Ethiopian coffee, of course, refers to coffee that’s grown in Ethiopia. Within its borders, there are a few famous coffee-producing regions such as Yirgacheffe, each with flavour profiles unique to each region.
From another perspective, there are thousands of Coffea Arabica (Arabica coffee) varieties that grow in Ethiopia.
Just like how there are many kinds of apples, there are many kinds of coffee cherries (the fruit that contains the coffee bean). Most of these varieties are labelled under a single umbrella term called “Ethiopian heirloom”, which refers to varieties that naturally evolved in Ethiopia.
The beginning of one of the world’s largest commodities can be found in an Ethiopian legend. There are a few variations of the story (which you can read here, here, and here), but it’s about the discovery of the coffee cherry by a goatherd named Kaldi.
Kaldi was a goatherd in the Ethiopian province of Kaffa in 850 AD. One day, he led his goats to a pasture where there was a plant bearing bright red berries nearby. His goats ate the berries and began to jitter and jump about. Kaldi noticed the change in his goats’ behaviour and decided to try the berries his goats ate. Upon swallowing, he felt instantly energized and shared his discovery with the local monks.
The local monks realized that the coffee helped them stay awake during the long hours of nightly prayers. They made a brew with the coffee Kaldi found, which is like the cuppa we drink today to fuel our mornings.
Little do people know, according to historians, Sudanese slaves were the first people to use coffee beans. They chewed on the beans, as a means of survival during the treacherous journeys on the trans-Saharan slave trade.
Later in the 1400s, the Ethiopian coffee trade began. The first exporters were the Somali merchants who brought the coffee to their home country. The coffee was sold to Sufi monks who brewed the coffee to stay awake during prayers, like the monks in Kaldi’s legend.
The Ethiopians also began to organise and carry out coffee ceremonies, locally known as jebena buna (buna means coffee). Raw and unwashed coffee is roasted, ground, and brewed to serve delicious cups of coffee. Sometimes, coffee ceremonies are held to welcome guests to the host’s home. That’s why coffee ceremonies are usually associated with and symbolise respect, friendship, and hospitality.
While the Ethiopian coffee trade was growing its roots, the Muslim and Christian communities of Ethiopia condemned the use of coffee. It was believed that the stimulating effect of coffee was the “work of the Devil”. One of the most notable communities that condemned coffee was the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
As time progressed, so did the people’s opinions on coffee. In the late 1500s, Pope Clemant VIII of the Roman Catholic Church allowed believers to drink coffee. When the Emperor Menelik II ascended to the Ethiopian throne in 1889, he lifted the coffee ban implemented by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Eventually, coffee developed a role in the Ethiopian Muslim and Christian communities’ religious rituals.
The communities held gatherings, where the believers bonded over delicious cups of coffee. They found that coffee helped strengthen the unity and religious commitment of the community. The communities also held Ethiopian coffee ceremonies, where they would pray to God for protection, peace with the people they meet, guidance to live their lives in a Godly manner.
Why is Ethiopian coffee so good?
The Ethiopians are one of the most serious people in the specialty coffee industry. That’s how Ethiopia became one of the top producers in the world. Ethiopian coffee beans are guaranteed to be of the highest quality and flavour.
Most of the coffee in Ethiopia is grown in a coffee production system called “garden coffee”. Coffee plants are grown in a garden (smallholder plot) alongside other crops such as vegetables. Instead of counting by hectares, Ethiopians count by the number of coffee plants each smallholder has.
Producers also use the “semi-forest” production system. It’s similar to the “forest coffee” production system, where coffee is left to grow wildly in the forest. Besides entering the forest to harvest the coffee cherries, the farmers in the “semi-forest” system remove weeds and bushes in the area and sow coffee seedlings.
Another key factor to the quality of Ethiopian coffee is the country’s climate. Ethiopia is located within the coffee belt – the area between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and along the equator. Regions within the coffee belt share tropical climates with distinct sunny and rainy seasons. Growing and cultivation takes place during the rainy season, while harvest begins when the sunny season comes.
Ethiopia’s landscape also plays a major part in developing its celebrated coffee flavours. Ethiopian soil is rich with nutrients that satisfy the demands of the Coffea Arabica to grow excellent coffee cherries. Meanwhile, the mountains and hills of Ethiopia provide high elevations which helps the coffee cherries develop its flavours before fully ripening. The cool temperatures at high elevations slow down the maturation of the coffee cherry, which allows time for more acids in the fruit to develop into sugars.
What does Ethiopian coffee taste like?
Ethiopian coffees have some of the most popular flavour profiles in the world! Ethiopian coffees are grown at very high elevations of 1500 masl (metres above sea level), which tends to develop fruity and floral tasting coffees. Sometimes, the cup will have a hint of spice.
Depending on the processing method used, Ethiopian coffees can further develop their unique flavour profiles. Washed coffees tend to produce gentle floral notes and tea-like texture, reminiscent of jasmine tea. Meanwhile, natural coffees have sweeter, fruitier tones in their cup, such as blueberries.
Is Ethiopian coffee strong?
Let’s set something straight here: strength refers to the caffeine content of the coffee. If you’re referring to the caffeine content of Ethiopian coffee, scroll down below to find out “Does Ethiopian coffee have more caffeine?”
Many people also use the word “strength” to describe the degree of bitterness or “roast-y flavour” in the coffee. It’s just a confusing practice. (To find out more, this article does a great job explaining the definition of strength in coffee.)
Imagine yourself as a salesperson for a coffee company, or a barista. A customer comes in and asks, “Do you sell strong coffee?” A lightly roasted coffee would have more caffeine than a darkly roasted coffee, but the latter tastes more roast-y than the former. Which one do you recommend to the customer?
Which Ethiopian coffee is the best?
OUR TOP PICK
The Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee produced by Volcanica Coffee is hand-picked from the wild Coffea Arabica that grow in the southern land’s forests. Then, the coffee undergoes the processing method, which enhances the coffee’s sweet fruity and gentle floral notes. Finally, the coffee is roasted by Volcanica Coffee’s master roasters, lending the final bean a dark chocolatey tone.
The flavour profile is quite unique and complex. Before sipping the coffee, there’s a lavender-like fragrance and a cedar aroma wafting from the cup. The cup is roundly sweet and fruity with notes of strawberries, pineapple, and guava, followed by a soft bitter undertone at the edges. Last but not least, the lavender and the dark chocolate notes dominate with a pleasant alcohol-like finish.
Volcanica Coffee’s website states that the coffees are Fair Trade certified. This certification means that the coffee was sourced sustainably. Everybody in the coffee production process, such as the producers and farmers, are paid adequately for their hard work.
- Fair Trade certified
- Sweet and fruity notes
- Complex flavour profile
- Freshly roasted upon ordering
- Can be stored at room temperature
- Brew cannot be kept on burner plate for more than 20 minutes (auto drip machines)
Does Starbucks sell Ethiopian coffee?
Besides serving their trademark Frappuccino (and decent coffee), Starbucks sells their own line of roasted coffees. Starbucks offers Ethiopia as one of their seven medium-roasted coffees, alongside their House Blend and Guatemala Antigua.
The description on Starbucks’ website doesn’t specify the exact origin in Ethiopia from which the beans were grown, but the flavour profile probably belongs to an Ethiopian washed coffee. Starbucks’ Ethiopia produces a smooth cup with gentle floral notes, followed by sweet citrus and pepper, accompanied by dark chocolate tones from the roasting process.
Starbucks Reserve also offers another Ethiopian coffee called Ethiopia Kayon Mountain Farm. The coffee is sourced from Kayon Mountain Farm, Guji zone, Oromia region. The coffee grown is classified under Heirloom Typica, which are coffee varieties that evolved from the Typica variety of Coffea Arabica in Ethiopia.
The Ethiopia Kayon Mountain Farm coffee produces a balanced cup, a notable characteristic of Oromia coffees. The coffee has notes of Meyer lemon and lavender, thanks to the washed process. Some remark that this coffee has a slight cherry cola sweetness in its cup too.
Is Ethiopian coffee the best in the world?
According to coffee experts and connoisseurs, Ethiopian coffees are king in the specialty coffee industry. This is all thanks to the climate, geography, and the excellent producers in Ethiopia. Don’t forget the roasters and the baristas who also put their best efforts in bringing the best out of Ethiopian beans too!
From start to finish, producers always ensure they’re using the best coffee cherries for production.
Firstly, the ripe coffee cherries are hand-picked, leaving behind the unripe ones to grow on the tree. Before processing, the berries are sorted by hand to pick out any defective cherries. Some producers also carry out a sink/float test where the cherries are poured into a tub of water. If a cherry floats, it means they have defects. So, floating cherries are scooped out and discarded. Throughout processing, checks for defective coffee is still carried out.
Finally, some of the processed coffee beans are sent to small coffee labs for an intensive screening. The beans are analysed and details such as their moisture levels are recorded. Finally, they check for defective beans, which are removed.
Why is Ethiopian coffee important?
Besides being a world-class product, the coffee is also an integral part of the Ethiopian lifestyle, such as coffee ceremonies. Nearly 50% of the coffee locally produced in the country are consumed by Ethiopians as part of their daily lives. That’s why Ethiopians are so dedicated to cultivating the best coffees.
Coffee is an important sector in the Ethiopian socio-economy. 12 million Ethiopians are involved in the stages of cultivation and harvest of coffee alone. That’s 10% of the Ethiopian population!
Everyday, hundreds of Ethiopians across the nation carry out coffee ceremonies. Usually, coffee ceremonies are held to welcome and celebrate the arrival of guests to the host’s home. Raw, unprocessed coffee cherries are roasted, ground, and brewed during the ceremony. Then, the drink is served to the guests. You can read more about the Ethiopian coffee ceremony here.
Does Ethiopian coffee have more caffeine?
It’s hard to exactly say whether Ethiopian beans have more caffeine. It depends on what you’re comparing Ethiopian beans to.
For example, Ethiopian beans contain 1.13% caffeine. Compared to Robusta beans which have 2.4% caffeine content, Ethiopian beans have nearly less than half that caffeine content.
If you compare Ethiopian beans to its decaf counterparts, the former obviously has more caffeine. The decaffeination process removes at least 97% of a coffee’s caffeine content. So, theoretically, Ethiopian decaf beans would have a maximum caffeine content of 0.0339%.
The roast level of the coffee also needs to be taken into consideration. The darker the coffee is roasted, the more caffeine the coffee loses. That means lightly roasted coffees have the most caffeine, while darkly roasted coffees have the least caffeine. So, a lightly roasted Ethiopian coffee would have more caffeine than a medium-roasted Ethiopian coffee.
How do you drink Ethiopian Coffee?
Ethiopian coffee can be enjoyed many ways, such as espresso. However, lots of people agree that Ethiopian coffee is best brewed using the pour-over method. This is because the pour-over method tends to produce clean brews that showcase the coffee’s flavour profiles with utmost clarity.
You can use any pour-over brewer such as the Chemex, the Origami, or even the Cores Gold dripper (which doesn’t require filter papers).
Otherwise, an automatic drip coffee machine also brews a good cuppa. When using any brewing method, note the roast level of your coffee. Lightly roasted coffees are best recommended for the pour-over method. Medium-roasted coffees also produce a great brew with the pour-over method.
Roasteries also sell Ethiopian beans that have been roasted a little darker for espresso.
It can be a little tricky to dial in Ethiopian beans. Ethiopian beans are temperamental, meaning they’re sensitive to the slightest changes in the recipe. So, I’d recommend trying Ethiopian beans to brew espresso once you’re an intermediate espresso brewer.
Is Ethiopian coffee acidic?
Ethiopian coffee is grown at very high elevations, around 1500 metres above sea level (masl). Coffees grown around this elevation tend to produce sweet, fruity, and floral notes in their cup. This is because the cool temperature at this elevation slows down the maturation of the coffee cherries, allowing higher amounts of acids within the cherries to be converted into sugars.
The processing method also plays a part in the resultant flavour profile of the coffee.
One of the common methods Ethiopian producers use is the washed processing method. Once the coffee cherries are harvested, they’re immediately de-pulped and the remaining mucilage is washed off. The pulp and mucilage contain most of the coffee cherry’s sugars. So, the immediate absence of the pulp and mucilage causes the coffee beans to have a higher perceived acidity in the cup.
However, that doesn’t mean Ethiopian coffee isn’t sweet. In addition to the conversion of acids to sugars, the cool temperature also allows the beans within the fruit to absorb sugars from the pulp as the fruit slowly matures.
Ethiopian producers also use the natural processing method, which is like the opposite of the dry process.
Instead of immediately stripping the beans of their pulp and mucilage, the beans remain in the coffee cherries. The cherries are dried under the sun with the beans inside. This allows the beans to absorb more sugars from the pulp.
Once the cherries have reached a certain moisture level, they are de-hulled by friction. The fruit and parchment of the bean is removed, then the beans are ready to be shipped.
The natural processing method tends to produce sweeter coffees, reminiscent of fruity and berry-like flavours such as blueberries. This is because the beans have longer contact with the pulp during the natural processing method than the washed processing method. So, the beans absorb more sugars which attribute to their sweetness.
Ethiopian coffees are one of the best in the world, maybe even the best! Coincidentally being the “birthplace” of coffee, Ethiopia is blessed with the perfect geography and hard-working citizens who are dedicated to cultivating the best coffees.
Ethiopian coffee is a very popular choice because of the flavour profile, which can include:
- Gentle floral tea-like notes
- Sweet berry and fruit flavours
If you’re starting out in your journey in coffee and café-hopping, I would highly recommend trying an Ethiopian coffee as your first cup. The pour-over method produces a flavourful, clean brew with Ethiopian coffees, but you can also try to brew Ethiopian coffees with an espresso machine or a French press. You might just be breath-taken at how flavourful a cup of coffee can be.
History of Ethiopian coffee
Sudanese slaves and coffee
Ethiopian coffee production systems
Starbucks Ethiopian coffee
Ethiopian coffee is the best in the world
Strength in coffee
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