When looking for exceptional coffee, it’s sometimes best to go back to the source: Ethiopia. The Arabica plant is native to Ethiopia and according to legend, it was first discovered by a goatherder who noticed his flock getting energized after eating berries from this plant. While this story wasn’t recorded till 1671, it’s still a romantic story, fitting for the discovery of the world’s favorite drink.
Ethiopia is currently the 7th largest coffee producer in the world, accounting for 3% of global coffee production and is the leading coffee grower in Africa. Half of the Ethiopian coffee beans are consumed locally while the rest are exported to the EU, East Asia, and North America. Most Ethiopian beans are single-origin and known for their floral and fruity flavors with high acidity and balanced body.
Origin Of Ethiopian Coffee Beans
Ancient Ethiopian legends attribute the discovery of coffee in 850 A.D. to a simple goatherder named Kaldi. While grazing his flock in the region of Kaffa, he noticed that his goats ate the berries from a plant and then began ‘dancing’ strangely. Intrigued, he collected the berries and presented them to a monk who declared them the work of a demon and tossed the berries into a fire. This roasted the beans, filling the air with the enticing aroma of the coffee, and the rest is history.
The success of coffee in Ethiopia is linked closely to the local climate and soil conditions. The soil is deep and rich, with lush vegetation. The best Ethiopian coffee is grown under the shade of other plants and trees and with little or no chemicals. Most Ethiopian coffee beans are grown at an altitude range of 1500-2000 meters. The major coffee-growing regions are Sidamo, Harrar, Genika, and Yirgacheffe. These four major regions produce such exceptional coffee that the names themselves are trademarked to retain their high status in the coffee trade. Other coffee-cultivating regions include Limu, Teppi, and Lekempti.
Flavor Profile of Ethiopian Beans
Ethiopian coffee beans are noted for their light and varied flavors. Most Ethiopian coffee is floral or fruity with bright acidity and a light or medium body. There are thousands of varietals and cultivars in Ethiopia since it’s native to the region, giving Ethiopian beans a versatility that’s hard to find anywhere else.
Let’s breakdown each of the major coffee types in Ethiopia to get an idea of how different each region is and what you can expect from each:
Sidamo coffee is grown in Southern Ethiopia and is likely the closest region to the origin of the coffee way back in the 9th century. Sidamo coffee has a complex acidity, rich taste, and notes of berry and citrus that make for a well-balanced cup. Ethiopian beans grown here are ‘strictly high grown’ since they’re cultivated at 1500-2200 meters above sea level. The beans are also grown slowly, giving them more time to absorb nutrients and develop flavors. Sidamo coffee is best identified by its distinct citrusy flavor.
Harrar is a region in the Eastern highlands of Ethiopia. The best Ethiopian coffee grown here is prized for its fruity, wine-like flavors. Harrar coffee is one of the oldest varieties still in cultivation and is known for its unique flavors. This Ethiopian coffee bean variety is processed entirely by hand in a dry processing method. Harrar coffee has notes of wild berry, notably wine-like blueberry, with bright acidity, full-body, and a dry edge.
This Ethiopian coffee is grown just south of the Sidamo region and produces a uniquely floral coffee with notes of jasmine and melon with a light body, almost like tea.
This is the ‘wildest’ type of Ethiopian coffee with a clear citrus flavor, enhanced with light notes of cocoa. Teppi coffee is often used to make blends of Ethiopian coffee beans.
A Cut Above the Rest: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee Review
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee gets rave reviews from around the world, so what’s the big deal about this coffee? Yirgacheffe coffee is grown at the highest altitudes in the Sidamo region around the namesake village, Yirga Ch’efe. This Ethiopian coffee sells at a premium price thanks to its consistently high-quality scores and unique spicy and floral flavor profile.
Yirgacheffe is wet-processed or washed coffee, which makes it lighter and drier on the palate. Wet processing actually began in Ethiopia in the Yirgacheffe area in the 1970s (before this Ethiopian coffee beans were all dry-processed or ‘naturals’). Yirgacheffe coffee is fragrant with a clear floral aroma coupled with bright acidity and citrusy undertones. Sometimes you can also detect a nutty or chocolate-like aftertaste. All in all, Yirgacheffe is considered the pinnacle of the best Ethiopian coffee.
Ethiopian coffee is held in high regard, both locally and around the world. In Ethiopia, coffee is ingrained into the local culture and customs, a true testament to the country’s long history of growing and exporting coffee. Every coffee lover must try Ethiopian coffee beans at least once, not only to pay homage to the birthplace of coffee but to also enjoy a unique coffee experience.