Best Ethiopian Coffee Guide – Taste, Regions and Brewing Tips

Ethiopia is the largest coffee producer in Africa, the coffee production is the fifth in the world [1]. Indeed, many people consider Ethiopia coffee’s birthplace.

An Ethiopian coffee you are probably familiar with is Yirgacheffe, which is regarded as one of the world’s finest coffees, and highly regarded by many specialty coffee connoisseurs.

However, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee may be popular but is certainly not alone in Ethiopia’s high-quality coffees.

In this guide, we will go into detail about the kinds of coffee that Ethiopia produces. It will explain Ethiopian coffee’s flavors, pick out the best Ethiopian coffee, and how best to brew them. Let’s begin.

Ethiopia – The Birthplace Of Coffee

The story goes that coffee was first discovered in approximately 850 AD by Kaldi, an Ethiopian goat herder. Kaldi’s goats were playing and indulging in the red berries growing on a tree he wasn’t familiar with. So, he decided to eat some too. Before long, he experienced the extra energy provided to him by the caffeine content in the berries, just like his goats.

Eventually, Kaldi took some of the berries he had picked to a monk he knew in a local monastery struggling to stay awake during prayer times. When he first saw the berries, the monk was decidedly unimpressed and threw them onto a fire. However, this led to the berries roasting until the smell of freshly roasted coffee began filling the room.

Coffee was initially known as Kaffa, named after southwest Ethiopia, where it was discovered all those years ago. The video below explains more on the origin of coffee.

How does Ethiopian Coffee Taste

Its floral, bright, fruited flavors help set apart Ethiopian coffee. Coffee from Ethiopia commonly has a light-medium body, and higher acidity than other coffees, as well as complex flavors.

However, various Ethiopian coffees have many different qualities and flavors due to the country’s diverse altitudes and landscapes. And there’s a large range of uncategorized coffee growing wildly in the coffee forests known as heirloom varietal. For those reasons, Ethiopia produces hundreds of coffee varieties. A coffee you might try from a lowland region can differ significantly from one produced in highland parts.

Read on, and you’ll soon have a greater understanding of the various coffee flavor profiles found in different regions of Ethiopia.

A Quick look of our best tasting Ethiopian coffee:

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Ethiopian Coffee Regions

When you’re on the lookout for the best-quality Ethiopian coffee, it’s vital to understand which regions produce what types. This section will explain what you can expect whenever you see coffee labeled as Ethiopian Sidamo, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, and Ethiopian Harrar.

Coffee production takes place in three primary regions of Ethiopia – Sidamo, Yirgacheffe, and Harrar. These are the names you’ll usually find when you’re shopping for Ethiopian coffee. Each of the three areas produces coffee with flavors unique to that region.

In general, you can expect to find the following in Ethiopian Arabica beans.

  • Sidamo: full-bodied coffee, crisp and citrusy.
  • Yirgacheffe: light-to medium-bodied coffee that’s floral and bright.
  • Harrar: heavy-bodied, fruity, and intense coffee.

Sidamo (Sidama)

Sidamo is a sizable region in the Rift Valley of the country with fertile highlands (1,500 to 2,200 meters above sea level). Sidamo is one of Ethiopia’s three trademarked coffee regions, together with Yirgacheffe and Harrar. It has the perfect temperatures, plenty of rain, and soil that’s fertile and well-suited for growing coffee plant and coffee cultivation.

Sidamo Coffees are well-known for being full-bodied, crisp, and vibrant with citrus and floral notes.

Yirgacheffe

Yirgahceffe is in the Sidamo region. However, because of its unique and high-quality coffees, it’s subdivided into a trademarked micro-region. A lot of the coffee producers of Yirgacheffe use the wet processing method. Yirgacheffe is one of the most popular arabica coffees for specialty lovers.

Coffee from the Yirgacheffe region is medium-bodied and bright with exhilarating higher acidity, distinctive aromatic floral tones and a complex and robust flavor.

Sidamo Guji

Located to the south of Sidamo, Guji is another well-known region for its coffee production. Some of the best roasters and specialty buyers in the world turn to Guji for their coffee beans. The beans themselves are similar to tea in the body, while the flavor notes are sweet and floral, melon, peach, and jasmine.

Harrar

Situated on the east of the country, Harrar produces predominantly natural processed coffee (or dry-processed).

Coffees of this region grown at altitudes of between 1,400 and 2,000 meters above sea level have fruity acidity and an intense flavor, with hints of blackberry and blueberry. Coffee from Harrar is usually favored in espresso blends owing to its heavy-bodied nature.

Other regions to be aware of include Jimma and Lima, which produce coffees with flavors unique to those areas too. Overall, this variety helps make Ethiopia one of the most well-regarded coffee-growing countries in the world.

Ethiopian Coffee Processing

Aside from the coffee regions, the processing methods mentioned in the product’s name are also a consideration when choosing the best Ethiopian coffee.

The method of processing can have a significant effect on the finished product’s taste.

As a general rule, there are two processing methods during the coffee production – naturally processed or washed. The majority of coffee in Ethiopia is processed naturally, and it has been done this way for hundreds of years. However, wet processing is a far more recent method and only began in the 1970s in Ethiopia. Yirgahcheffe was the area that had the first wet processing mill.

Natural (Or Dry) Processing

The method of natural processing involves placing freshly picked coffee cherries in the sun to dry. Hints of lime, peach, grape, and cherry are probable in a flavor that resembles wine or fruit. The natural processing method also lends the flavor an earthiness. However, beans need to be dried properly, otherwise, they become too sour and brittle.

Wet Processing

When you wash or wet process beans, the fruit is mechanically removed immediately. After this, the beans are fermented, cleaned, sorted, and dried in washing stations. Ethiopian coffee beans of this nature have real clarity of flavor profile. So, expect your cup of coffee to taste clean with complex and bright notes.

The beans’ processing is an in-depth subject of its own, so that we won’t go into too much detail in this article. However, the link below gives a fuller explanation of what’s involved in Ethiopian coffee processing.

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony 

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is a traditional ritual that has been taking place for generations. Coffee is a way of life for Ethiopians, and they will drink it for hours every day. There’s even a proverb from the country, “Buna Dabo Naw,” which translates as “Coffee is our bread.”

The ceremony’s duration is typically around one to two hours, and families often partake in two or three of them every day. The green coffee beans are placed in a pan and then roasted over hot coals, then crushed with a mortar and pestle before being brewed using a piece of narrow-spouted traditional pottery. You then pour the coffee gradually, so the grounds don’t enter the cup. It is then drunk from small cups that don’t have handles. The coffee is drunk without milk, but many people will have it with sugar.f

As the ceremony progresses, the people taking part talk about various things, including current events. They also share stories. They will also eat traditional bread and popcorn with the coffee. The ceremony represents the country’s most significant social connection.

You can see a video explaining it in greater detail about the coffee culture in Ethiopia here. 

What’s The Best Way To Brew Ethiopian Coffee?

Care is needed through all aspects of the beans’ life, from growing to harvesting, processing, and roasting before reaching you. However, the degree to which you enjoy Ethiopian coffee will differ depending on your preferences and methods. You may not want to take the time to attempt the Ethiopian coffee ceremony of the type described above. However, there are some other ways to enjoy Ethiopian coffee. Let’s look at them.

Pour Over

Manual pour over both gives the most flavorsome coffee and provides the maker more control over the brewing process. With either a Hario V60 or a Chemex, you can allay any fears you may have over getting a bitter cup of coffee for one with a fruity, bright, and clean taste. Not only that but because the paper filters soak up the oil, your coffee will retain much of the clarity of the original flavors.

Cold Brew

Thanks to their fruitiness and floral notes, you can make an excellent iced coffee or cold brew using Ethiopian coffee beans. You can get a refreshing and smooth coffee as cold brew balances the acidity with fruitier notes. If you’d rather not wait 24 hours for the coffee, Ethiopian beans are also fantastic for iced pour over. It will be slightly more acidic than the cold brew.

Is Ethiopian Coffee Good For Espresso?

The fruity taste of Ethiopia coffee is beautifully preserved in espresso, making it a great option. However, we still think manual brewing is where Ethiopian coffee excels.

We particularly like the pour over and cold brew. Don’t discount the idea of using a drip coffee maker or French press with Ethiopian coffee either. Whichever method you use, you’ll maximize the flavor is to grind the beans immediately before brewing.

Where To Buy Ethiopian Coffee

Now you already know something about Ethiopian coffee’s history, taste, regions, and coffee industry, it’s time to enjoy the delicious coffee.

Due to the rising popularity in the specialty coffee industry, many roasters will get high-quality coffee from Ethiopia. For your freshest option, try your local roaster or coffee shop first.

If that’s not an option for you, try looking on the internet. It won’t necessarily be as fresh, but there are still some fantastic options at your disposal. Here are our favorites Ethiopian coffee brands.

Our Recommendations: The Best Ethiopian Coffee Beans

Volcanica Coffee – Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee

Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee bean

Volcanica is a well-regarded roaster that sources excellent coffee from volcanic areas worldwide, and the company freshly roasts its beans. If you purchase their products from Amazon, the brand guarantees the beans are roasted no more than 30 days earlier, meaning that the all-important freshness of the coffee will be intact.

Most of these single-origin Arabica coffee beans are harvested from coffee trees growing wild organically in Yirgacheffe, lending the coffee a complex and exotic flavor.

As with other Yirgacheffe beans, they are wet-processed. They’re also medium roasted, so you’ll get a beautifully acidy, medium-bodied brew with fruity tones and rough complexity. There’s a nice hint of bitterness among the notes of dark chocolate, lavender, pineapple guava, and ripe strawberry. It’s fair-trade and kosher certified.

Cooper’s Cask – Ethiopian Bold Light Roast Grade 1, Whole Bean Coffee

cooper ethiopia coffee

These Farm Gate beans mean they were bought straight from the farmer’s “gate.” This fair trade certified coffee bean is an excellent choice for coffee lovers wanting to help support smaller Ethiopian coffee farmers.

This option is single-origin and micro-lot, meaning the coffee beans come from just one coffee farm or coffee farms in a certain field. If you love a particular flavor profile and want it consistently, this is perfect.

The beans are dry-processed at a farm 2,000 meters above sea level in Goma Woreda which adds some of the cherries to the beans for a unique citrus, wild berry, and raw floral honey undertone.

Small batches of beans are roasted so you can control the taste profile of the coffee. Light roast beans from Ethiopia get the most out of the brightness and intensity of flavor. You can also detect the raw honey, lemon tart, and floral nectar in its taste.

One drawback is the lack of a roasting date on the pack. However, it still gets positive reviews, and if you can get beyond that issue, it’s well worth trying. Cooper’s also offers ground coffee for your convenience.

Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Kochere Coffee, Medium Roast, Whole Bean

Fresh Roasted, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

Kochere is a small area of the better-known Yagacheffe region of the country. The soil, which is acidic and dense in minerals, and high altitude, is perfect for growing coffee.

These coffee beans are medium roasted and wet-processed. It has a lemony flavor and provides a mellow and well-balanced drink. It is not as acidy as other Ethiopian coffees and is popular with most coffee enthusiasts.

Stone Street Coffee Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Fresh Roasted Coffee

Stone Street Coffee

This Brooklyn-based company, established in 2009, is a specialty roaster. Stone Street coffee is known for being artisanal, producing a tasty and robust brew that keeps freshness to the fore.

The company has Yirgacheffe coffee with floral notes and a fragrant, smooth-bodied, and mellow brew. It’s a great-tasting coffee available for a reasonable price.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, if you were already familiar with Ethiopian coffee, this article has introduced you to some of the other Ethiopian regions that also produce fantastic coffee. If you’ve yet to try it, we hope we’ve whetted your appetite – and you can easily get going by finding freshly roasted beans from roasters globally.

If you’re entirely new to Ethiopian coffee, we recommend starting with the Sidamo and Yirgacheffe coffees. Meanwhile, manual pour over, lightly roast coffee is a great way to get started.

Once you’ve experienced Ethiopian coffee, you’ll be in little doubt as to why it’s held in such high regard – that’s because it’s quite simply just very impressive and of extremely high quality.

References:

[1] https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/ethiopia-coffee-market