An Introduction to Ethiopian Coffee

If you have ever wondered about Ethiopian coffee and where coffee first came from, you can look to the Kaffa region of Ethiopia. It is here that the plants grew wild and where the “bun” or beans of the plants were frequently chewed by the natives. Many people believe that the “Kaffa Buns” is where today’s modern phrase “coffee beans” comes from, but there has been no authoritative proof that such is the case.

It is known, however, that coffee as a beverage to be brewed from the fruit of the plants did first come from this area of Africa, and so it is fairly obvious why these coffees are among the most sought after in the world. In fact, coffee exports are the country’s largest income source and provides roughly sixty percent of the nation’s earnings. Of course not all of the coffee is exported, because a majority of Ethiopians enjoy a coffee ritual three times each day. Of the two hundred thousand tons of beans produced each year, it is estimated that half is purchased directly by native Ethiopians.

Like many other food products, Ethiopian coffee beans come in a few different varieties with each earning its particular name from the region in which it is grown. The primary cultivar, however, is Arabica which is the most popular choice of coffee drinkers around the globe.

The most well-known varieties of the Ethiopian industry are the Harrar, Ghimbi, and Sidamo beans/regions. There are very distinctive differences between the varieties, with the Harrar most often serving as an espresso bean, the Ghimbi as a darker roast, and the Sidamo as the most widely used for its mild and aromatic properties.

Today, the growers of the beans process them in two different ways. They can use the wet or the dry method, with the wet method being preferred by larger commercial producers. This requires the berries to be harvested, submerged in water for two days to eliminate some of the natural sugars, and then dried completely before being bagged and sold. There are some now focused on “green” and organic growing techniques due to outside interest from some larger international markets. The expanding interest in “Fair Trade” products has also helped the Ethiopian coffee industry grow as well.

Interestingly, the ECEE (Ethiopian Coffee Export Enterprise) is a for-profit organization that manages and controls around half of the coffee sales in the country. It is estimated that this group is responsible for the employment of roughly twelve million people. The remainder of the industry is independently managed or under the direction of other global corporations.

The Ethiopian coffee trade is unique because there are huge corporations, smaller companies, cooperatives, and even independent growers who do all of the work by hand and sell directly to their fellow Ethiopians in local markets. The country’s primary international markets include Japan, France, Germany, the United States and the Middle East.

As interest in the many blends of coffees around the world continues to increase the Ethiopian coffee industry will also continue to grow. This is especially true because it is considered to be the birthplace of this unique and popular beverage.

Back to top of An Introduction to Ethiopian Coffee