Ethiopia is known for rolling green hills and vibrant culture…and the perfect climate for growing arabica coffee beans. The country is widely considered to be the birthplace of coffee, to the vexation of Yemen and Sudan. Their beans have been prized for centuries, and even today, Ethiopia is one of the world’s leading coffee producers with coffee beans celebrated for unique flavor profiles such as light and fruity or deep and earthy.
Ethiopian coffees offer a sensory experience so distinct that coffee lovers worldwide have come to know, love, and recognize their unique flavors.
So, how did Ethiopian coffee come to be one of the greatest coffees of all time? And why is Ethiopian coffee able to accomplish this? We’ll briefly guide you through an exploration of the history and evolution of Ethiopian coffee culture, from its humble origins to the booming industry it is today.
Early History of Ethiopian Coffee
According to Ethiopian legend, coffee was discovered in the 9th century by a young goat herder from the Kaffa region named Kaldi. He noticed his goats dancing and acting silly after eating the red berries of an unknown shrub. So, Kaldi decided to try the strange fruit himself and he soon realized that it gave him an energy boost like nothing else.
Kaldi excitedly shared his discovery with the local monks, who, despite initial skepticism, eventually soaked the berries in hot water. They found that the resulting beverage not only tasted delicious but also kept them awake during long nights of prayer.
And so the earliest form of coffee was born.
The Rise of Ethiopian Coffee Culture
It wasn’t until the 1500s that coffee began to be cultivated in Ethiopia. Before, coffee beans were just harvested from coffee plants growing naturally in the wild. But by the 16th century cultivation techniques had been established, and coffee was grown as a commercial crop.
At the same time, trade with neighboring countries, particularly Yemen, enabled Ethiopia to share its coffee with the rest of the world. As its popularity spread, so did its reputation as a superior beverage unlike any other.
By the 1800s, the cultivation of coffee had become a major industry in Ethiopia. The country was producing some of the finest beans in the world and exporting them to other countries for consumption. As coffee production spread, so did Ethiopian coffee culture. Cafes began to spring up in the major cities, offering a place for people to come together and enjoy a hot cup of coffee.
In addition, Ethiopian coffee ceremonies, elaborate rituals involving the preparation and serving of coffee, became a regular part of daily life. These ceremonies (which still take place today) involve the roasting of the beans over a fire, followed by the grading and brewing of the beverage in ornately decorated jebena pots. It’s a time to connect with friends, family, and community members over a shared cup of coffee.
Ethiopian Coffee Today
Today, Ethiopia grows more than a thousand varieties of coffee beans, each with its own distinct flavor. But it’s the indigenous arabica coffee variety that reigns supreme and remains one of Ethiopia’s most popular and highly sought after varieties.
Ethiopian Coffee Growing Regions
When it comes to single origin coffee, Ethiopia has three central regions of note, each with its own flavor profile: Yirgacheffe, Sidamo, and Harran. Each region produces coffee with its own distinct flavor.
- Yirgacheffe – Incredibly fragrant and aromatic, chocolatey sweet with an undertaste of fruit. Coffee beans grown here are widely considered some of the highest-quality arabica beans in the world.
- Sidamo – Full-bodied, sweet and complex with a vibrant aftertaste. Sidamo beans often have low acidity. Because of their flavor consistency, they are a staple Ethiopian bean for coffee roasters.
- Harran – Most commonly dry processed, these beans are heavy-bodied with a very spicy and fragrant aroma. They have a floral acidity and produce a bright intensely flavored cup. The taste is often described as “wild” or “jammy,” reminiscent of a blackberry.
Common Coffee Processing Methods in Ethiopia
In addition to these unique flavors, Ethiopian coffees are also known for their variety of processing methods:
The Dry (Natural) Process
Several weeks long, the natural or “dry” process brings out the fruitier flavors of the bean. Coffee cherries immediately go from picked to spread out on bricks (or some other bed) and left in the sun. Regularly rotating and raking the cherries not only helps everything dry evenly, but it also slows their national fermentation and protects the batch from mold. It can be a tedious and laborious process, but it’s a labor of love-one that is reflected in the dense flavors it produces
Are dried coffee cherries washed? Yes, after fully dried, the cherries are washed and pulped, just like the washed process, but with half the water.
The Washed Method
In the washed process, the bean is removed from the cherry within days of being picked from the tree. The beans are then washed, sometimes multiple times, before being dried. While quicker than the “dry” process, it does use more water.
Dry vs Washed, Which Has the Better Flavor?
This is a matter of taste. Because the bean stays in contact with the fruit longer when using the dry-process, the coffee beans tend to yield fruitier flavors. This profile is enriched even further while drying in the sun.
That said, coffee made from dry-processed beans can sometimes taste more fermented than washed coffee, which has more control over fermentation.
Ethiopian coffee has a long and storied history that dates back to the 8th century. Over the years, it’s become fabled for its unique flavor profiles. In Ethiopia, coffee is more than a beverage, more than an experience, it’s a spiritual culture embedded in the very hearts and souls of its people.
But you don’t need to visit Ethiopia to indulge in their luxuriant coffee when you can simply visit the Corner Perk.
Visit one of our locations today! Drop by and say “hello” or shop our online store and have some Ethiopian Yirgacheffe shipped directly to you.
We source only the finest beans from sustainable farms for maximum quality and flavor. Taste it for yourself. The proof is in the cup.