Mystical, floral, and fruity – traits that best describe Ethiopian coffee.
Even though not much is known about it, fact remains that Ethiopia is one of the most outstanding coffee producing countries in the world. There is a distinct fruity and floral taste to the coffee that is produced here.
In many ways, Ethiopia can be considered as the birthplace of coffee since this is where it flourished as a crop once the plant made its way from southern Sudan. While Yemen is commonly recognized as the country where the coffee drop was formerly grown, it is in Ethiopia that the plant grew even in the wild.
The primary coffee growing regions in the country lie in its south. The production systems here can broadly be divided into three major categories:
Plantation coffees, which grow on large farms.
Garden coffees, which are grown on a much smaller scale, such as on a homestead.
Forest coffees, which grow abundantly in the wild, especially in southwestern Ethiopia.
Delving into the history of coffee in the country, the early 1800s saw a resurgence in interest in the commodity. This is when significant quantities of coffee (estimated to be 100 quintals) were exported from Enerea, a prominent part of today's Ethiopia. This is a time when two major coffees had been recognized in the country – Abyssinia, which grew abundantly in the wild, and Harari, which was formerly cultivated in the vicinity of the town of Harar.
The 1950s saw substantial growth in Ethiopia’s coffee industry. In fact, it was in 1957 that the National Coffee Board of Ethiopia was established. Subsequent decades brought about numerous challenges to the industry though, brought about by political developments such as the overthrow of the country's emperor, and various socialist and Marxist rules implemented by the military. The end result was Ethiopia going back to harnessing its coffee from the wild.
It is only in the 1990s when the military junta was overthrown, and a democratic front was established that the country's coffee industry started to take off again. Yet, challenges in terms of price fluctuations continued to abound.
Ethiopian Commodity Exchange
The new Millennium considerably changed the fortunes of the coffee industry in Ethiopia. The most significant development on this front was the setup of Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX), back in 2008. This move benefited all commodities in the country, with coffee being no exception. However, this system had its shortcomings too since coffee was being standardized as a commodity, lacking the traceability that is key to a product of this nature. On the positive side, coffee farmers received their payments far more promptly than before.
As things stand currently, traceability of Ethiopian coffees has improved considerably in recent times.
Primary Ethiopian coffee growing regions and their types
Yirgacheffe – Aromatic, with prominent floral and citrus notes.
Harrar – Often woody and earthy, to a distinct blueberry flavor.
Jima – Heirloom variety.
Limu – Again, heirloom variety of a distinct quality.
Sidama – Aromatic, fruity coffee.
Ghimbi/Lekempti – Once again, heirloom coffee with their distinctive taste and aroma.
From being the cradle of coffee production in the world, Ethiopia ended up being sidelined for a considerable period. In recent times though, thanks to a barrage of both internal (as described above) as well as external factors (greater demand for coffee around the world, along with a taste and appreciation for Ethiopian coffee), we see a resurgence in the industry.
If things continue the same way, future prospects for stakeholders in the country's coffee production value chain only seem nice and bright!