Coffee is a beverage obtained from a coffee plant’s fruit called cherry. The coffee plant refers to any type of tree in the genus madder family which is actually a tropical evergreen shrub that has the potential to grow 100 feet tall. Coffea arabica and Coffea robusta are the two most commonly cultivated species of coffee plant having economic significance. Arabica accounts for about 70 percent of the world’s coffee production. Robusta coffee trees represent about 30 percent of the world’s market.

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The coffee trees grow well in tropical regions with abundant rainfall, year-round warm temperatures with no frost. The coffee tree needs an average temperature between 17° C to 23° C with abundant precipitation and good soil conditions for good growth. The coffee plant produces its first full crop of beans at about 5 years old and then remains productive for about 15 years.

 Domestic Scenario: Ethiopia is known to be the birth place for coffee. Coffee is the major export commodity cultivated in Ethiopia. Coffee grown in Ethiopia is known all over the world for it excellent quality and flavor. Today, Ethiopia stands as the biggest coffee producer and exporter in Africa and amongest the leading in the world.

Coffee Varieties: The type and grade of coffee is highly diverse in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is the producer for the several renowned varieties of coffee including Sidama, Yirgacheffe, jimma and Harar. Apart from these, there are several other famous varieties that Ethiopia produces. The Ethiopian coffee is processed in two ways, washed processing and the sundried processing.

Commercialization: The crop of coffee is the major earner of foreign exchange for the country. It is the primary exportable commodity that earns the valuable foreign exchange for the country. However, coffee is also having a vibrant domestic market.

Prices: Coffee prices exhibited high inter year variations from season to season. These variations are a combined effect of the factors reflecting domestic supply and the periodic trends of the global coffee demand and supply situations. Also the variation can be seen between different varieties and grades of the coffee also. Some varieties like the yeirgacheffe and sidama command considerable premium in the International markets. 

Coffee Export

Coffee is the second traded agricultural commodity in the world. Coffee plays a pivotal role in the socio-economy of Ethiopia. It employs above 20 percent of the economically active population and contributes more than 25% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. It is cultivated by over 4 million primarily smallholder farming households who earn their income directly from coffee production and has created job opportunity for many urban populations.

Coffee Arabica, the only type of coffee grows in Ethiopia and Ethiopia produces varieties of coffee that have rich original flavors and exports coffee of different types and grades. Recently, Ethiopia has been exporting several specialty coffee types, such as, Sidama, Guji, Djimmma, Lekemti, Harrar, Yirgacheffe, Limmu, Teppi, Ghimbi, Keffa forest, Gemadro, Bebeka, Godere, Bench Maji, Bale, Anderacha, Zege, Amaro, Arsi, Kochere, Ayu, Gura Ferda, Shegitu, Wellega, Geisha, Gera, Yeki, and many more. Ethiopian coffee is highly valued by consumers in a range of coffee importing countries. Ethiopia exports its Arabica Coffee to Europe, Asia, America, Australia and Middle East and other parts of the world.

Ethiopian Specialty Coffee

Ethiopian coffee has unique flavors: Spicy of Sidamo coffee, Winy of Limu coffee, Fruity of Nekemti Coffee, Floral of Yirgachefe Coffee, Mocha of Harar Coffee and many more

Ethiopian Coffee Characteristics and Flavors in Brief

Raw AppearanceSizeTaste
YirgacheffeBluishMedium to LargeFlowery fragrance and lemony
SidamoGreenishSmall to MediumSpicy and flowery fragrance
HarrarGreenishSmall to LargeMocha Fragrance
LimmuGreenishSmall to LargeSpicy and Winery with Flower Aroma
Teppi (highland)Faded GreenishMedium to LargeSpicy Fragrance
Tepi (lowland)Faded GreenishMedium to LargeHerbal
BebekaGrayishMedium to LargeHerbal Flavor
LekemptyGreenishMedium to LargeMild Fruity

Coffee Production System in Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, coffee is produced in forest, semi-forest, garden and plantation production methods. Generally, Ethiopian coffee is grown in sustainable approach: environmentally friendly, shade grown and ecologically sound. It is estimated that these different production systems make up about forest (10%), semi-forest (35%), garden coffee (50%), and plantation coffee (5 %) of the total coffee production in the country. Plantation and cooperative coffee account for above 10% of the export volume and about 15% of share by monetary value. It is estimated that smallholder farmers produce above 90 % of Ethiopian coffee that is organically produced.

Forest Coffee

Coffee has naturally been growing in its ancestor home in the wild forest of South West and South East of Ethiopia. These Indigenous coffees grow and exist with enormously heterogeneous species of overhead shade trees, shrubs and small bushes. It grown in the wild under natural forest cover and is gathered by farmers from trees with minor tree maintenance. They live together for mutual benefit with ecological balance. Forest coffee mainly exists in the birth place of Coffee Arabica, South Western part of Ethiopia.

Semi-Forest Coffee

The natural forest coffee gradually transformed to the semi-forest coffee production with slight modifications in the forest. In this production, there are slashing of weeds, small bushes and shrubs for shade regulation and infilling with self-grown seedlings are considered as a normal cultural practices. South western part of Ethiopia is main source of forest and semi-forest coffee. This type of coffee has clearly delineated boundaries of ownership, although the trees usually are located away from agricultural plots.

Garden Coffee

Garden coffees are planted by farmers in the vicinity of their residences and often intercropped with other crops or trees. In the garden coffee, coffee is part of the garden crops, fruits and mainly “Inset”, false banana. The production system involves weed control and application of organic fertilizer. Light to medium shade levels are often maintained and old and less productive trees are usually pruned. The productivity of this system is much higher than semi-forest and forest production. Sidama and Yirgachefe are well known for the production of garden coffee.

Plantation Coffee

Plantation coffee is grown on large commercial farms, private as well as state farms. It is growing trend in Ethiopia and it uses highly intensified agronomy practice: pruning, mulching and organic fertilizing, stumping, integrated weed and pest management, well-regulated shade and plant density. It plants high-yielder seedlings and disease resistance varieties. Many medium and large state farms exist in South Western Ethiopia, especially Jimma, Bench Maji and Kaffa Zone.

Ethiopian Coffee Processing

Ethiopia is home to large quantities of coffee with two major production styles: Sun-dried natural, and fully washed. Harar, Jimma and Nekemte Coffees are mainly sun-dried natural coffees, where as Sidama and Yirgachefe coffes are mainly washed coffees. Unlike some countries, Ethiopia has both washed and sun-dried processed natural coffees. Coffee processing involves removing the skin, pulp, and parchment from the outer layers of the coffee cherry, to reveal the green coffee bean. Coffee pulp, or mucilage, is very sticky and dense in sugars. Special processes are needed to remove the mucilage from the beans.

Red cherry is picked and freshly sorted before pulping. Over-ripe and under-ripe beans are handpicked and separated before processing. Fresh red cherries are supplied to the washing stations. Coffees are pulped and allowed to ferment naturally. The fermented coffee is washed with clean running water, soaked in clean water and then dried to retain about 11.5% of moisture. Dried parchment coffee is stored in field warehouse until it is transported for further processing to Addis Ababa. The parchment coffee is processed in dry processing warehouse to remove the husks and the clean beans are packaged in label bags (60 Kg bags/ 132 lbs) for export.

Washed Processing

It is the common processing for premium coffees. After the red cherries are picked and the coffee is further sorted by immersion in water. Lese dense cherries will float and others will sink. The skin of red cherries is removed by eco-pulpers to get parchment coffee; however, the parchment coffee has still significant amount of mucilage. In order remove the mucilage, the parchment coffee will be kept in a fermentation tank for about 2 to 3 days depending on the temperature and humidity of the area. Once the mucilage is removed, the coffee goes to a soaking tank.

The coffee stays in soaking tank for about 12 hours and then it is taken to the raised bed where the coffee dries to proper moisture level for about two weeks. After the coffee is dried to appropriate moisture level, it will be further handpicked to remove exposed and damaged coffee. The dried parchment will be taken to the cooperative warehouse where the coffee is stored before it is loaded to Addis Ababa warehouse to processed in the dry processing.

In the washed coffee processing, the outer skin of the coffee cherry is removed immediately after harvesting, usually the same day the cherries were picked. This is done using machines which “pick” or scrape away just the very outer layer of the cherry, leaving behind the parchment coffee covered in sticky mucilage.

The mucilage-coated beans are then fermented with water in large tanks made of cement. The process of fermentation breaks down the sugars in the mucilage and frees it from the parchment. Fermentation usually takes around 24 hours, though shorter or longer fermentation times are possible, depending on the local climate, altitude, and other factors.

Once fermentation is complete, the coffee is released from the fermentation tank and pushed manually, with the help of some flowing water, down long channels. This agitation frees up any remaining mucilage and separates it from the parchment coffee. At the end of the channels, the coffee enters another tank where it is rinsed with fresh water. The result is wet coffee in parchment, free of the sticky mucilage.

From the final washing tank, the wet parchment coffee is taken to dry in the sun on raised beds. This process of drying happens quickly, because there is no skin or mucilage between the sun and the parchment. After one or two days in the sun, the coffee is removed from the beds and stored in sacks in a warehouse. When it is to be exported, the coffee is usually taken to a larger central mill where the parchment is removed, and the coffee is sorted and bagged for export.

Washed coffee tends to have a clarity of flavor and aroma that is often lacking in natural coffees. Many cuppers assert it is easier to taste the influence of soil and varietal in washed coffees. Acidity comes through more clearly, and the cup is generally cleaner. The cleanest, highest quality, high-altitude washed coffees can have an intensely refreshing character; however, the disadvantage of the washed process is that it requires large quantities of water and more infrastructure. In many locales, it is simply not feasible to do the washed process.

Natural (Unwashed) Coffee Processing

The arrival cherry is sorted by hand first to separate the less dense cherries. Then the good cherry is taken to raise bed to dry under the sun light. This might take for about 21 days. When the coffee is dried with cherry, it is milled to remove the husks and stored in the warehouse and transported to the final processing warehouse. It is filled with 60 Kg bag and shipped.

In Ethiopia, this is usually done using raised drying beds. Raised beds made out of wood posts, about waist-high, are covered in a material like burlap or nylon netting. Producers lay the coffee cherries, skin and all, out to dry on the beds.

Over time, the skin and sticky juices of the cherries dry out in the sun. This process can take several days to a few weeks, depending on the temperature and the intensity of the sun. At night, or in case of rain, the coffee is covered up. During the drying process, the cherries shrink in size and eventually become hard and completely dry. Once the process is completed, sacks of dried cherries are taken to a hulling station for the removal of the outer cherry.

Care must be taken to ensure even drying of cherries, and to avoid any contact between the cherries and contaminating substances, like direct contact with soil. Insufficient attention to these details can lead to muddy, dirty, or fermented flavors in the cup.

The great advantage of natural processing is that it does not require any water, nor any elaborate machinery or facilities. As a result, one finds more naturally processed coffees in drier areas, as well as poorer or more remote areas.

Generally, as the result of prolonged and sun-fueled contact with the cherry’s own natural sugars, sun-dried natural coffees have a sweet, fruity character with a creamy mouth feel. The best, most-carefully cared-for sun-dried natural coffees can have intense berry flavors, tropical fruit aromatics, and chocolaty undertones.

Natural-process green coffee beans often have a yellowish or orange-like tinge to them. This comes from prolonged contact with the sugars as they “cook” into the bean in the sunlight.

Purchasing Ethiopian Coffee

Ethiopia produces a range of distinctive Arabica coffees and has considerable potential to sell a large number of selections of specialty coffee. Cooperative unions and plantation coffee owners can directly export their coffee to international buyers; however, private exporters generally purchase their coffee through ECX and export their coffees to the international buyers.

The Ethiopian Commodities Exchange incorporates a trading platform for coffee and, as the name implies, deals in several commodities, not just coffee. The basic function of the ECX is to provide a centralized, standardizing body where agricultural goods and futures can be traded. All coffee that enters the ECX is given a grade and a geographical designation. Grades are based on physical inspection of lots and on cupping. 1 is the highest grade, and 9 is the lowest. Geographical designations are given at the “sub-regional” level, more specific than large regions like Harrar or Sidama, but less specific than the particular farm, village or woreda level. Once coffee is graded, it is stored at an ECX warehouse to prevent tampering, and coffee is bid on and sold to exporters. For more, you can visit:

Cooperative Coffee

Most farmers in Ethiopia hold and work on very small parcels of land. The small-holder farmers have formed local cooperatives and pool their coffee to create lots large enough for export. Cooperatives have their own washing and drying stations, albeit sometimes they use stations owned by someone else. However, cooperatives generally work through a cooperative union, which functions as an intermediary between the primary co-ops and international buyers. The cooperative unions include Oromia Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Union (OCFCU), Sidama Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Union (SCFCU), the Yergacheffe Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Union (YCFCU), and the Kaffa Forest Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative Union.

Coffee that comes through the cooperative unions usually has a more specific geographical designation, down to the district or woreda level where the coffee was produced. The Sidama, Yergachefe and Kafa Unions offer coffees types from the same geographic designations as their name indicates. However, Oromia Union offers beans from almost all Ethiopian types due to the extensive area the union covers.

Coffee production is challenging task that requires much of human effort and its quality depends on many other factors: coffee variety, seedling, location, soil composition, altitude, weather conditions, fertilization, cultivation, harvesting, and processing methods. The commercially significant species of coffee beans are coffea arabica and coffea robusta. Coffee Arabica grow best at altitudes over 3,000 feet and this species produces superior quality coffees, which possess the greatest flavor and aromatic characteristics. They typically contain half the caffeine of the robusta beans. Arabica production represents above 70 percent of the world’s coffee trade. Robusta beans are usually grown at lower elevations. Robusta trees are easier to grow, produce higher yields, and are more disease resistant than the arabica species. When it comes to flavor Robusta beans usually possess a woody, astringent taste. They are used when a lower price or additional caffeine is desired. A small percentage is typically added to many Italian espresso blends for the additional crema and complexity they contribute.

Coffee is the seed of a “cherry” from a tree, which grows subtropical belt around the world. Coffee trees are an evergreen and grow to heights of 20 feet. To simplify harvesting, the trees are pruned to 8 to 10 feet. Coffee cherries ripen at different times, so they are predominantly picked by hand. It takes approximately 2,000 Arabica cherries to produce just one pound of roasted coffee. Since each cherry contains two beans, your one pound of coffee is derived from 4,000 coffee beans. The average coffee tree only produces one to two pounds of roasted coffee per year, and takes four to five years to produce its first crop. The coffee plant first produces delicate clusters of white blossoms, resembling jasmine in shape and scent. These blossoms last only a few days. Small green coffee cherries then begin to appear and ripen to yellow, then red and finally almost black, within six to nine months. Coffee cherries ripen at different times, and in order to achieve consistency they should be picked only when fully ripe. The coffee cherries are picked, sorted, processed, graded and then bagged and ready for shipment to different parts of the world.

Ethiopian Coffee: Origin and History

Ethiopia is known for its diverse topography with altitudes ranging from around 100 meters below sea level in the Danakil depression to 4,600 meters above sea level in the Semien mountains. It is home to a huge variety of geographical sub-regions, ranging from dry sandy deserts in the extreme east to lush tropical jungles in the far southwest. It has exceptional topography that is scintillating. It consists of mountain ranges, plateaus, and high valleys between these mountains. Within the same district, one can find the diverse topographies that would lead to diverse ecologies.

Ethiopia boasts landscapes of stunning beauty and dramatic contrasts from the soaring pinnacles of the Simien Mountains – the Roof of Africa – to the plummeting depths of the Danakil Depression, the lowest – and hottest – place on Earth. You will find cloud forests such as those in the Kafa Biosphere Reserve – the sole home of many wild coffee varieties – active volcanoes, hot springs, cool underground caverns, rugged gorges, spectacular waterfalls, rivers and shimmering lakes. Ethiopia is the fourth largest bio-diversity zone on Earth and you can see plants and animals here which are found nowhere else.

Ethiopia is the motherland of Coffee Arabica. It is endowed with a rich variety of coffee and its diverse origins. Ethiopian coffee is rich with original flavor and aroma because of the geographical (altitude, soil, temperature, rainfall, topography, ecology), genotypic and cultural variety within the country. Coffee has been growing in Ethiopia for thousands of years, in the forests of southwestern highlands. The word coffee drives from Kaffa, name of a place in the South Western Ethiopian highlands where coffee was first discovered. It is also known to be the first Coffee Arabica exporter in Africa and is currently the fifth largest coffee producer in the world.

About 1,000 years ago, coffee was a goatherd in Ethiopia southwestern highlands. It was discovered in Kaffa area where it first blossom gave its name to coffee. It believed that coffee cultivation and drinking began as early as the 9th century in Ethiopia. It cultivated Yemen earlier, around AD 575. While, it originated in Ethiopia, from where it traveled to the Yemen about 600 years ago, and from Arabia began its journey around the world. Among the many legends, Kaldi, an Abyssinian goatherd, who lived around AD 850 found the origin of coffee.

The most famous story was that of the goat herd, Kaldi (who lived around 9th century) who observed his normally docile goats had suddenly behaved exceptionally lively, skipping, rearing and bleating loudly after eating the bright red berries from a shiny dark-leaved shrub nearby and that Kaldi tried a few berries himself and soon felt extraordinary, stimulated or a novel sense of elation. Ethiopian cultural ceremonies and rituals were using the beans in early periods of domestication as a stimulant and a special solid food, for instance, the ripe berries were squashed, combined with animal fats and shaped in to balls, which can be carried and eaten during the long journey since the time immemorial by Oromo people.

According to botanical evidence, Arabica Coffee have originated on the plateaus of South western Ethiopia from where it spreads to Yemen and then around the world. Arabica Coffee is endemic to the afro montane rain forest of Ethiopia where wild coffee populations still grow in the highlands of southwest and south east parts. Researches confirmed that within small area, the wild coffee plants of Ethiopia have relatively high genetic variability as compared to the wild coffee populations from Yemen that showed a characteristically low genetic diversity. The presence of high genetic diversity of coffee in Ethiopia is attributed to the presence of indigenous traditional production system of coffee in the country. Moreover, the existence of high genetic diversity of coffee plants is due to Ethiopia’s suitable altitude, ample rain fall, optimum temperature and planting materials.

Ethiopia is endowed with an ideal production environment for growing coffee with a combination of appropriate altitude, temperature, rainfall, soil type and its PH value. Ethiopia, being the epicenter of the origin for Coffee Arabica, possesses a diverse genetic base. Ethiopia produces a range of distinctive Arabica coffees and has considerable potential to sell a large number of selections of specialty coffee. Ethiopian coffee produces hard-type coffee beans, with intense flavors and aromatics. Fruit flavors are common in all regions, though the specific fruit character varies from region to region. Berry aromatics are relatively common, as are citrus and chocolate. Basically, Ethiopian coffee is organically produced and it is low yielding with highest cup quality.

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

Ethiopia is home for more than eighty diverse ethnic groups with their distinct but largely interconnected culture. Generally speaking, Ethiopian people are relational, and promote politeness and family values and follow communal life. Communal life is reflected in sharing both good times and bad times in life. Greeting is important and courteous, including asking about a person’s job, health and family.

Coffee is referred to as Bunna (Amharic), Buna (Oromifa), Buna (Sidama), Buno (Gedeo) and Bono (Kafficho). Coffee ceremony and community gathering are a crucial part of Ethiopian culture. It is at the heart of communal life. Unlike many other countries, coffee has been a tradition to share ideas and feelings. During the coffee ceremony, people talk, discuss, share information and enjoy quality time with their families, friends and neighbors. Coffee plays a key role in building and cementing relationships among friends and families. For the people of Ethiopia, coffee drinking goes beyond enjoying the flavor; it connects people to people.

Ethiopians enjoy drinking coffee and drinks cups of coffee daily. One can tell that coffee is its root here in Ethiopia by their cultural celebrations that involve coffee brewing and drinking process. During the preparation of Bunna (coffee), a woman will begin by washing the beans thoroughly in water and then she will rinse them clean and roast over a wooden charcoal until they are dark brown. Anyone can feel the beautiful smell of the roasted coffee filling the environment during this process. They will pound the beans into powder using a mortar and pestle.

The coffee powder is poured into a “Jebena” Ethiopian traditional coffee brewing pot, with water and placed on a wooden charcoal to brew it. It is common for Ethiopians to spice their coffee with cardamoms, cloves and honey to attain a distinctive flavor. Guests or family members are also served with popcorn, bread, and nuts as they wait for their coffee to brew.