee-varieties-and-cultivars/
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