Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. In the tenth century, Ethiopian nomadic mountain people may have been the first to recognize coffee’s stimulating effect, although they ate the red cherries directly and did not drink it as a beverage. The mystic Sufi pilgrims of Islam spread coffee throughout the Middle East. From the Middle East these beans spread to Europe and then throughout their colonial empire including Indonesia and the Americas.
Ethiopian coffee is one of the most popular coffee origins in the world. In 1952, the government developed a coffee classification and grading system and then modified it in 1955. Ethiopian coffee certification began after the establishment of the National Coffee Board of Ethiopia (NCBE) in 1957. The NCBE’s aims were to control and coordinate producers, traders, and exporters interests and to improve the quality of Ethiopian coffee.
Growing, processing, and drinking coffee is part of the everyday way of life, and has been for centuries, since the trees were discovered growing wild in forests and eventually cultivated for household use and commercial sale. Domestic consumption is very high, once of the highest of all coffee producing countries, due to the significant role coffee plays in the daily lives of Ethiopians.
Coffee is still commonly enjoyed as part of a ceremonial preparation, a way of gathering family, friends, and associates around a table for conversation and community. The senior-most woman of the household will roast the coffee in a pan and grind it fresh, before mixing it with hot water in a pot called a jebena. She serves the strong liquid in small cups, then adds fresh boiling water to brew the coffee two more times. The process takes about an hour from start to finish, and is considered a regular show of hospitality and society.
The majority of Ethiopia’s farmers are smallholders and sustenance farmers, with less than 1 hectare of land apiece; in many cases it is almost more accurate to describe the harvests as “garden coffee,” as the trees do sometimes grow in more of a garden or forest environment than what we imagine fields of farmland to look like. There are some large privately owned estates, as well as co-operative society comprising a mix of small and more mid-size farms, but the average producer here grows relatively very little for commercial sale.
Size: 1,104,300 sq km
Capital City: Addis Ababa
Languages: Amharic, Oromo, Somali
Number of people involved in coffee: 700,000
Average farm size: 1 hectare
Annual production: 6.5 million bags
Bags exported annually: 3.5 million bags
Annual domestic consumption: 3.5 million bags (half of the total production)
Growing Regions: Sidama (including Yirgacheffe), Harrar, Limu, Djimma, Lekempti, Wallega, Gimbi
Varieties: Heirloom Ethiopian varieties – Kudhome, Gesha, Djimma, and others
Processing Methods: Washed, Natural
Grading: Grades 1–9 (Specialty; Grade 1–2, Commercial; Grade 3–9)
Bag Size: 60 kg
Harvest Period: November to February
Shipment Period: February to June