Ethiopian Coffee History
When did Ethiopia start growing coffee? 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, Ethiopian coffee was the result of gathering rather than agricultural practices. A hundred years ago, plantations, mostly in Harar, were still the exception, while “Kaffa” coffee from the southwest was still harvested wild. In 1935, William Ukers wrote:
“Wild coffee is also known as Kaffa coffee, from one of the districts where it grows most abundantly in a state of nature. The trees grow in such profusion that the possible supply, at a minimum of labor in gathering, is practically unlimited. It is said that in south-western Abyssinia there are immense forests of it that have never been encroached upon except at the outskirts.”
After causing us all to have dreams about endless forests of wild Ethiopian coffee, some of which may never have been seen by a human, let alone roasted and brewed, Ukers goes on to describe the processing method for this coffee: “It is shelled where it is found, in the most primitive fashion, and goes out in dirty, mixed condition.”
Obviously, Ukers was not a fan of “wild” coffee from Kaffa. He describes the quality as poor and says the coffee is “lazily picked up” off the ground, which tells us he never spent ten hours picking coffee cherries up off the ground.
Ethiopian Coffee Cupping Notes
How does Ethiopian coffee taste? 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.
Where does Ethiopian coffee grow? For many years, most Ethiopian coffee 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.
Ethiopian Coffee Growing Altitude
At what elevations does Ethiopian coffee grow? All specialty grade Ethiopian Coffee 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.
Who grows Ethiopian coffee? 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.
How is Ethiopian coffee processed? Most Ethiopian coffee is the product of both washed and sun dried processing, though Harar produces naturals almost exclusively.
Ethiopian Coffee Processing Details
Washed Ethiopian 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.
Ethiopian Coffee Plant Species
What types of coffee plants are found in Ethiopia? 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 Ethiopian coffee 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 Quality Standards
How is Ethiopian coffee graded? Ethiopian coffee is graded G1-G9. Specialty coffee can be found in G1 through G3.
Ethiopian Coffee FAQ:
When did Ethiopia start growing coffee? Although coffee is indigenous to Ethiopia, coffee has been cultivated commercial for only 150 years.
How does Ethiopian coffee taste? Often a distinct combination of chocolate and citrusy brightness.
At what elevations does Ethiopian coffee grow? Between 4,000—7,000 feet.
Who grows Ethiopian coffee? 95% of coffee is grown by small land holders.
How is Ethiopian coffee processed? Washed and sun-dried, though Harar produces naturals almost exclusively.
What types of coffee plants are found in Ethiopia? All Ethiopian coffee is Arabica and at least 150 varieties are commercially cultivated.
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