Everything You Need To Know About Ethiopian Coffee

15 min read AUG 10, 2023

There is no strong evidence that backs the exact origin of coffee. However, Ethiopia is widely known as the birthplace of coffee, where a goat herder first noticed the energizing effects of coffee beans.

While this story may or may not be true, Ethiopian coffee remains one of the best varieties in the world. In fact, Ethiopia is among the five biggest coffee producers and has been providing some of the best single-origin coffee beans worldwide.

If you want to learn more about this coffee-growing country and what makes its coffee so special, just stick around. We'll discuss the rich history of Ethiopian coffee, brewing, and roasting methods, where to buy them, and more.

5 Must-Know Facts About Ethiopian Coffee Beans

Ethiopia: The Birthplace Of Coffee

Coffee has a fascinating history that dates back centuries. Its discovery can be traced to the southwestern region of Ethiopia, where coffee trees grow wild. The original name for coffee, Kaffa, also originated from this region.

As the legend goes, it all began with a goat herder named Kaldi around 850 AD, who stumbled upon the wondrous effects of coffee. His goats became overly energetic after eating the coffee fruit off the trees. Intrigued, he took some beans home to investigate their powers.

Kaldi then presented the benefits of coffee to a monk. However, he became suspicious and threw the beans into the fire claiming that the devil created the effect. However, the beans began to roast, and the entire room was filled with the irresistible fragrance of freshly roasted coffee.

Ideal Growing Conditions For Coffee Beans

Ethiopia holds the distinction of being the birthplace of coffee. Wild coffee trees have thrived in its lush and fertile environment for centuries, boasting over a thousand different coffee varietals. The high elevation and rich soil of the southern mountainous regions provide the perfect growing conditions for this delicious drink.

One thing that makes Ethiopian coffee production unique is that it requires no additional resources or chemicals. The natural surroundings provide everything needed, so farmers don't have to worry about perfect planting conditions or specific types of coffee. Instead, the coffee is grown in the shade amidst other plants, creating a happy and healthy growing environment.

Ethiopian Coffee: Flavor Profile

Coffee from Ethiopia features bright floral and fruity flavors with a light-medium body, higher acidity, and complex flavor notes. However, the processing method utilized also plays a vital role in the final taste.

There are two types of processing methods, wet and natural. Wet-processing, or washed processing, involves removing the fruit mechanically right away, resulting in a clean, crisp, and complex cup of coffee. On the other hand, naturally processed coffee beans are dried with the fruit, leading to fruity undertones like blueberry, along with a syrupy texture and deep chocolate flavors.

The Best Ethiopian Coffee Beans By Region

Ethiopia, which used to be divided into provinces until 1995, is now divided into districts. Despite this change, many still refer to provinces as a way to indicate location. Speaking of which, have you heard of the southernmost province known as Sidamo (or Sidama)? It's a beautiful area famous for its coffee-growing regions where renowned Ethiopian Sidamo coffee beans are grown.

Yirgacheffe is one of the most notable and best coffee-growing towns in the Sidamo region. The producers here prefer the modern wet processing method, which results in bright coffee beans. They are known for their distinct floral and fruity notes, high acidity, and light body.

Next, there's the Guji region which is situated in southern Sidamo. The coffee from this region tastes like no other, with a tea-like body and sweet floral notes reminiscent of peach, jasmine, and melon. No wonder some of the world's top roasters prefer coffee beans from this area!

In eastern Ethiopia, Harrar is known for its dry-processed coffee beans. As a result, coffee from this region has a winey flavor and syrupy body. Note that Harrar coffees are sometimes sold under the label "Mocha Harrar," honoring the centuries-old tradition of exporting quality coffee from the ancient port city of Mocha on the Red Sea.

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony: What Is It And Its Importance

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is a significant aspect of the country's culture, involving roasting coffee beans and preparing boiled coffee in a pot similar to those used in making Turkish coffee. In many Ethiopian villages, it is considered the most important social occasion, and being invited to one is a gesture of respect and friendship.

You'll witness the art of making coffee from scratch at the ceremony. Fresh coffee beans are roasted in a pan, ground by hand using a mortar and pestle-like tool, and slowly brewed in traditional pottery over an open fire. The coffee is carefully poured, preventing any unpleasant grit from slipping through.

Next, sugar is often added for a little extra sweetness, but milk is an absolute no-go. For the 2nd and 3rd brews, more water is added and boiled for a weaker yet equally important cup.

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is not just about sipping coffee - it's an experience that blends socializing and spirituality. It typically takes about 2-3 hours, during which guests enjoy the brews and engage in conversations about politics, community issues, and gossip. The ceremony's format remains constant, with some variations here and there, no matter when or why it is held.

But what makes this ceremony more than just a casual coffee date? It holds a spiritual significance that emphasizes the importance of Ethiopian coffee culture. Coffee has deep roots in Islam, and it's believed that during the three rounds of the ceremony, something otherworldly happens because of coffee's spiritual properties.

The Extent Of Ethiopian Coffee Production

Today, Ethiopia ranks as the largest coffee producer in Africa and 5th largest in the world. After all, it accounts for 3% of the global coffee market. As such, more than 850 million coffee pounds are produced in this African nation, of which half is consumed domestically, and the remaining is exported.

Coffee in Ethiopia is largely produced by small farmers in distinct regions throughout Ethiopia. The most common ones include Gimbi, Bebeka, Lekempti, Limu, Wellega, Teppi, Djimma, and Illubabor, along with the most well-known regions, Yirgacheffe, Guiji, Sidamo, and Harrar. Coffees are usually sold by region- the cheapest products usually come from Sidama and expensive ones from Yirgacheffe.

The farmers sell their products through the government-established ECX (Ethiopia Commodity Exchange) since 2008. However, once the coffee reached the marketplace, everything got mixed (irrespective of the regions they come from) before being sold. Hence, ECX's standardized procedure of mix-and-sell made it difficult to trace back coffees to their specific producers.

To resolve this issue, the government developed new policies in 2017, allowing farmers to keep their coffees separate before selling them. Direct purchasing from washing stations was also made possible. Such a transparent selling procedure encouraged farmers to produce better products. That's because since the coffee beans were to be sold separately, they could only yield a profit worth their quality.

Consequently, this enabled specialty coffee roasters and companies to find high-quality coffee beans and build direct relationships with farmers and wholesalers for future purchasing.

Where Can You Buy Authentic Ethiopian Coffee?

Most of the world-class specialty coffee roasters source their coffee beans from Ethiopia. After all, what better place than the birthplace of coffee to do so? However, one thing to note is that not all coffee roasters are created equal. While some stand true to what Ethiopian coffee is known for, others may cut corners to yield higher profits.

Hence, research and trial are important to ensure you get only the most authentic and high-quality Ethiopian coffee beans. And to make things easier for you, we've done just that and have listed our top picks below:

Volcanica Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

Of course, our best overall pick comes from Ethiopia's most notable coffee-growing region, Yirgacheffe. The place is known for its traditional Arabica coffee plant varieties.

Volcanica Coffee, as a brand, is committed to sourcing only high-quality, ethically grown coffee beans that don't break the bank. Their beans are dry processed, meaning they're only roasted after you place an order. That means you're promised aromatic, flavorful, and fresh coffees every time!

When it comes to the flavor profile, the coffee beans have a bright and fruity flavor with a hint of sweetness. In a cup, it is well-balanced with a medium body and acidity that tastes sweet, fruity, and complex with a smooth finish. Notes of dark chocolate, lavender, strawberry, pineapple guava, and cedar will transcend you to the lush greens of the Yirgacheffe valley with every sip! It is this unique flavor profile that sets Volcanica Coffee apart from its competitors.

Besides, its affordable price tag is the cherry on the cake; perfect for coffee aficionados who are on a budget but don't want to compromise on quality and flavor.

Key Benefits:

  • Guaranteed freshness.
  • Harvested from wild coffee trees.
  • Reasonably priced.

Coffee Bros. Ethiopia Keramo

Having won the Cup Of Excellence Award in 2020, Coffee Bros. Ethiopia Keramo coffee beans are a must-have for every coffee connoisseur. These beans are harvested from Daye Bensa, a coffee farm in southern Ethiopia. They are then exported by the namesake export company owned by brothers Mulugeta and Asefa Dukamo.

These are 100% Arabica, single-origin microlot coffee beans. That means all the beans are sourced from limited-edition, high-end lots and are traceable to the producer.

Keramo coffee beans come from the Sidama region of Ethiopia, a place widely known for its ideal Arabica coffee growing conditions. Unlike other regions, coffee trees here grow wild in the forest. As a result, the coffees are of high quality with lemon-citric tones and bright acidity.

As for the flavor profile, you'll get hints of rich chocolate and ripe blackberry with a sugary sweet finish. To get the most out of its flavor, we recommend enjoying this coffee black or as a cold brew or pour-over.

Another great thing is that each product has a roast date printed on the bottom of each bag. So, freshness is guaranteed with every purchase!

Key Benefits:

  • 100% Arabica coffee
  • Microlot coffee means you can trace the individual producer.
  • Harvest from the Sidama region of Ethiopia.
  • Unique flavors of chocolate and berries.

Out Of The Grey Ethiopian Oromia Harrar

Founded by Java Jack and Sheila Marie, a husband-and-wife team, Out Of The Grey (OFTG) is a small coffee roaster based in Tobacco Row Mountain, Virginia. Their Ethiopian Oromia Harrar coffee beans come from the high mountains of the Oromia region, stretching across Ethiopia from east to west.

These premium beans grow 4900-6500 feet above sea level amongst avocadoes, cardamom, mangoes, papayas, and other root crops. Trees like oaks and acacias provide shade. Such a growing environment eliminates the need for pesticides, meaning the coffee beans are high in quality and organic. No wonder these beans won the 3rd Place Award of the 2003 cupping trails of the Specialty Coffee Association Of America!

What sets these premium beans apart is their medium-dark body, which is unusual among Ethiopian coffees. So, if you've been on the lookout for a darker roast, perhaps for your morning shot of expresso or French press, OFTG coffee beans are for you! As a cup of joe, Oromia Harrar beans offer a creamy finish with notes of dark chocolate, daffodil, molasses, and pear.

Key Benefits:

  • Organic and fresh.
  • Medium-dark roast.
  • Can be ordered ground or as whole beans.

How To Roast Ethiopian Coffee Beans?

Regardless of where your coffee beans come from, they're only as good as the roasting process. A minute short, and your coffee might taste bland; a minute longer, and you could end up spoiling all the flavors Ethiopia is known for. So, learning the ideal roast for Ethiopian coffee is vital.

Generally, Ethiopian beans are roasted light to medium. However, many roasters opt for a classic medium roast to get a well-balanced coffee with just the right amount of acidity and sweet flavors.

Ethiopians often use the term "Yedoro Ayene," which means "eye of the chicken," to refer to the ideal color of brewed coffee – dark brown. And this color can't be achieved once the beans pass a medium-dark roast.
Having said that, light roasted beans have their own beauty. These beans usually end up with more complex flavors and a tea-like body.

The key to roasting Ethiopian beans is maintaining a gentle temperature with careful monitoring throughout the process. Steer away from sudden, intense heat. If so, it might bring out the beans' clove and gingery flavors and cover up the floral notes that are distinctive of Ethiopia's coffee-growing regions.
Furthermore, the roasting process also depends on the beans' processing method. For example, wet-processed beans require a more aggressive roasting. In contrast, naturally processed beans need a lower charge temperature as they tend to burn more easily.

How To Brew Ethiopian Coffee Beans?

The traditional and best way to enjoy Ethiopian coffee beans is when consumed black. Since most of the beans are roasted for a lighter body and high acidity, they don't do well with sweeteners and dairy. Moreover, since the coffee is naturally sweet and flavorful, it can please most coffee connoisseurs' palates.

The traditional coffee brewing method of Ethiopia is known as "Jebena." It refers to a boiling-based system, which is necessary to extract the flavor of beans grown in high-elevation areas. Boiling of the beans usually lasts 5-10 minutes, which further adds to the roast level of the coffee. This is another reason why most Ethiopians opt for a light-medium roast instead of dark.
Want to know the secrets to brew a perfect cup of Ethiopian coffee? We've listed them below:

Pour Over

Many consider pour-over the best way to brew Ethiopian coffee as it allows for more control and pulls out the best flavors. Plus, it's relatively easy and requires no complicated tools. All you'll need is a grinder, pour-over funnel, gooseneck pot, and a scale.

Here's what you need to do:

  • Add 5.5 grams of coffee to your paper filter.
  • Heat water just below boiling. This step can either make or break your coffee experience, so be careful here. Waiting a little longer and allowing the water to boil can result in a burnt-tasting coffee.
  • Once you get the right water temperature, pour it from the gooseneck pot into the coffee grounds. There's a particular pouring process too. Start pouring from a high position and gradually lower it so as to let the water evenly soak up the coffee grounds.
  • Next, allow the coffee to sit for 2 minutes before slurping it to your heart's content.

Cold Brew

Cold brew is the go-to brewing method for many people when it comes to Ethiopian beans. Why? Because of their floral and fruited notes, it results in a flavorful drink without much effort! Just make sure to use coarsely ground beans for this method.

Preparation is minimal for cold brew but requires a relatively longer brewing time. However, patience pays off with each sip of this world-class Ethiopian chilled drink.

Here's what you need to do:

  • Mix coffee grounds and water in a 1:4 ratio in a glass. You can adjust the measurements as per your taste.
  • Refrigerate for 12-24 hours. The waiting time will allow the coffee grounds to infuse and extract into the chilled water.
  • And voila! Your refreshing summer beverage is ready.

In this simple cold brew process, the coffee will taste smooth without much acidity. However, if you do prefer more acidity in your cold brew, you can follow this recipe:

  • Brew the coffee as a pour-over.
  • Pour the hot coffee over ice and enjoy.

Automatic Drip

This method is similar to the pour-over process. Automatic drip coffee simply refers to coffee brewed with a machine that automates the pour-over process.

Thanks to its light body and bright acidity, Ethiopian coffee tastes best when filtered. So, as long as you use freshly ground and roasted beans, an automatic dripper will produce a delicious cup of coffee every time. It enhances the flavor of the coffee and balances out the amount of body and acidity.

Wrapping Up

Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, is famous for its exquisite, single-origin coffee beans. From the lovely floral notes of Yirgacheffe to the winey, rich flavors of Harrar, Ethiopian coffees are among the most delicious varieties and best-reviewed coffee beans in the world.

From renowned roasters like Starbucks to your local cafes and baristas, these beans are a frequent on every menu. So, what's holding you back? If you haven't tried these flavorful beans yet, it's time to head over to your nearest café and order some! Better yet, just order authentic Ethiopian beans online and brew your own cup by following our tips mentioned above.


Is Ethiopian Coffee Arabica or Robusta?

Ethiopian coffee is Arabica. It is where the plant, Coffea Arabica, originated. Today, the plant is exported and grown around the world. People who prefer Robusta beans can try ones that hail from Uganda. There are also the Madagascar Robusta coffee beans. However, they are usually hard to come by due to limited exports.

What Is So Special About Ethiopian Coffee?

There are many things that make Ethiopian coffee special. However, its flavor profile tops off the list! Ethiopian coffee has a bright, fruity flavor with floral characteristics. When roasted to perfection, the beans contain complex taste nuances, strong acidity, and a light-medium body.

Why Is Coffee From Ethiopia Important?

Coffee from Ethiopia is important because of its rich historical background. After all, it's known as the originating place of coffee. Moreover, most coffee plants still grow wild in their natural habitat without external inputs. In Ethiopia, coffee has become an indispensable part of its culture and social structure. To reinforce this, there's a popular proverb in the country that says "buna dabo naw," meaning "coffee is our bread."

Is Ethiopian Coffee Sweet?

Ethiopian coffee is naturally sweet. This is why it's best enjoyed without extra sweeteners or dairy.

Is Ethiopian Coffee The Best In The World?

Though it largely depends on an individual's preference, Ethiopian coffee is often considered the best coffee in the world. The most grown variety here is the heirloom variety of Coffea Arabica, a.k.a. the "queen" of coffees.

Who Brewed Coffee First?

According to historical records, Sufi monks were the ones who first brewed and consumed coffee in the 15th century. Apparently, it helped them stay alert for their religious rituals.

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