Ethiopian Coffee: What You Need To Know
When it comes to speciality coffee, Ethiopia is perhaps the most special of all origin countries.
Ethiopia: An introduction
Ethiopia is situated in the Horn of Africa in the east of the continent, bordering Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, and South Sudan. Home to around 114 million people, it’s the most populated land-locked country in the world. In fact, it’s one of the oldest countries in the world, and it’s likely that humankind originated there too. In short, it’s brimming with pedigree.
The History of Ethiopian Coffee
Not only did humans originate in Ethiopia, but they were the first to discover and consume mankind’s favourite beverage: coffee. Ethiopian legend has it that a 9th-century goat farmer called Kaldi was out tending his herd, when he noticed that his goats were ‘dancing’ after they had consumed some wild coffee fruit. There’s also a province in Ethiopia called ‘kaffa’, which may have contributed to giving ‘coffee’ its name.
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Since then, Ethiopia has played a huge role in the global coffee trade and continues to do so today. It’s the top exporter of arabica coffee beans in Africa, and the 5th largest coffee-producing country in the world. The coffee trade is fundamental to the country as well - 16% of the Ethiopian population, around 15 million people, gain their livelihood from producing and exporting coffee. That’s double the population of London. From farmers to pickers to exporters, everyone works hard all year round to ensure that delicious, sustainable, and ethical coffee is grown, processed, and shipped all around the world.
What makes Ethiopian Coffee special?
The most unique quality about Ethiopian coffee is its wild coffee plants, which weren't originally planted to be cultivated. Indeed, if those ancient legendary goats hadn’t sniffed out those coffee cherries, we wouldn’t have known that coffee ever existed. These puzzling varietals are called 'heirloom' and have evolved over several millennia. Even today, they still remain a bit of a mystery.
However, this means that Ethiopian coffee is hugely diverse. When you buy a bag of Ethiopian coffee of the 'heirloom' variety, those beans will have come from a combination of more than 10,000 varieties.
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Because of the vast variety of Ethiopian beans, there are a huge number of small producers working across Ethiopia’s main growing regions of Harar, Sidamo, Yirgacheffe, Limmu, Djimmah, Lekempti and Bebeka, who pay close attention to detail to determine which ones are the best coffee beans. They do this through constant testing of their crops and rigorous cupping at the height of the season, to ensure that the coffee they’re producing is the best it can be.
What to expect with Ethiopian Coffee
Ethiopian coffee is usually incredibly fruity, with distinct floral aromas that meet you when you first begin brewing it. There’s some distinction in taste when it comes to different processing methods.
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Naturally-processed Ethiopian coffee, which involves leaving the coffee fruit on the bean and letting it dry, is the more traditional processing method, having been used for centuries. It results in rich fruity tones, a medium to heavy body, and a high level of acidity.
Washed processing is fairly new to Ethiopia’s coffee industry, but it’s preferred in one of the country’s most famous districts, Yirgacheffe. It involves removing the coffee fruit by washing it from the bean. Washed Ethiopian coffee is light, clean, and bright, thanks to a high level of acidity. You can also expect more floral notes, with jasmine a common example.
All of this means that Ethiopian coffee beans are some of the most delicious you’ll find anywhere, and they’re incredibly popular and widely sought-after across the globe.
Some Interesting Facts about Ethiopia:The ‘coffee ceremony’ is Ethiopia’s most important social connection, performed up to 2-3 times per day and lasting up to three hours each time. Guests are invited, and the occasion signifies respect, trust, and friendship.
The country is about 5 times the size of the UK.
There are 13 months in the Ethiopian calendar year.
Ethiopia is the birthplace of the Rastafarian movement.
It’s home to the UNESCO World Heritage site at Labilela, consisting eleven medieval churches that were hewn out of natural rock in the 12th century.