Äthiopischer Kaffee: Geschichte, Geschmacksprofil, Anbaugebiete und Verarbeitungsmethoden

Ethiopian coffee: history, flavor profile, growing regions and processing methods

Adiam Engeda

Ethiopia is home to unique and diverse coffee varieties that are highly valued by coffee enthusiasts around the world. Ethiopia is considered the cradle of coffee and is the only place where the native coffee plant still grows in the wild. From the fruity flavors of Yirgacheffe to the vinous and expansive flavors of Limu, tasting Ethiopian coffee is an absolute must for every coffee lover.

In this article, we will explore the history of Ethiopian coffee, its flavor profile, processing methods, recommended roast level, and the coffee tradition in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia Coffee: Interesting facts about coffee cultivation in Ethiopia

The Origin of Ethiopian Coffee: A Brief History of its Discovery

Coffee is an integral part of Ethiopian culture and economy. Its discovery can be traced back to 850 AD. There are several legends about how coffee beans were discovered in the southwestern forests of Ethiopia, but the story of Kaldi and his dancing goats is the best known.

The legend of Kaldi and his dancing goats

According to legend, an Ethiopian goatherd named Kaldi discovered the stimulating effects of coffee. Kaldi lived around 850 AD in the southwestern highlands in the Kaffa region. One day he noticed that his goats were acting strangely after eating berries from a certain plant. They jumped and played around, and Kaldi wondered what caused this sudden burst of energy. Curious, Kaldi tried the berries himself and experienced a similar feeling of alertness and energy.

Excited by his discovery, Kaldi took the berries to a local monastery and explained their magical properties to the monks. However, a skeptical monk threw the berries into the fire because he thought they were the work of the devil.

However, according to legend, the aroma of the beans burning in the fire was so delicious that the monks decided to remove them from the fire. They doused the beans with water to cool and preserve them, and later drank the resulting mixture. The drink kept them awake during evening prayers, and they have since used it to stay awake during long periods of prayer and meditation. Word of the plant's invigorating effects soon spread throughout Ethiopia. And so, according to legend, coffee as we know it today was discovered!

Although this story is popular among historians, it is likely that the Oromo pastoral people first discovered the coffee plant and its invigorating properties (though not as a drink). It is believed that these people collected the coffee beans, ground them and mixed them with animal fat or butter into small balls that they carried with them as provisions on long journeys.

The custom of eating ground coffee with ghee (clarified butter) is still practiced in some parts of Ethiopia, particularly in the Kaffa and Sidamo regions. And in Kaffa, some people add a small amount of melted ghee to their brewed coffee. Locals believe that adding ghee improves the taste and nutritional value of the drink.

The native coffee trees grow in southwest Ethiopia in an area called "Kaffa". The coffee trees were called Kaffa, which is probably the root word for “coffee.” According to UNESCO, there are about 5,000 wild Arabica coffee varieties in Kaffa today, and the cultivation of wild coffee beans is still widespread in Kaffa.

The spread of coffee from Ethiopia to the rest of the world

After its discovery, coffee quickly gained popularity in Ethiopia and spread to other parts of the world. Sufi mystics who visited Ethiopia in the 15th century brought coffee to Yemen, where it was grown on a large scale.

In the 16th century, the invigorating effects of coffee were also known in the Middle East and Persia. Coffee was considered a medicine and religious drink. Islamic pilgrims spread coffee throughout the Middle East, eventually reaching India and Europe in the 16th century. It is said that Baba Budan, a Sufi saint from India, brought the coffee plant to India by smuggling raw beans from the port of Mocha in Yemen in 1670 after returning from a pilgrimage. At the time, Yemeni authorities only exported roasted coffee to prevent the spread of the coffee plant.

Coffee became an important commodity in the global economy as it gained popularity. Today, coffee is grown in many countries, but Ethiopia remains one of the most important and popular producers.

The Ethiopian coffee growing regions and their flavor profiles

As already mentioned, Arabica coffee is native to southwest Ethiopia and still grows wild there. It is estimated that there are more than 10,000 varieties of coffee and uncategorized coffee plants known only as heirlooms. Due to the large variety of varieties, Ethiopian coffee has an enormous variety of flavors, and this is a major advantage that Ethiopia has over other coffee-growing countries, which usually only grow a single variety. However, the lack of a specific variety means that Ethiopian coffee is named after its growing areas such as Sidamo, Yirgacheffe or Limu, rather than a variety such as Typica or Bourbon .

One of the characteristic features of the Ethiopian coffee growing regions is their high altitude (over 1,400 m) with mountain ranges and valleys. Coffee grows on these plateaus and mountain ranges between 1,400 and 2,200 meters above sea level. This means that coffee beans from Ethiopia are considered “strictly high grown (SHG) and strictly hard bean (SHB)”. What does that mean? Well, coffee beans grow slower at high altitudes due to the cooler climate, giving them time to absorb nutrients and develop a distinctive and complex flavor profile that reflects their local terroir (soil, topography and climate).

It is difficult to generalize the flavor profile of Ethiopian coffee. In fact, there is no country that offers as wide a range of flavor profiles as Ethiopian coffee. Each coffee growing area, each micro-region and sometimes even each farm contains different types of coffee and therefore a distinctive aroma. Despite the differences between Ethiopian coffee varieties, there are certain similarities that may be worth noting. The notable characteristics of Ethiopian coffee include the following:

  • Ethiopian coffee grows at high altitudes, resulting in a hard and dense bean with a complex flavor profile and intense aroma.
  • Fruit flavors are predominant in Ethiopian coffee in all regions, but the specific fruit notes can vary depending on the region. Notes of citrus fruits and chocolate can often be tasted. Notes of wild berries and jasmine are also often found.
  • Ethiopian coffee has a complex flavor profile: an alternation of aromas and sensations in the finished brew.
  • Ethiopian coffees can be full-bodied (Harrar), medium-bodied (Aderacha), or light-bodied (washed Yirgacheffe). Regardless of the body, Ethiopian coffees have a soft and pleasant mouthfeel.

Despite the similarities mentioned above, there are six major coffee growing regions in Ethiopia with different flavor profiles. It is also worth noting that within a larger region there are protected sub-regions such as Yirgacheffe. A list of all coffee growing regions and sub-regions can be found on the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) website.


Harrar coffee is grown in the eastern highlands of Ethiopia in the Oromia region (formerly Harrar) at an altitude of 1,500 to 2,100 meters. The Harrar coffee growing region has a long history of coffee cultivation, and many coffee farms in Harrar are owned by small farmers. Since there is relatively little rain in the region, all coffee from Harrar is naturally processed (sun-dried).

Several ancient varieties thrive in Harrar, producing special and excellent coffee in the unique environmental conditions, including high altitude, relatively dry climate and soil conditions. It is known for its soft body and vinous aroma with notes of blueberries, although it can also have a range of other fruity and fruit-like flavors. Because of its vinous undertones and smooth body, Harrar coffee is primarily used by roasters as an espresso blend.

Altitude: 1,500 to 2,100 meters above sea level
Preparation method: Natural process (sun-dried)
Flavor profile: winey aroma with notes of wildberry
Body: Soft and heavy


Sidamo is located in southeastern Ethiopia and lies in the Great Rift Valley that runs through the country. The coffee in Sidamo grows at altitudes between 1,500 and 2,200 meters above sea level. As a coffee-growing region, Sidamo has an extraordinarily wide variety of coffee flavors that differ significantly from micro-region to micro-region. Please note that Sidamo also includes Yirgacheffe, which is classified as an independent growing region.

Describing Sidamo coffees in a single way can be difficult, as you can quickly come across a coffee that has a completely different profile. However, Sidamo coffee is famous for its remarkable complexity, which comes from the diversity of heirloom varieties grown in the region. The coffee is sourced from farmers, each owning a small farm and often growing their unique varieties that have been passed down through generations. Once harvested, the coffees are blended in a cooperative, creating a blend with a complex flavor profile. In general, it is known for its complex fruit flavors, floral aroma, citric acidity, medium body and smooth mouthfeel. Sidamo produces both washed and naturally processed coffees.

Altitude: 1,500 to 2,200 meters above sea level
Preparation method: Natural (sun-dried) and washed
Flavor profile: complex fruit flavor, floral aroma
Body: medium body


Yirgacheffe is a small micro-region harvested in the higher elevations of the much larger Sidamo region in southern Ethiopia, more specifically in the mountain town of Yirgacheffe (also Yirga Chefe). Although Yirgacheffe is much smaller than other coffee growing regions in Ethiopia, it produces coffees with a distinct floral and fruity flavor profile, allowing it to be considered a growing region in its own right. These coffees are grown at altitudes of around 2,000 meters on fertile soils and in the shade of other garden fruit trees in a tropical climate. The intense floral aroma and fruity flavor that are a hallmark of Yirgacheffe coffee are due to the extreme altitude at which the coffee is grown.

Yirgacheffe coffee is typically grown on small family farms, commonly known as garden coffee. These farms typically produce a relatively small amount of coffee beans. Each farmer delivers his own coffee to a local washing plant. The rich complexity in a cup of Yirgacheffe is largely a product of this unique combination of garden coffee.

Both washed and naturally processed coffees are produced in Yirgacheffe. It is well known that the final taste of coffee is influenced by the processing method used. Yirgacheffe washed coffee exhibits bright citrus acidity, light body and excellent sweetness, often with fruity aromas and floral notes. Naturally processed Yirgacheffe coffee, on the other hand, is known for its higher sweetness and medium body, complemented by fruit flavors and berry undertones.

Altitude: 1,700 to 2,400 meters above sea level
Preparation method: Natural (sun-dried) and washed
Flavor profile: bright citrus acidity, and an excellent sweetness, often with fruity aromas and floral notes.
Body: light body


The Limu growing region is located west of the capital Addis Ababa in central Ethiopia. Coffee is grown in this region at an altitude of 1,480 to 1,890 meters above sea level. Considered a premium gourmet coffee (a prestigious title), Limu coffee is known for producing a well-balanced brew with a fruity and spicy flavor profile and an undertone of dark chocolate. In addition, Limu coffee has a low acidity, which some people highly value. Limu traditionally produces wet-processed coffees.

Altitude: 1,400 to 1,890 meters above sea level
Preparation method: Natural process (sun-dried)
Flavor profile: a fruity and spicy flavor profile and an undertone of dark chocolate
Body: medium and balanced


Jimma, also called "Djmmah", is Ethiopia's largest basket of naturally processed coffees, comprising all natural coffees from the southwest region of Ethiopia. It lies between 1600 and 1900 meters above sea level and is one of the rainiest regions in Ethiopia. The Jumma region has a variety of native coffee plant varieties that can vary significantly in quality. Because of this diversity, it was difficult to categorize the flavor profile of the coffee produced in Jumma. But recently, many small micro-regions within the traditional Jumma area are marketing their coffee under a different name. Anderacha coffee is a good example of this. It is produced in the Sheka Forest , a UNESCO-recognized biosphere reserve.

Altitude: 1,600 to 1,900 meters above sea level
Processing method: washed
Taste profile: winey aroma with notes of berry
Body: medium and balanced


Guji, the southern Ethiopian coffee growing region, is a remote and densely forested area south of Sidamo. In fact, Guji was originally considered part of the Sidamo coffee-growing region. Later, in 2002, it was established as a separate growing area and named after the Guji people of Oromia. The people of Guji have been growing coffee in their fields for centuries, and many Guji farmers still use the same traditional techniques today. Coffee is often grown alongside food crops to make the most of the land and reduce the risk of pests and diseases.

Like many other coffee-growing regions in southern Ethiopia, Guji has a wide range of regional heirloom coffee varieties. These are coffee varieties that are native to the region and have been growing there naturally for centuries. Guji coffee is grown at altitudes between 1808 and 2200 meters above sea level. The high altitude combined with the fertile volcanic soil, dense forests and many native varieties gives Guji coffee a special flavor profile that sets it apart from other Ethiopian coffee growing regions.

Traditionally, the coffee in Guji was processed naturally (sun-dried), but recently the number of washing stations has increased due to the growing demand for Guji coffee in the specialty coffee world. Nowadays, washed Guji coffee is also quite common.
Although Guji coffee is geographically close to Sidamo and Yirgacheffe, its flavor profile is easily distinguishable from Sidamo and Yirgacheffe. In general, coffees from this region offer balanced and complex flavors with a smooth body. Flavor notes include dark chocolate and jasmine-like flowers with a sweet aftertaste, making it highly desirable for a wide range of preparations, including espresso.

Altitude: 1,800 to 2,200 meters above sea level
Preparation method: Natural (sun-dried) and washed
Flavor Profile: Chocolate and jasmine-like flowers with a sweet aftertaste
Body: soft body

Coffee cultivation and harvesting practices in Ethiopia

Coffee cultivation and harvesting have a centuries-old tradition in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is the country where the Arabica coffee plant was first discovered. Since coffee is native to Ethiopia, it is perfectly adapted to the climate and usually grows in the shade of other plants without the use of agricultural chemicals. This is an immense advantage that Ethiopia has over other coffee producing countries. As coffee was brought to other countries, people had to find ways to adapt it to the local climate. Arabica coffee grows best in places that have a similar climate to Ethiopia - mountainous and tropical climates with wet and dry seasons.

Ethiopia, the country of origin of Arabica coffee, has another advantage. Thousands of heirloom varieties are grown in Ethiopia. Heirloom Varietal" is a collective term for a mixture of these native varieties that have been grown and harvested in a region for generations. It is estimated that there are more than 10,000 varieties of coffee in Ethiopia. Each of them has its own characteristics, which are caused by different growing conditions, processing methods and Cultivation techniques are influenced even further. In many cases, Ethiopian farmers grow their own unique heirloom varieties, most of which do not grow anywhere else in the world, resulting in a unique flavor profile that reflects the terroir and farming methods of the region. In contrast To do this, coffee farmers everywhere else in the world must grow certain types of coffee and create the ideal conditions, such as planting additional trees to provide shade for the coffee trees.

There are three types of coffee cultivation in Ethiopia: forest coffee, garden coffee and plantation coffee.

Forest coffee

Forest coffee is the name given to coffee that grows in natural forests. It is also known as wild coffee because it grows in the wild under the natural forest cover with little or no human intervention. It is the traditional method practiced by small farmers, especially in the birthplace of Arabica coffee, southwest Ethiopia. Forest coffee is hand-picked, sorted and processed using traditional methods, including sun-drying and hulling. This is a labor-intensive process, but results in high quality coffee that is appreciated by coffee lovers worldwide.

In addition to its high quality, forest coffee is also ecologically sustainable. It is grown in a natural ecosystem and requires little or no intervention from farmers. However, the yield of forest coffee is lower compared to other production methods.

Garden coffee

Garden coffee is the most popular method of coffee production in Ethiopia. It is grown in small plots near farmers' homesteads, usually less than a hectare in size. The coffee plants are grown alongside other crops such as vegetables, fruit trees and spices, creating a diverse ecosystem that maintains soil fertility, maximizes yield and reduces the risk of pests and diseases.

Coffee growing regions such as Sidamo, Yirgacheffe, Harrar and Guji are known for the production of garden coffee. Farmers in these areas deliver their coffee to nearby washing stations, to which everyone contributes. The result is a blend with complex and distinct flavor profiles that reflect the region's terroir and growing practices - the truest expression of local terroir. This is one of the many factors that make Ethiopian coffee so valuable and sought after.

Plantation coffee

Plantation coffee is a method of coffee production in Ethiopia in which the coffee is grown on large farms owned by companies or wealthy individuals. Although it only accounts for about 5% of total coffee production in Ethiopia, it is a growing trend. Plantation coffee relies on intensive inputs such as fertilization, integrated weed and pest control, regulated shading and plant density. This production method provides relatively higher yields than forest and garden coffee.

Coffee processing methods in Ethiopia

After harvesting, coffee beans in Ethiopia are typically processed using one of two methods: natural process (sun-dried) or washed process (wet processing). The type of coffee preparation has a significant impact on the final taste of the coffee. The majority of Ethiopian coffee is processed naturally. Coffee has been processed this way for centuries. Wet processing, on the other hand, is a relatively new method of coffee processing in Ethiopia.

Natural preparation (sun-dried)

The natural preparation method is the oldest and most traditional way of preparing coffee in Ethiopia. In this method, the coffee cherries are laid out on a raised bed or clean patio to dry in the sun with the fruit still intact. To ensure even drying, the cherries are turned regularly during the drying period. Over time, the skin and sticky juice of the cherries dry out in the sun, which can take several days to a few weeks depending on the temperature and intensity of the sun. Eventually the cherries become hard and dry, and their size shrinks. Once the cherries are completely dried, they are taken to a peeling station where the outer cherry is removed.

Particular care must be taken to ensure that the cherries are dried evenly and do not come into contact with any contamination. When it rains, the coffee cherries are covered. Improper drying or exposure to moisture can result in poor test results or even fermented flavors in the cup. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain proper drying conditions for the cherries throughout the entire process.

On the other hand, it is affordable and requires the least equipment, making it affordable even for small farmers. Another important advantage of natural processing is that no water is required. Therefore, naturally processed coffees are more common in dry and remote villages. The dried fruit peels are usually later removed from the beans in central mills.

Fun fact: In some regions of Ethiopia, the fruit peel is brewed and drunk as tea (hasher-qahwa). Locals swear by the drink’s health benefits and exceptional taste! But be careful, the caffeine content is considerable.

In general, naturally processed coffees have a sweet, fruity flavor profile and a creamy mouthfeel, which is due to the cherry's prolonged contact with its own natural sugars during drying. They tend to have stronger fruit notes, such as blueberry, and are heavier in body with deep chocolate tones. Naturally processed green coffee beans often have a yellowish or orange, thin skin on the top of the beans. It is the result of the beans' prolonged exposure to the juicy natural sugars that are absorbed into the bean during drying. As a result, naturally prepared coffee beans produce a lot of chaff when roasted and burn relatively easily at higher roasting temperatures because of the sugar that has penetrated the bean.

Wet processing (washed process)

The wet processing method, also known as washed process, is a relatively new method of processing coffee beans in Ethiopia (since the early 1970s). This method involves several steps including sorting, pulping, fermentation, washing and drying.

Sorting: Removing the unripe or defective cherries

The first step in wet processing is sorting the coffee cherries. Although farmers in Ethiopia only harvest ripe cherries by hand, they are further sorted at the washing station. Unripe and defective cherries are sorted out by hand. The cherries are then immersed in water and the less dense cherries floating at the top of the tank are skimmed off, which is a sign of a defect or low quality. Sorting is important to ensure that only high quality cherries are used for further steps.


After sorting, the coffee cherries are depulped to remove the outer skin and pulp. This machine (depulper) presses the seeds from the outer layer of the cherry, called the pulp. Dehulling usually occurs as soon as possible after washing, usually within 8 to 12 hours after harvest. After the shells have been removed, the kernels are still covered in their sticky fruit material, the so-called mucilage.


After the beans are shelled, the slime-coated, sticky seeds are placed in a fermentation container, usually cement. Fermentation breaks down the sugar in the mucus and softens the mucus so that it can be more easily removed in the washing phase.

Fermentation typically takes 12 to 24 hours, but may take longer depending on weather and other factors. The fermentation process must be carefully monitored so that the coffee does not acquire undesirable sour flavors.


After fermentation, the beans are washed to remove any remaining mucilage. To do this, the coffee is placed in washing troughs filled with clean water. Workers use wooden rakes to continually push the coffee against the slow-moving water to move it. Shaking vigorously in the water removes any remaining slime, leaving the coffee in its parchment layer clean and ready to dry.


The last step of wet processing is drying. The beans are spread out on drying beds and dried for 1 to 2 weeks, depending on the weather. During the drying process, the beans are turned regularly to ensure even drying. Once the beans have reached the desired moisture content of approximately 11-12%, they are bagged and transported in their parchment layer to a storage unit or warehouse where they rest in bags until ready for export. Then the parchment is removed and the coffee is shipped.

Washed coffee from Ethiopia is characterized by its clarity of taste and aroma. This process ensures a clean, genuine aroma and consistent flavor profile that is not influenced by the cherry's natural sugars and flavors. It produces a bright, colorful cup of coffee with a pleasant intensity. Additionally, with washed Ethiopian coffee, the citrus acidity and floral notes come through more clearly.

The type of coffee processing has a major influence on the flavor profile of the coffee. If you are a coffee lover, understanding the different processing methods used in coffee production can help you identify or expect the test grade. For example, if you are looking for a clear, fruity acidity with a certain intensity, a washed coffee is right for you. If you prefer a relatively sweet taste with a heavier cup, a naturally processed coffee would be ideal.

Classification of Ethiopian coffee

All Ethiopian coffees are graded according to their quality, which is determined by both taste evaluation (cupping) and visual inspection of defects. Each coffee is given a geographical name and a grade from 1 to 9, e.g. B. Yirgacheffe Grade 1. The first part of the name indicates the region in which the coffee was grown. Coffees with a grade of 1 or 2 are labeled “specialty coffee” and grades 3 to 9 are labeled “commercial coffee.” Only coffees with a score of 80 or higher are given the designation of “Specialty Coffee,” while a coffee with a score of less than 80 is classified as a commercial coffee.

Unlike other types of coffee, Ethiopian coffee is graded based on quality rather than sieve size or altitude. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to the quality when buying Ethiopian coffee. It is worth noting that only the first five grades of Ethiopian coffee are permitted for export. At EastAfro Coffee we only offer Grade 1 and Grade 2 Ethiopian coffees.

How to Roast Ethiopian Coffee?

There are a few important points to keep in mind when roasting Ethiopian coffee. Ethiopian coffee beans tend to be hard and dense because they are grown at high altitudes. They are also smaller compared to other origins and often come in different sizes in one bag.

It is important to start with a low loading temperature and progress to the "first crack" stage, where the beans expand and release moisture. Due to the different sizes of Ethiopian beans, the first crack can be trickling, so it is important to lower the energy during this phase to ensure a longer development time.

When it comes to roast level, medium to medium-dark roast levels are ideal for Ethiopian coffee. A medium roast produces a balanced brew with bright acidity, sweet flavors and a medium body. With a medium-dark roast, dark chocolate and winey flavors dominate the cup. With a lighter roast, the natural fruit acids are not fully broken down, resulting in a slightly sour and sour taste with citrus undertones. If the roast were darker, many of the subtle aromas that characterize Ethiopian coffee would have already disappeared.

If beans are roasted too quickly, they will develop a burnt surface and an underdeveloped interior. In addition, sudden, intense heat should be avoided during the roasting process. Gentle roasting is therefore essential for the dense, hard and relatively small Ethiopian coffee beans.

For espresso, for example, you can extend the development time during the roasting process to achieve a medium-dark roast. The goal is to give the beans the opportunity to develop their very own distinctive flavor profile and produce a highly concentrated and full-bodied brew without the bitterness of a dark roast. On the other hand, the subtle flavors and acidity can be enhanced by a medium roast with a relatively short time at lower temperatures.

The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony: A Symbol of Hospitality and Friendship

In Ethiopia, coffee is more than just a drink. It is a symbol of hospitality, friendship and community. The coffee ceremony has great cultural significance and serves as an important social link. Neighbors are often invited, and conversations can range from politics to family matters and more. Being invited for coffee as a guest is a sign of respect and affection.

The woman of the house usually performs the ceremony. The process begins with roasting the green coffee beans over an open flame in a pan. The beans are then ground in a wooden mortar and pestle and the coffee grounds are placed in a "jebena" containing boiling water. The Jebena is a clay vessel with a spherical base, a neck and possibly. a pouring spout, a handle and a lid made of straw or cow tail. The mixture is left on an open flame for a few minutes so that the coffee mixes well with the hot water.

To serve the coffee, the host tilts the "jebena" and pours the coffee into small, handleless cups called finjal until each is full. Pour slowly to avoid spilling the grounds with the coffee. The coffee grounds are usually brewed three times. After the first brew, more water is added to the pot and boiled again for the second and third brews. The coffee may not be as strong as the first time, but it is just as important to the ceremony. A spoonful of sugar is usually added to coffee, and in rural areas sometimes salt or butter is added.

Loose grass is spread on the ground where the coffee ceremony takes place, which is often decorated with small yellow flowers on special occasions such as holidays. A small snack is usually served with coffee, e.g. E.g. popcorn, peanuts or himbasha (traditional pastries).

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