CBC Guide: Ethiopian Coffee

Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, which makes sense since its climate for growing coffee and the coffee it produces are pure perfection. Some even say that the original Ethiopian name for coffee, “Kaffa bunn,” was anglicized into the word we know today, “coffee.”

Nowadays, Ethiopia is the 5th largest coffee producing nation in the world, and the highest coffee bean-producing, African nation. Many of the Ethiopian coffee beans for sale are well-known for both their acidity and delicate, fruity flavors that combine to create a delicious cup of coffee that is best drunk black.

Ethiopia boasts over 10,000 coffee bean varieties that are specific to different regions throughout the country. Sidamo creates a crispy, citrusy coffee. Yirgacheffe is bright and floral, and Harrar produces an intense, heavy-bodied coffee. These are the three top-producing regions in Ethiopia, and some of the most well-known coffee beans.

Ethiopian Coffee Culture and Ceremony

Legend says that in 850 A.D. an Abyssinian goat herder from Kaffa named Kaldi noticed his goats acting strange one day, jumping and dancing around a small bush with red berries on it. Kaldi decided to try some himself and immediately noticed how energized he felt. He took some to a nearby monastery to share his discovery, but the monks declared the berries were “the Devil’s work,” throwing them into a nearby fire. The roasting berries smelled so good, though, that the monks relented and began to use them to achieve greater spiritual devotion. Since then, Ethiopia has always attributed a spiritual element to coffee.

Coffee is an integral part of Ethiopian culture. Over the centuries, coffee has become an expression of friendship and respect, culminating in the coffee ceremony and pouring over into its culture and everyday sayings. For example:

Buna dabo naw – Coffee is our bread
Buna Tetu – Drink coffee (This phrase also means go socialize as the two activities, drinking coffee and socializing, are often combined.)

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is an essential part of the Ethiopian culture. It symbolizes respect, friendship, and spiritual transformation. The 2-3 hour long ceremony is performed 3 times a day (morning, noon, and evening) by the woman of the house.

First, the room is prepared by spreading aromatic flowers and grasses throughout and burning incense to ward off evil spirits. A coffee pot (called a “jebena”) is put on hot coals to boil, while green coffee beans are cleaned, roasted, and ground. Once the coffee beans are made into a coarse grind, they’re poured into the water, and the coffee is made! The coffee is, then, poured into small, handle-less ceramic cups, lined up on a tray, with a single-stream, about a foot over the cups. Guests add sugar to their cup and then praise the hostess for her coffee-making abilities. Guests drink three cups of coffee. Each one is weaker in taste but just as important since it’s believed that each cup brings a greater spiritual transformation.  

Ethiopian Coffee Production

Coffee trees have grown in the wild in Ethiopia for centuries. Its growing conditions are perfect. The high elevations in the southern, mountainous region, deep soil and lush vegetation all lend themselves to well-balanced, light-bodied, highly-acidic, fruity coffee beans. Chemicals are often not required for growth aids. While other countries have to create the perfect growing conditions, Ethiopia is blessed with them naturally.

Ethiopian coffee beans undergo two different processes, which yield two different results. Naturally-processed beans tend to have fruity or winey tones with complex notes of blueberry, a bright acidity and deep chocolate undertones. The medium to heavy body is syrupy in consistency and has a dry edge to it. Washed beans boast jasmine or lemongrass characteristics with a lighter and drier body. Washing is a newer process that is constantly changing with the arrival of new equipment. Naturally-processing is the traditional way of processing the beans and is still the most common way of doing so.

Different Types of Ethiopian Coffee

Ethiopia produces a hard, dense, small bean that has more sugar and flavor because of its physical characteristics. But, the flavor profiles are distinct based on region.

There are nine distinct growing regions in Ethiopia: Yirgacheffe, Sidamo, Harrar, Bebeka, Teppi, Limu, Djimma, Illubabor, Lekempti, Wellega, and Ghimbi. Within all nine regions, Fair Trade Organic certified coffees are abundant.

Here are a few characteristics of some of the coffee beans offered by Ethiopia:

HARRAR – A dry-processed bean with fruity or winey flavors, notes of blueberry and a bright acidity. It makes a medium to heavy-bodied coffee with a slight dryness.

GHIMBI – A washed bean that creates a rich, heavy-bodied, well-balanced coffee with sharp acidity and complex flavors and aromas.

LIMU – A washed bean that produces a high-quality, low-acidic, well-balanced coffee that’s both sweet and vibrant with winey, spicy flavors

LEKEMTI – Lekemti produces a coffee similar to the Harrar with its body but with slightly distinct, fruity flavors and a pleasant acidity.

How to Roast Ethiopian Coffee Beans

WHAT TO DO:

A medium roast provides the best balance of acidity, flavors and body. If the roast gets too dark, the flavors are covered up. Finding out how to get that perfect roast is hard, though. Ethiopian coffee beans are finicky and small, making it hard to roast them well. You have to pay close attention to the entire roasting process.

To roast your Ethiopian beans, you should abide by some guiding principles. Set aside a sample roast before you do a larger batch to ensure that you know the temperature to use and the length of time they should roast for. Use a low and gentle temperature increase around the first crack. This is a slow roast to get to your preferred roast profile results. Keep in mind that naturally-processed beans darken faster than washed beans.

WHAT NOT TO DO:

Avoid any sudden, intense heat. This’ll destroy the subtle, delicate flavors and floral notes in the coffee beans. If the beans were washed, this’ll cause over-development and under-development around the first crack, which will ruin the batch. If the beans were naturally-processed, a temperature spike before the first crack will cause roast defects, such as a burnt exterior and under-developed interior.

After you’ve figured out the best way to roast your Ethiopian coffee beans, either grind them right away and make some coffee (fresh is always best!) or store them until you want to use them later.

How to Brew Ethiopian Coffee

Since Ethiopian coffee has a light body and brighter acidity, the best brewing methods for it use filters.

AUTOMATIC DRIP

If your coffee beans were freshly roasted and ground, an automatic drip makes a great cup of coffee. The paper filter gives clarity to the flavors while also providing the perfect amount of acidity and body.

POUR OVER

If you really want a good cup of coffee, you should use a pour over, though. This brewing method gives you more control over the process and slows down the brew to fully get all of the flavors from the grounds. If you have washed beans, try a chemex. The thicker paper filters help emphasize the tea-like body and clean, bright notes. If you have natural beans, try a Hario V60. The thinner paper filter allows the syrupy, heavy-body to remain intact with bright acidic and fruity notes throughout.

COLD BREW

Cold brew is always refreshing and even more so with Ethiopian beans. It’s perfect for that smooth, clean texture with notes of blueberry or peach. If you grind your own coffee beans, make sure to use a coarse grind so as not to over-extract the acidity of the beans.

Conclusion

Ethiopia has so much to offer in the coffee world with over 10,000 varieties of coffee beans and a rich culture entrenched in a love of coffee. If you’re looking for some new coffee beans to try, make sure to pick up some green coffee beans from Ethiopia!