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Ethiopian Coffee and Culture

Ethiopian Coffee and Culture

Known for its diverse topography, huge variety of geographical sub-regions and stunning landscapes, Ethiopia is the sole home of many wild coffee varieties. Ethiopia is currently the 5th largest producer of coffee in the world, the country is responsible for delivering around 7.7 million sacks to the market each year. Whether you’ve heard the story of the young goat-herder and his goats on the upland plains, or not, Ethiopia is where it all began as far as coffee is concerned.

If trying authentic Ethiopian coffee is on your bucket list, keep reading to find out all you need to know about the wonderful world of Ethiopian coffee.

Ethiopian Coffee History

Ethiopian Coffee History

Ethiopia is widely considered the birthplace of coffee Arabica, endowed with a rich variety of coffee and diverse origins, Ethiopia has successfully offered premium Ethiopian coffee beans for hundreds of years. Ethiopian coffee began being exported as early as the 17th century, though trade only became noteworthy in the 19th century.

With the countries high elevations in the southern mountain regions, deep soil and lush vegetation most Ethiopian coffee beans are grown without the use of agricultural chemicals, and still to this day coffee grows wild in the forests of Ethiopia. Ethiopian coffee is best known for its original flavour and aroma. Its spectacular flavour has seen Ethiopian coffee beans become some of the most sought after in the coffee sphere.

Traditionally coffee in Ethiopia was dry processed, however, wet processing is becoming increasingly more common, over 50% of coffee is wet processed, which accentuates the delicate floral notes. Today, the importance of coffee to the country’s economy should not be underestimated. Business is booming for Ethiopian coffee beans, accounting for a whopping 70% of all their export earnings.

Ethiopian Coffee Culture

Ethiopian Coffee Culture

Coffee plays a massive part in Ethiopian culture and is a way to slow down and engage with friends and neighbours, which birthed the communal tradition called ‘Buna tetu’ which translates to ‘come drink coffee’. The full-bodied coffee beans are enjoyed with those who are invited to come and enjoy a cup.

The brewing tradition of Ethiopian coffee has many authentic elements. A traditional cup of Buna can take up to an hour to prepare and even drinking it can take longer, especially during periods of celebration. The complex ceremony involves the processing of the raw, unwashed Ethiopian coffee beans into finished cups of already brewed coffee. Other preparations are followed for the ritual, such as, the arrangement of the coffee cups, and the laying of a freshly cut grass display on both the floor and table, following the burning of sweet incense to clarify the space in which the ritual is to take place. This is just a small part of the Ethiopian coffee sensory experience.

Ethiopian Production Regions

Ethiopian Coffee Production Regions

One of the many reasons why Ethiopian coffee is so sought after, is down to the way it is produced. The only coffee species grown in Ethiopia is Arabica, the coffee bean is grown at elevations of 1,700 metres to 2,200 metres above sea level. The coffee tree, which grows in shade, is hand-picked and the processing of the coffee beans is achieved through traditional practices. There are three key coffee growing regions in Ethiopia, each producing truly unique coffee.


The most popular type of Ethiopian coffee is from the Sidamo region which covers a large area spreading through the fertile highlands to the south of Lake Awasa in Rift valley. Sidamo is made up of 20 administrative areas, or woredas, that all have varying microclimates and altitudes. Sidamo region is recognised as one of the three trademark coffee regions in Ethiopia as well as known for having perfect climate conditions for coffee due to its great altitudes, ample rainfall, fertile soil and ideal temperature.


Yirgacheffe is one of the most popular growing regions in Ethiopia albeit part of the Sidamo region. This large, green area boosts perfect growing conditions, fertile soil and high altitudes. Yirgacheffe is a heavily populated region with many villages growing ‘Garden Coffee’. The ethereal washed coffee of Yirgacheffe is so highly recognised that it has been sub-divided into its own micro-region, trademarked by Ethiopian government.


Harrar is the third most popular region of Ethiopia’s trademark names, and home to one of the original grades of Ethiopian coffee. Harrar coffee was known as being of the highest quality in the 19th century and to date it is still highly recognised for its quality of Ethiopian coffee beans, and is highly desirable. Harrar coffee has a huge range of flavours, due to its distinct winy flavour, it means that this coffee is usually used in espresso blends to add fruit notes. Harrar coffee can vary in preparation and can result in the difficulty of roasting evenly, which adds to the charm and appeal of Harrar coffee.

Ethiopian Coffee Flavour

Ethiopian Coffee Flavour

Ethiopian coffee is known for its bright fruited and floral flavours. Ethiopian coffee beans are either washed or naturally processed, the method used to process the beans has a huge impact on the overall taste of the coffee. 

The naturally processed coffees have more fruity or winy tones, notes of blueberry and have a medium to heavy body, whereas washed coffees often have hints of jasmine or lemongrass and are lighter bodied. Most Ethiopian coffee is processed naturally, this is how it has always been done for centuries, and the methods have not changed much over time. The process of washed coffee is a fairly new concept, and is always changing with the use of modern-day equipment.

That’s our guide on Ethiopian coffee and the fascinating culture that comes with it! If you want to continue your journey around the coffee hotspots of the world, then why not read our guide on Colombian coffee next.

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