Your complete guide to Ethiopian coffee
Known as the 'birthplace of coffee', Ethiopia produces some of the most exciting, unusual and sought-after beans in the world. Set against a backdrop of mythical coffee folktales, the country offers up a huge spectrum of delicious flavours, which have deservedly earned Ethiopia a highly coveted place in today’s coffee market.
From key milestones in Ethiopian coffee history to three of the best Ethiopian coffee beans, our below guide explores the world of Ethiopian coffee.
The java jargon decoder
- Green beans - Coffee beans that are yet to be roasted.
- Processing - The post-harvest process of separating beans from cherry flesh.
- Dry processing - Coffee cherries are dried naturally in the sun to remove beans from fruit flesh.
- Wet processing - Cherries are left to soak in water to separate beans from cherry flesh.
Why is Ethiopian coffee so good?
Ethiopia has six main growing regions - Jima, Sidama, Harrar, Yirgacheffe, Limu and Ghimbi/Lekempti. Mostly located in the country’s mountainous south, coffee trees are grown at high altitude, receiving rich nutrients from volcanic soil and optimum shading from surrounding vegetation.
What coffee drinkers love about these growing regions is that each one produces beans with such complex and unique flavours. Notes can be as diverse as citrus to tropical fruit, floral to chocolate. This range makes exploring the country's coffee an incredibly varied and delicious taste journey, full of delectable surprises.
There are several reasons for this great variation in Ethiopia's coffee beans. Ethiopia’s growing regions, although clustered around the south, have unique terroirs which vary in soil types, altitudes and natural shading. Each of these factors contributes to the distinct flavours each region produces.
Alongside varying environmental elements, the Ethiopian coffee industry also uses different production methods to create three main types of coffee - Garden, Forest and Plantation. Garden coffee, the most popular type of Ethiopian coffee, is usually made from trees planted around a homestead. The growing conditions of these trees are carefully managed, with farmers controlling shading and using fertiliser to encourage growth. Forest coffee is made from coffee trees grown in the wild with low intervention, and Plantation coffee is produced on large farms which use practices such as pruning, mulching and chemical fertilisers.
Then there’s the subject of processing. When it comes to processing, even within the same growing region, Ethiopian farmers produce both dry-processed and wet-processed beans. This process has a significant effect on the beans, giving them fruity and earthy flavours if dry processed and more complex, sweet notes if beans are washed.
All these factors combine to create a wide variety of incredible and unique flavours, ensuring that coffee drinkers, with their wildly diverse taste palates, will always find a coffee they love from Ethiopia.
History of Ethiopian coffee
Ethiopia's coffee production is deeply rooted in the country’s history. From the legendary birth of coffee to today's coffee scene, below, you'll find the key dates that have influenced Ethiopia's coffee story.
- 850 AD - Legend has it that around this date, coffee was born. The folklore goes that one day, an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi observed how his goats became energised and playful after eating red berries (coffee cherries) from a bush. He took the berries to a local monastery, where disapproving monks threw them onto the fire. This created wonderful, intense aromas from the fruit, that resulted in the monks brewing the embers with water to produce the very first cup of coffee.
- 15th century - Ethiopia starts to export coffee to Yemen, marking the beginning of the country's coffee trade. A strong connection between coffee and spirituality forms as Yemen java drinkers begin to use the drink as part of their prayer practice.
- 18th century - Coffee and coffee production is banned by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church due to its stimulating effects.
- 19th century - Attitudes to coffee relax, and under a new coffee-drinking Emperor, coffee production rapidly increases from 1880. Coffee production is mainly carried out in either the Harrar region or in the wild.
- 1950s - A new grading system is introduced, and the National Coffee Board of Ethiopia is established to improve consistency and quality.
- 1970s - Emperor Haile Selassie is overthrown, and Ethiopia's feudal-like system transforms into a more socialist model. Land is redistributed, raising earnings of the rural poor, but with Marxist laws forbidding hired labour, large-scale farming is abandoned. The country's production of coffee is severely hit, and farmers return to producing coffees from wild trees.
- 1980s - A decade of famine kills one million people and affects eight million.
- 1991 - The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front comes to power and encourages trading with international markets. Ethiopia is back on the world coffee scene, and export numbers start to rise.
- 2008 - The Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) is set up to protect buyers and sellers. The new system works by allocating a number to the region of washed coffees from 1-10. Dry processed coffees are numbered 11. They are then graded for quality.
- 2020 - Over the last ten years, the production of Ethiopian coffee has increased by 37%, and it’s estimated that this year, Ethiopia will export four million 60kg bags of coffee. Specialist coffee farmers and traders are also operating outside of the ECX to offer less commoditised and more traceable coffees.
Did you know...
The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is an important social and spiritual part of the country's culture? Traditionally carried out by the woman of the household, the two to three-hour coffee ceremony involves preparing and roasting green coffee beans in a jebena (coffee pot) and serving them to guests. Often flowers are scattered, and incense is burnt at the start of the coffee ceremony. Many locals see the ritual as a sign of friendship and respect.
Our Ethiopian coffees
Available as whole beans or freshly ground to your preferred brewing method, our single-origin Ethiopian coffees are roasted to order and dispatched within hours. Loved by our customers, the range gives you a taste of the amazingly diverse and unique flavours you can expect from Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee (from £10.99)
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe is one of the best washed coffees you can find. These coffee beans produce a smooth cup that is intensely aromatic with a distinct fruit-like acidity and citrus notes.
"My Favourite!!!!! This is the coffee I always come back to. It is consistent in flavour and different from other coffees I enjoy."
Michael T. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Harrar Longberry Coffee (from £10.99)
If you’re after a truly unique Ethiopian coffee experience, give this special Ethiopian coffee bean a try. Grown at around 2,000m above sea level, Harar Longberry is thought to be the oldest bean still being produced. With its distinctly pointed shape and golden hues, this sun-dried arabica coffee bean is sorted and processed almost entirely by hand, giving it a superior status and taste.
When roasted and brewed, you can expect a full-bodied coffee with rich flavours of fruity wine and mocha. As a mild coffee with medium acidity, Harrar Longberry is perfect as a cafetiere or filter brew.
"After trying many different beans, I've found the best all-round —medium strength with chocolate undertones and a smooth finish. No bitterness. My extended family now all buy nothing but these beans after trying them at my house. Highly recommended."
Neill M. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Sidamo Coffee (from £9.99)
Grown exclusively in Ethiopia’s Sidamo Province, our smooth Sidamo coffee is another deeply aromatic and flavoursome roast. Its small, thin and greyish beans are known for their intense flavours of spice, wine and chocolate, as well as room-filling floral aromas. With its mild strength and crisp acidity, this is an excellent pick for any time of the day.
"Love the extra dimension Sidamo adds to my coffee - rich with hints of chocolate."
Mike J. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
What is the best way of roasting Ethiopian coffee?
With its fantastic range of flavours and high-quality beans, Ethiopia has attracted a lot of attention from British and speciality roasters. Due to this popularity, there are no set rules around how to roast Ethiopian coffee beans. Ethiopian coffee roasters love experimenting with an Ethiopian coffee bean, and you'll find a wide range of options on the market, from light to dark roasts.
What is the difference between Colombian vs Ethiopian coffee?
A coffee bean from Colombia will taste completely different from a coffee bean produced in Ethiopia. In fact, a coffee bean from Ethiopia's Sidamo region tastes wildly different from one produced in its Limu region. What the two countries have in common is that they both produce a vast range of flavour profiles, guaranteeing you'll find something to suit your personal coffee preferences.
Can I buy whole bean Ethiopia coffee?
At Coffee Direct you can order whole bean coffee or choose to have your beans expertly ground for a range of brewing methods, including filter, cafetiere, percolator and espresso machine. For example, if you'd like to buy Ethiopian Yirgacheffe whole bean coffee, simply click the "Choose a grind" drop-down menu and select "Beans".
How do you make Ethiopian coffee at home?
If you're wondering how to make Ethiopian coffee at home, our range of Ethiopia coffee bean is ideal for all brewing methods, particularly filter and cafetiere brews. For the perfect cup of coffee, make sure you get your grind size right (or order the correct grind type), watch your ratios (your part coffee, part water mix) and use filtered or mineral water.