Coffee from Ethiopia | The historic cradle of black gold

Café d’Éthiopie | Le berceau historique de l’or noir

Ethiopian coffee: culture, history and varieties

For coffee , it all started in Ethiopia . The first plants are said to have grown wild on the highlands of ancient Abyssinia . More than a drink, coffee symbolizes a true tradition of Ethiopian culture . The local expression “ buna dabo naw ”, which means “coffee is my bread”, perfectly illustrates the place this beverage occupies in daily life. How are grains grown? What are the aromas of Ethiopian coffee ? Head to East Africa for a trip full of flavors.

The history of the coffee tree on Ethiopian lands

According to legend, we owe the discovery of coffee to… a goat. More than a thousand years ago, a shepherd named Kaldi walked his flock across the Ethiopian plateaus. He then noticed abnormally energetic behavior in his animals who began to make large jumps. Those responsible for this crazy energy? Pretty little red berries, similar to cherries.

The peasant, intrigued, brought a sample of these fruits to the Sufi monks of the village. The religious people hasten to throw them into the fire, fearing a diabolical presence. An irresistible scent then tickles their nostrils. Curious, they decide to save the berries from the flames and crush them to extract the juice. Seduced, they then adopt this stimulating and tasty beverage. This is how the history of coffee consumption in the country would have begun.

This legend, whether we believe it or not, highlights a proven fact: the coffee tree grows wild in Ethiopia. This is explained by a high altitude, particularly appreciated by this shrub: more than 1,500 meters over the majority of the territory.

💡 Did you know? The term “mocha”, generally used to describe coffees originating from Ethiopia, takes its name from the port city of Mocha, in Yemen. It was from this town that the Ethiopians exported their grains, starting in the 15th century.

An artisanal and natural African production

The key figures for coffee production in Ethiopia:

  • 5th coffee producing country in the world, 1st in Africa ;
  • 4.6% of the international market;
  • 400,000 tonnes produced per year;
  • 700,000 small coffee farmers.

Here, we are far from large industrialized farms. Coffee culture in Ethiopia remains very artisanal. Coffee trees grow in gardens or directly in the forest, in the wild. This ancestral method which offers the plants a shaded environment in contact with other endemic species promotes their growth.

Coffee is grown mainly in the southern half of the country, in the regions of:

  • Guji;
  • Kaffa;
  • Limu;
  • Sidamo;
  • Yirgacheffe;
  • Harrar.

More than 90% of national production is provided by small farmers. The yield is rather low given the lack of mechanization and the absence of use of inputs. Indeed, chemical fertilizers are expensive. The majority of Ethiopian coffee is therefore grown organically, although there is no label to certify it.

It is at the level of traceability that things get complicated. For what ? Because the role of Ethiopian farmers ends after the harvest, which takes place from November to February. The coffee cherries are then sent to collection stations to be dried, either wet or dry. At this stage, all productions are mixed, regardless of the coffee grower of origin.

It's difficult to know when you have your package of Ethiopian coffee in your hands, which plantation it comes from. Fortunately, with the development of specialty coffee , traceability is once again at the heart of concerns. You will be able to find more and more bags that trace the history of your beans.

Ethiopian coffee varieties

Ethiopia is the country with the largest number of Arabica varieties in the world. Just that ! Its coffee is renowned for its medium acidity and aromatic diversity. The term “Heirloom,” which you may have heard before, refers to ancient varieties of coffee from Ethiopia.

The best known varieties are:

  • Yirgacheffe: grown at nearly 2,000 meters above sea level, this coffee has floral notes and light acidity.
  • Harrar: this wild Arabica grows in the east of the country. Its fruity and balanced aromas make it one of the best coffees in Africa.
  • Sidamo: on the palate, this coffee reveals gourmet notes of chocolate and spices.
  • Limu: these grains offer us a beverage full of sweetness with a nice balance.

➡️ Do these names mean anything to you? It's normal ! In Ethiopia, coffee varieties are named after the regions in which they are grown. You can find others such as Kaffa, rather full-bodied, or Guji.

The traditional ceremony for a high-end coffee

A quick coffee before leaving for work? This is not Ethiopian philosophy.

The traditional coffee ceremony, jebena buna , takes place with family or friends. It is led by a woman, who wears embroidered folk clothing. Incense is burned to purify the air. After roasting the green coffee beans in a pan, the hostess crushes them by hand using a mortar. The drink is then prepared in an earthenware jar, placed over the fire. When ready to eat, it is served in small cups without handles. It is garnished with sugar, sometimes salt, and spices such as cinnamon or cardamom.

Ethiopian coffee is recognized for its aromatic complexity and its wide range of Arabica varieties. Unlike other countries such as Brazil which produces coffee in more industrial conditions, Ethiopian beans are grown in a natural, even wild, state. This tradition still continues today on the lands where the first coffee trees were born.


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