Historians aknowledge Ethiopia as the birthplace of coffee, in the forests of the Kaffa region where coffea Arabica grew wild and was first tasted. The word “coffee bean” is said to have originated from a poor English translation of the Ethiopian words Kaffan Bun where “bun” or “buna” means coffee. It is quite possible that slaves from these regions brought and helped spread the culture of coffee drinking throughout the inner Arabian Peninsula.
Ethiopia is the world’s seventh largest producer of coffee and also Africa’s top producer with estimated exports of 260,000 metric tons as of 2006. Its major markets include the European countries such as Germany, Belgium, and France. A quarter of the world’s total coffee exports in East Asia and North America come from Ethiopia. Notably, production and cultivation of coffee in this country hasn’t changed that much since the 10th century where virtually all the hard work, like planting, harvesting and drying, is still done by hand.
Major Ethiopian coffee bean varieties are grown in the regions of Sidamo, Harar, Yirgacheffe, and Limu where the distinct quality of the produce are kept apart and marketed under their respective regional names. Each individual variety is a trademark name, with the overall selling rights being owned by the Ethiopian government. Some examples are:
Sidamo is an Arabica coffee of single origin grown in the Sidamo Province of Ethiopia. Like other varieties, Ethiopian Sidamo has a small and grayish bean but is valued for its deep spice and chocolate like taste and distinctive floral aroma. One of the outstanding charasterics of Sidamo coffees are the lemon and citrus flavours coupled with a bright crisp acidity.
Sidamo brands include Ethiopian Yirgachefe coffee by Guji Coffee Export P.L.C. The sweet flavors and aromas of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee are its strongest asset along with a medium to light body. Overall the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee is very spicy and fragrant, often with a slightly chocolaty or nutty quality. Subtleties include notes of citrus or tangerine (which is why it is often preferred for iced coffee).
Yirgacheffe coffee is a wet processing (washed) coffee grown at elevations from 5,800 feet to 6,600 feet above sea level, and is the most distinguished coffee grown in southern Ethiopia, a region known for its fine coffees. A fine Ethiopian Yirgacheffee coffee displays a bright acidity along with intense, clean tastes and a complexity of floral notes in the aroma, sometimes with a hint of toasted coconut. The aftertaste is vibrant, and the coffee may exhibit undertones of berry or wine. Some premium Yirgacheffes have a slightly nutty or chocolaty. quality. Others display subtle tones of tangerine and citrus. These qualities make it a preferred varietal for a refreshing iced coffee.
Harar is another coffee bean of the same variety as coffea Arabica. It is particularly grown in the Harar region of the Eastern highlands of Ethiopia. Ethiopian Harar is considered one of the oldest coffee bean varieties that are still being produced. It is famous for its distinctive fruity, wine flavor.
Harar beans are medium in size with a greenish, yellowish colour. It has a medium acidity, is full body with a distinct mocha flavor. This variety is dry processed, with sorting and processing done mostly by hand. Though hand-processing, laborers become knowledgeable on how each bean is categorized. Harar beans can further be into three categories: Longberry, Shortberry and Mocha.
The Longberry variety consists of the largest beans and the top-most quality among the three categories. Shortberries are smaller while Mocha variety is highly prized in European countries. Harar coffee varieties are known as a great additive for chocolate recipes as well as a spicy ingredient for some dishes.
Limu is a high-quality wet-processed (washed) Ethiopian coffee that exhibits a relatively low acidity yet is somewhat sharp. The brewed cup is distinguished by its well-balanced body (mouthfeel) and noticeable winey and spicy flavors, often fruit-toned, pleasantly sweet and vibrant with floral overtones.
Limu coffee is grown at elevations ranging from 3,600 to 6,200 feet in southwest/southcentral Ethiopia producing medium-sized coffee beans with a distinctive roundish shape and green color. Limu is a market name. Many specialty roasters consider washed Limu coffee from Ethiopia to be a premium gourmet coffee.
Currently, there are about eight new Ethiopian coffees marketed in the world today:
- Ethiopia Nano Challa “Eid Al-Adha” – this particular variety is processed during the “Eid Al-Adha” holiday week or the Festival of Sacrifice.
- Ethiopia Illubabor Camp – this variety is distinct for its balanced fragrance and aroma while having an almond essence.
- Ethiopia Goma Duromina – this coffee is produced and distributed by the Duromina Co-operative, a non-government organization. This variety is sweet and delicate and is a well-structured cup.
- Ethiopia Sidama Deri Kochoha – the variety’s quality include a strong “sugar browning” scent of muscovado and molasses-ginger cookie with hints of soft florals.
- Ethiopiua Dry Saris Abaya – is known for its heavily fruited mixture of passion fruit, strawberry jam and fresh ginger fragrance.