Coffee is ancient in Ethiopia but coffee farming is not. By the end of the 9th Century coffee was actively being cultivated in Ethiopia as food, but probably not as a beverage, unless it was a tea using the cherry rather than the bean. It was the Arab world that developed brewing, in most stories, through a series of accidents. The coffee is accidentally roasted, accidentally ground, and accidentally put in water. By the time Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453, the good news was, they brought coffee. Even as coffee became an export for Ethiopia, it was the result of gathering more than agricultural practices. A hundred years ago, plantations were still the exception, and most coffee was still harvested wild by gathering dried cherries off the ground.
Cupping Notes /Flavor Characteristics/Profile:
Ethiopian coffee can deliver a wide variety of cup characteristics, but most commonly features a distinct combination of chocolate with citrus and berries and brightness. The aroma is often dramatically floral or fruity, especially among the naturally processed coffees.
For many years, specialty coffee from Ethiopia came from one of three growing regions: Harar in the east, and Yirgacheffe and Sidamo located in the south. Technically, Yirgacheffe is part of Sidamo. Today, specialty coffee can come from several other regions, including Kaffa and Limmu in the west, and Guji in the south.
All specialty coffee in Ethiopia is grown above 4,000 feet and most above 6,000. In the highlands of Sidamo and Yirgacheffe, coffee can grow above 7,000 feet.
Although there are a few estates in Ethiopia, 95% of coffee is grown by small land holders in a wide variety of environments, including “coffee forests” where coffee grows wild and is harvested by the local people.
Most coffee growing regions in Ethiopia produce both washed coffees and sun-dried coffees. Harar produces naturals almost exclusively.
Washed coffee follows the traditional wet method that includes depulping, fermentation, washing, grading, drying, rest, milling, and sorting. Drying, whether washed or natural, is most often done on raised beds.
As the birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia is home to more species of coffee plants than any place on earth, much of it still growing wild, and much of it still undiscovered. All coffee grown in Ethiopia is Arabica and at least 150 varieties are commercially cultivated. Traditionally, these have simply been labelled as “heirloom varietals”; however, this is changing as the Jimma Agricultural Research Center works to identify species.
Ethiopian coffee is graded G1-G9. Specialty coffee can be found in G1 through G3.