The simple answer is that we can't get enough and no, they are not all the same. In fact there is such a diversity in Ethiopian coffee which is one of the reasons why we love it so much. We consider Ethiopian coffees to be some of the best in the world, and would like to share with you why:
1. The Story
The original name for coffee, Kaffa, came from the region in southwest Ethiopia where coffee was first discovered in the wild. Unlike almost every other coffee-growing country, coffee trees grow naturally here.
It is believed that Arabica coffee was brought from the Kaffa forests by slaves taken from the forests who chewed coffee cherry and spit out the seeds, thus spreading it into the Harar region, through which the Arab slave trade route passed.
The most popular origin story of coffee, starts with Kaldi and his goats in 700 AD. Kaldi, an Ethiopian goat herder stumbled on his goats acting quite strange. They were dancing. He discovered that they were eating red berries and concluded that this fruit was the cause of this odd behavior.
After stumbling upon this magic fruit, he shared his findings with a monk, who disapproved of their use and threw them into the fire, resulted in a wonderful, pleasing aroma which became the world’s first roasted coffee.
Shortly after this, the beans were ground and boiled to produce what we know today as coffee. This ofcourse cannot be proven true but we know coffee originated in Ethiopia and boy does the story add a flair!
2. The Flavours
Coffee from Ethiopia is known for its bright fruited and floral flavors. These coffees typically have a higher acidity, light to medium body and complex flavor notes.
The beans are either washed or naturally processed. The processing method used has a huge impact on the final taste of the coffee. When coffees are wet-processed, or washed, the fruit is removed mechanically right away. These beans are characterized by their flavor clarity, showcasing bright, complex notes. The final cup is very clean tasting, like with our Limou or Guji.
Naturally processed coffees like our Yirgacheffe and Sidamo Kilenso, are dried with the fruit left on the bean. The fruit pulp is not removed until just before export. These beans are infused more heavily with fruited notes, such as blueberry, and contain deep chocolate undertones with a syrupy body. When you find a really great coffee like the dry-processed types from the South, they can be sweet, juicy, fruity, and ripe with flavor. The cup profile of these coffees can be equally amazing, but when they're gone, they're gone. If all the factors line up just right, it might be the same next year. But then again, maybe not.
Most coffee from Ethiopia is processed naturally. This is how they’ve done it for centuries, and it hasn’t changed much over time. Wet processing, on the other hand is fairly new and is always changing as new equipment enters the scene.
3. Diversity and Volatility
Ethiopian Coffee reminds us that Coffee is a fresh produce. Ethiopian coffees can vary greatly from lot to lot. It takes a whole lot of cupping to find the specific lot of coffee that is superior to the rest. Brokers may buy an entire year's production of a good lot to guarantee consistency of quality.
Coffee trees have grown in the wild here for centuries. The environment is perfect to produce amazing coffee, without adding anything to it. High elevations in the southern mountainous region make for excellent growing conditions.
The soil is deep and the vegetation is lush. Most coffees are grown without the use of agricultural chemicals in the shade and among other plants. In contrast, coffee farmers anywhere else in the world have to plant specific types of coffee and create the perfect conditions, like planting additional trees to provide shade for the small coffee trees.
The perfect growing conditions and extreme genetic diversity of the coffee shrub is a hugh part of what attracts us to Ethiopia.
4. The Tradition
Coffee plays such a heavily ingrained role in Ethiopian culture that it appears in many expressions dealing with life, food and interpersonal relationships. One common saying is “Buna dabo naw”. This literally translates to “Coffee is our bread'. The coffee ceremony is Ethiopian culture’s most important social connection, and to be invited is a sign of respect and friendship.
Each ceremony lasts 2-3 hours, and it’s common for families to enjoy 2-3 of these ceremonies per day. This is an event for the whole family, where even children participate in serving the coffee to the elders. Guests are frequently invited and conversation can range from politics to the local community and more.
During the ceremony, coffee is roasted fresh in a pan, ground by hand using a tool similar to a mortar and pestle, and brewed slowly in a traditional piece of pottery by boiling over an open fire. The coffee is poured out slowly, to avoid pouring grounds along with the coffee.
Many take their coffee with a spoonful of sugar, but never with milk. More water is added to the pot and reboiled 2 more times, getting weaker with each brew. Though they may not taste as good, the 2nd and 3rd brews are just as important as the first.
We love watching the coffee ceremony as it takes us back to our own coffee passion and the deep respect we feel for the farmer who labours hard producing this incredible, humbling and ever changing produce.
5. Our Favorites
Ethiopia is divided to provinces, each produces outstanding coffeess in their own merits. The southern province Sidamo, is where many of the coffee growing areas are located.
Within the Sidamo region is the beloved Yirgacheffe, a small town whose nearby farms consistently produce some of the best coffees in the world. Many producers in this region favor the wet processing method. This yields a bright coffee, higher in acidity with a light body and sweet fruity flavor and floral notes. Our Yirgacheffe Kochere is naturally processed, showing currants, honey, caramel and berries in the cup.
Another fantastic region is Guji. Located in the south of the Sidamo region, coffee from Guji is sought out by some of the best roasters in the world. In the cup, you can expect sweet floral notes, such as jasmine with melon and peach, and a tea-like body.
Harrar is located in the east of Ethiopia, just east of the capital city of Addis Ababa. This region almost exclusively produces dry-processed coffee. These coffees will be winey, contain wild fruit character and have a syrupy body.
Check our full Ethiopian range here and let's start exploring this country's special flavours. Before you know it, you will start loving it as much as we do..
© 2020 Ofra Ronen