Coffee 101: Everything You Need to Know About Ethiopian Coffee
It's time to learn everything you need to know about coffee from Ethiopia.
We all love sipping on our favorite coffee drink, but how often do we sit back and think about where our coffee came from? When you read the label of your bag of coffee beans, you can usually find the country of origin. More often than not, you’ll see your beans were grown in Ethiopia. But what’s so special about Ethiopian coffee beans?
For one, Ethiopia has long been considered the birthplace of coffee. The country was where the first Arabica coffee bean was grown. In fact, the coffee production is responsible for 30% of the country’s economy each year. Beyond that, coffee has been an integral part of Ethiopian culture for centuries.
From the ancient origins of coffee in Ethiopia to how to make the best cup of Ethiopian coffee, we will cover everything you need to know about this special blend.
Ethiopian Coffee Origins
The origins of Ethiopian coffee can be traced all the way back to the legend of Kaldi. Kaldi was an Abyssinian goat herder from Kaffa who herded goats through highland terrain near a monastery. He noticed his goats were acting odd on one particular day, jumping around and bleating loudly. They were almost dancing on their hind legs.
Kaldi searched around for the cause of this commotion and came upon a shrub (or multiple shrubs, depending on who is telling the story). These shrubs had small red berries that piqued his curiosity, causing him to try them too.
Immediately after trying the berries, he felt the same effects his goats did. Upon this discovery, Kaldi ran home to his wife, who prompted him to share with the monastery. However, those at the monastery claimed it was “the devil’s work” and didn’t approve of this discovery.
The monks at the monastery threw the berries in the fire when an aroma wafted through the air. Once the monks took a whiff, their minds began to change. The monastery monks began using these berries to help keep them awake during spiritual practices and vowed to only drink this new coffee beverage.
This legend likely dates back to around 850 and coincides with when coffee began being cultivated in the country. While some reports say coffee was discovered in the early 500s in Yemen, Ethiopia is still considered the birthplace of coffee.
Despite what the legend says, coffee likely wasn’t a heated beverage until much later. Instead, most people would consume it by chewing on the berries or grounding them in a mixture of ghee or animal fat.
The Ethiopian Coffee Drinking Ceremony
The Ethiopian coffee drinking ceremony is common in Ethiopia when a household is expecting guests. Regardless of the time of day, Ethiopian people will perform the ceremony when prompted. But this ceremony is more than just enjoying a cup of coffee together. The coffee drinking ceremony is a sign of utmost friendship and respect and is treated as such all over the country.
During the ceremony, it’s customary for guests to present the hostess with a gift as a thank you for hosting. While everyone is present for the ceremony, the entire process is carried out by a young woman. The woman in question will wear a traditional ankle-length dress with colorful threads embroidered along the edges.
Children are generally tasked with handing out cups, with the first cup going to the oldest guest and then proceeding in succession. The coffee is then served black, and guests can tweak their drinks with sugar cubes. It’s considered rude to refuse coffee during this ceremony.
The Flavor Profile for Ethiopian Coffee
Ethiopian coffee beans are grown at high elevations, making for a slower growing process. Although the growing process takes longer, this gives the plant more time to develop nourishing nutrients within the coffee fruits. With the large presence of nutrients, Ethiopian coffee typically has a stronger and more dense flavor.
Coffee beans grown in Ethiopia generally have a light-to-medium body, high acidity, and complex flavors. However, there are three different Ethiopian regions where coffee is grown. Each of these regions has its unique flavor profile.
Yirgacheffe coffee has a sweet, fruity taste and aroma. The beans are usually light-to-medium-bodied and are considered premium-grade coffee beans. This causes them to be pricier than other Ethiopian blends.
Sidamo beans are definitively rich and full-bodied. The flavor profile of this region is generally sweet and complex. With its low acidity levels and vibrant aftertaste, Sidamo coffee beans are revered by coffee roasters for its consistency.
Harrar coffee beans are typically dry-processed and have a heavy-bodied and spicy taste with a fragrant aroma. The beans' acidity can be described as floral and gives drinkers an intense flavor. Coffee drinkers often describe this blend as tasting like blackberries.
How Ethiopian Coffee is Grown
Coffee beans are wild-grown in Ethiopia before they’re harvested by coffee farmers. These beans are grown in shaded areas among other crops and aren’t subjected to chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Because of Ethiopia’s natural terrain, coffee beans are grown at high elevations, allowing more nutrients to develop within the fruit.
How to Brew Ethiopian Coffee
To get the most out of your cup of Ethiopian coffee, there are a few methods you can try. From pour-over to french press, consider giving one of these methods a shot:
- Pour-Over: Put your desired amount of coffee into your filter and heat the water below boiling. Don't let the water boil, or it will burn the coffee and compromise the complex flavors. Gently pour the hot water, starting high up and slowly making your way down. Let your coffee sit for two minutes before drinking.
- French Press: Put your desired amount of coffee into your french press. Heat your water just below boiling and insert the plunger. Let the mixture brew for a few minutes before pushing down on the plunger.
- Cold Brew: Mix one part of coffee with four parts of water in a large container and allow the mixture to sit in the fridge overnight.
- Instant Coffee: To make instant Ethiopian coffee, heat up your water via stovetop or microwave, and then add in your desired amount of coffee when it reaches your ideal temperature. Generally, 1-2 tablespoons of coffee per serving works best.
Ethiopian coffee is more than just a delicious beverage. There’s a long cultural history involving coffee in the country that deserves to be known. Ethiopia is considered the birthplace of coffee, after all!