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Coffees from Africa and Arabia: Ethiopia
Coffee was first developed as a commercial crop in Yemen, but the arabica tree originated across the Red Sea in western Ethiopia, on high plateaus where country people still harvest the wild berries. Today Ethiopia coffees are among the world’s most varied and distinctive, and at least one, Yirgacheffe, ranks among the very finest.
All display the wine- and fruit-toned acidity characteristic of Africa and Arabia coffees, but Ethiopias play a rich range of variations on this theme. These variations are in part determined by processing method. Ethiopia coffees neatly divide into those processed by the dry method (the beans are dried inside the fruit) and those processed by sophisticated, large-scale wet method, in which the fruit is immediately removed from the beans in a series of complex operations before the beans are dried.
Ethiopia Casual Dry-Processed Coffees. In most parts of Ethiopia dry-processing is a sort of informal, fall-back practice used to process small batches of coffee for local consumption. Everywhere that even a single coffee tree grows, someone will pick the fruit and put it out to dry. I recall driving along a seemingly uninhabited road in western Ethiopia and suddenly coming upon a slice of pavement that had been walled off with a row of rocks to protect a patch of drying coffee! Such informally dry-processed coffee is seldom exported, but simply hulled, roasted and drunk on the spot or sold into the local market.
Instead, the best and ripest coffee fruit is sold to wet processing mills, called washing stations, where it is prepared for export following the most up-to-date methods. Only the left-overs, the unripe and overripe fruit is put out to dry, usually not on roads, but on raised, table-like mats in front of the farmers’ clay and thatched houses. This dry-processed coffee may reach export markets, but only as filler coffees for inexpensive blends.
Ethiopia Dry-Processed Harrar. The exception to dry-processed coffee’s second-class status in Ethiopia is the celebrated and often superb coffee of Harrar, the predominantly Muslim province to the east of the capital of Addis Ababa. In Harrar, all coffee fruit, including the best and ripest, is put out in the sun to dry, fruit and all. Often, the fruit is allowed to dry directly on the tree. The result is a coffee much like Yemen, wild, fruity, complexly sweet, with a slightly fermented aftertaste. This flavor profile, shared by both Yemens and Ethiopia Harrars, is often called the Mocha taste, and is one of the great and distinctive experiences of the coffee world. For this reason Harrar often is sold as Mocha or Moka, adding to the confusion surrounding that abused term. Some retailers cover both bases by calling the Ethiopian version of this coffee type Moka Harrar. Harrar may be spelling Harari, Harer, or Harar.
Yirgacheffe and Other Wet-Processed Ethiopias. The first wet-processing mills were established in Ethiopia in 1972, and three decades later more and more coffees in the south and west of Ethiopia are being processed using a sophisticated version of the wet method. The immediate removal of fruit involved in wet-processing apparently softens the fruity, wine-like profile of dried-in-the-fruit coffees like Harrars and turns it gentle, round, delicately complex, and fragrant with floral innuendo.
In the wet-processed coffees of the Yirgacheffe region, a lush, deep-soiled region of high rolling hills in southwestern Ethiopia, this profile reaches a sort of extravagant, almost perfumed apotheosis. Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, high-toned and alive with shimmering citrus and flower tones, may be the world’s most distinctive coffee. Other Ethiopia wet-processed coffees — Washed Limu, Washed Sidamo, Washed Jima, and others — are typically soft, round, floral and citrusy, but less explosively fragrant than Yirgacheffe. They can be very fine and distinctive coffees, however.
Most Ethiopia coffees are grown without use of agricultural chemicals in the most benign of conditions: under shade and interplanted with other crops. The only exceptions are a handful of wet-processed coffees produced by large, government-run estates in southwestern Ethiopia that make discreet use of chemicals. Harrars and Yirgacheffes in particular are what Ethiopians call "garden coffees," grown on small plots by villagers using completely traditional methods.
More than 1,000 years ago, a goatherd in Ethiopia’s south-western highlands plucked a few red berries from some young green trees growing there in the forest and tasted them. He liked the flavour – and the feel-good effect that followed. Today those self-same berries, dried, roasted and ground, have become the world’s second most popular non-alcoholic beverage after tea. And, as David Beatty discovers in words and pictures, the Ethiopian province where they first blossomed – Kaffa – gave its name to coffee.
The story of coffee has its beginnings in Ethiopia, the original home of the coffee plant, coffee arabica, which still grows wild in the forest of the highlands. While nobody is sure exactly how coffee was originally discovered as a beverage, it is believed that its cultivation and use began as early as the 9th century. Some authorities claim that it was cultivated in the Yemen earlier, around AD 575. The only thing that seems certain is that it originated in Ethiopia, from where it traveled to the Yemen about 600 years ago, and from Arabia it began its journey around the world.
Among the many legends that have developed concerning the origin of coffee, one of the most popular account is that of Kaldi, an Abyssinian goatherd, who lived around AD 850. One day he observed his goats behaving in abnormally exuberant manner, skipping, rearing on their hindlegs and bleating loudly. He noticed they were eating the bright red berries that grew on the green bushes nearby.
Kaldi tried a few himself, ad soon felt a novel sense of elation. He filled his pockets with the berries and ran home to announce his discovery to his wife. ‘ They are heaven-sent, ’ she declared. ‘ You must take them to the Monks in the monastery. ’
Kaldi presented the chief Monk with a handful of berries and related his discovery of their miraculous effect. ‘ Devil’s work! ’ exclaimed the monk, and hurled the berries in the fire.
Within minutes the monastery filled with the heavenly aroma of roasting beans, and the other monks gathered to investigate. The beans were raked from the fire and crushed to extinguish the embers. The Monk ordered the grains to be placed in the ewer and covered with hot water to preserve their goodness. That night the monks sat up drinking the rich and fragrant brew, and from that day vowed they would drink it daily to keep them awake during their long, nocturnal devotions.
While the legends attempt to condense the discovery of coffee and its development as a beverage into one story, it is believed that the monks of Ethiopia, may have chewed on the berries as a stimulant for centuries before it was brewed as a hot drink.
Another account suggests that coffee was brought to Arabia from Ethiopia, by Sudanese slaves who chewed the berries en route to help them survive the journey. There is some evidence that coffee was ground and mixed with butter, and consumed like chocolate for sustenance, a method reportedly used by the Galla tribe of Ethiopia, which lends some credence to the story of the Sudanese slaves. The practice of mixing ground coffee beans with ghee (clarified butter) persists to this day in some parts of Kaffa and Sidamo, two of the principle coffee producing regions of Ethiopia,. And in Kaffa, from which its name derives, the drink is brewed today with the addition of melted ghee which gives it a distinctive, buttery flavour.
From the beginning, coffee’s invigorating powers have understandably linked it with religion, and each tradition claims its own story of origins. Islamic legend ascribes the discovery of coffee to devout Sheikh Omar, who found the coffee growing wild while living as a recluse in Mocha, one famous coffee producing place in Yemen.
He is said to have boiled some berries, and discovered the stimulating effect of the resulting brew, which he administered to the locals who were stricken with a mysterious ailment and thereby cured them.
There are numerous versions of this story concerning the Sheikh Omar, which relate how he cured the King of Mocha’s daughter with coffee, and another where wondrous bird leads him to a tree full of coffee berries.
Arabic scientific documents dating from around AD 900 refer to a beverage drunk in Ethiopia, Known as ‘buna’, and the similarities in the words suggests that this could be one of the earliest references to Ethiopian, coffee in its brewed form. It is recorded that in 1454 the Mufti of Aden visited Ethiopia, and saw his own countrymen drinking coffee there. He was reportedly impressed with the drink which cured him of some affliction, and his approval made it soon popular among the dervishes of the Yemen who used it in religious ceremonies, and introduced it to Mecca.
It was in Mecca that the first coffee houses are said to have been established. Known as Kaveh Kanes, they were originally religious meeting places, but soon became social meeting places for gossip, singing and story-telling. With the spread of coffee as a popular beverage it soon became a subject for heated debate among devout Muslims.
The Arabic word for coffee, kahwah, is also one of several words for wine. In the process of stripping the cherry husk, the pulp of the bean was fermented to make a potent liquor. The Quran forbade the use of wine or intoxicating beverages, but those Muslims in favour of coffee argued that it was not an intoxicant but a stimulant. The dispute over coffee came to a head in 1511 in Mecca.
The governor of Mecca, Beg, saw some people drinking coffee in a mosque as they prepared a night-long prayer vigil. Furious he drove them from the mosque and ordered all coffee houses to be closed. A heated debate ensued, with coffee being condemned as an unhealthy brew by two unscrupulous Persian doctors, the Hakimani brothers, who were known to produce whatever testimony suited the highest bidder. The doctors wanted it banned, for it was a popular cure among the melancholic patients who other-wise would have paid the doctors to cure them. The mufti of Mecca spoke in defense of coffee.
The issue was only resolved when the Sultan of Cairo intervened and reprimanded the Khair Beg for banning a drink that was widely enjoyed in Cairo without consulting his superior. In 1512, when Khair Beg was accused of embezzlement, the Sultan had him put to death. Coffee survived in Mecca.
The picture of Arabic coffee houses as dens of iniquity and frivolity was exaggerated by religious zealots. In reality the Middle Eastern was the forerunner of the European Café society and the coffee houses of London which became famous London clubs. They were enlightened meeting places for intellectuals, where news and gossip exchanged and clients regularly entertained by traditional story-tellers.
From the Arabian Peninsula coffee traveled to the East. The Arabs are credited with first bringing coffee to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) as early as 1505. It is said that fertile coffee beans, the berries with their husks unbroken, were first introduced into South-West India by one Baba Budan on his return from a pilgrimage to Mecca in the 17th century.
By 1517 coffee had reached Constantinople, following the conquest of Egypt by Salim I, and it was established in Damascus by 1530. Coffee houses were opened in Constantinople in 1554, and their advent provoked religiously inspired riots that temporarily closed them. But they survived their critics, and their luxurious interiors became a regular rendezvous for those engaged in radical political thought and dissent.
From time to time coffee continued to be banned, the target of religious zealots, and at one time second offenders were sewn into leather bags and thrown into the Bosphorus. But coffee was profitable and finally achieved respectability when it became subject to tax.
Venetian traders had introduced coffee to Europe by 1615, a few years later than tea which had appeared in 1610. Again its introduction aroused controversy in Italy when some clerics, like the mullahs of Mecca, suggested it should be excommunicated as it was the Devil’s work. However, Pope Clement VIII (1592- 1605) enjoyed it so much that he declared that ‘coffee should be baptized to make it a true Christian drink.’
The first coffee house opened in Venice in 1683. The famous Café Florian in the Piazza San Marco, established in 1720, is the oldest surviving coffee house in Europe. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries coffee houses proliferated in Europe. Nothing quite like the like the coffee houses, or café, had ever existed before, the novelty of a place to enjoy a relatively inexpensive and stimulating beverage in convivial company established a social habit that has endured for over 400 years.
The first coffee house in England was opened in Oxford, not London, by a man called Jacob in 1650. A coffee club established near all Souls’College eventually becoming the Royal Society. London’s first coffee house was in St. Michael’s Alley and opened in 1652. And the most famous name in the world of insurance, Lloyds of London, began life as a coffee house in Tower Street, founded by Edward Lloyd in 1688 who used to prepare lists of ships that his clients had insured. With the rapid growth in popularity of coffee houses, by the 17th century the European powers were competing with each other to establish coffee plantations in their respective colonies. In 1616 the Dutch gained a head start by taking a coffee plant from Mocha to the Netherlands, and they began large scale cultivation in Sri Lanka in1658. In 1699 cuttings were successfully transplanted from Malabar to Java. Samples of Java coffee plants were sent to Amsterdam in 1706, were seedlings were grown in botanical gardens and distributed to horticulturists throughout Europe.
A few years later, in 1718, the Dutch transplanted the coffee to Surinam and soon after the plant became widely established in South America, which was to become the coffee center of the world.
In 1878 the story of coffee’s journey around the world came full circle when the British laid foundations of Kenya’s coffee industry by introducing plants to British East Africa right next to neighboring Ethiopia, where coffee had first been discovered a 1,000 years before.
Today Ethiopia, is Africa’s major exporter of Arabica beans, the quality coffee of the world, and the variety that originated in Ethiopia, is still the only variety grown there. Coffea Arabica, which was identified by the botanist Linnaeus in 1753, is one of the two major species used in most production, and presently accounts around 70 per cent of the world’s coffee.
The other major species is Coffea Canefora, or Robusta, whose production is increasing now due to better yields from robusta trees and their hardiness against decease. Robusta coffee is mostly used in blend, but Arabica is the only coffee to be drunk on its own unblended, and this is the type grown and drunk in Ethiopia, The arabica and robusta trees both produce crops within 3-4 years after planting, and remain productive for 20-30 years. Arabica trees flourish ideally in a seasonal climate with a temperature range of 59-75o F, whereas Robusta prefers an equatorial climate.
In Ethiopia’s province of Kaffa a large proportion of the arabica trees grow wild amidst the rolling hills and forests of the fertile and beautiful region.
At an altitude of 1,500 meters the climate is ideal and the plants are well protected by the larger forest trees which provide shade from the midday sun and preserve the moisture in the soil. Traditionally, these are the ideal conditions for coffee growing.
There are two methods of processing coffee: the wet and the dry. Commercially the wet method is preferred, but the small producer who picks the cherries wild may save time by sun-drying the beans after picking, and the sell them direct to customers in the local market.
At the Haro Farmer’s Co-operative near Jimma the husk of the cherry is removed mechanically and the bean then fermented in water for 48 hours to remove the sugar. The beans are the dried on racks in the sun for about a week before being bagged up and sold at an auction. A smallholder, who may have anything from a half to two hectares, sells his beans to the Co-op which processes them and sells them at auction, returning a share of the profits to the farmer.
In the Jimma district alone annual production is approximately 30,000 tons. Nationally the country produces 200,000 tons a year, of which almost half is for domestic consumption, the highest in Africa.
Some 12 million people are dependent on Ethiopia’s coffee industry, managed by the Ethiopian Coffee Export Enterprise – ECEE – formerly the Ethiopian Coffee Marketing Corporation. An independent, profit-making organization, ECEE trades on the open market and controls about 50 per cent of the market following liberalization.
ECEE processes its coffee at five plants in Addis-Ababa – with a total capacity of almost 500 tons a day – and a plant in Dire Dawa. The organization is also building a new 250-ton a day processing plant for washed coffee.
ECEE’s key markets are Germany, Japan, USA, France and the Middle East – and is focusing on the US specialty market and Scandinavia. ECEE’s major emphasis is on quality products such as premium blends, organic coffee and original unblended coffees from one specific plantation or farm. Within Ethiopia, there are some distinctive varieties that are highly sought after. The highest grown coffee comes from Harar, where the Longberry variety is the most popular, having a wine-like flavour and tasting slightly acidic.
Coffee from Sidamo in the south has an unusual flavour and is very popular, especially the beans known as Yirgacheffes. In many ways Ethiopian coffee is unique, having neither excessive pungency nor the acidity of the Kenyan brands. It is closest in character to the Mocha coffee of the Yemen, with which it supposedly shares a common origin, and it cannot be high roasted or its character is destroyed. The best Ethiopian coffee may be compared with the finest coffee in the world, and premium washed arabica beans fetch high prices on the world market. No visit to Ethiopia, is complete without participating in the elaborate coffee ceremony that is Ethiopia's traditional form of hospitality. Invariably conducted by a beautiful young girl in traditional Ethiopian costume, the ceremonial apparatus is arranged upon a bed of long grasses. The green beans are roasted in a pan over a charcoal brazier, the rich aroma of coffee mingling with the heady smell of incense that is always burned during the ceremony. The beans are then pounded with a pestle and mortar, and the ground coffee then brewed in a black pot with a narrow spout.
Traditional accompaniments are popcorn, also roasted on the fire, and the coffee is sugared to be drunk from small handless cups.
Selamta, The In-Flight Magazine of ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES.Volume 13, Number 2April – June 1996
Cafe Imports | Ethiopia
Check out our 2017 Origin Report on Ethiopia here.
Among coffee-producing countries, Ethiopia holds near-legendary status not only because it’s the “birthplace” of Arabica coffee, but also because it is simply unlike every other place in the coffee world. Unlike the vast majority of coffee-growing countries, the plant was not introduced as a cash crop through colonization. Instead, 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.
From an outsider’s perspective, this adds to the great complexity that makes Ethiopian coffee so hard to fully comprehend—culturally, politically, and economically as well as simply culinarily. Add to that the fact that the genetic diversity of the coffee here is unmatched globally—there is 99% more genetic material in Ethiopia’s coffee alone than in the entire rest of the world—and the result is a coffee lover’s dream: There are no coffees that are spoken of with the reverence or romance that Ethiopian coffees are.
One of the other unique aspects of Ethiopia’s coffee production is that domestic consumption is very high, because the beverage has such a significant role in the daily lives of Ethiopians: About half of the country’s 6.5-million-bag annual production is consumed at home, with roughly 3.5 million bags exported.
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 brewing 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.
PROCESSING AND PROFILE
There are several ways coffee is prepared for market in Ethiopia. Large estates are privately owned and operated by hired labor; the coffee is often picked, processed, and milled on the property. On the other end of the spectrum, “garden coffee” is brought by a farmer in cherry form to the closest or most convenient washing station, where it is sold and blended with other farmers’ lots and processed according to the desires of the washing station. Co-op members will bring their cherry to be weighed and received at a co-op washing station, where there is more traceability to the producer level as per membership rosters of the co-operative.
The profile of Ethiopian coffees will vary based on a number of factors, including variety, process, and microregion. As a general rule of thumb, natural processed coffees will have much more pronounced fruit and deep chocolate tones, often with a bit of a winey characteristic and a syrupy body. Washed coffees will be lighter and have more pronounced acidity, though the individual characteristics will vary.
Harrar coffees are almost always processed naturally, or “dry,” and have a distinctly chocolate, nutty profile that reflects the somewhat more arid climate the coffee grows in.
Sidama is a large coffee-growing region in the south, and includes Guji and the famous Yirgacheffe.
Here is a very basic breakdown of what we look for in coffees from some of the microregions of Yirgacheffe, in the Sidama region.
ADADO: Delicate stone fruit with citrus and floral layers that create a nice balanced structure.
ARICHA: Complex and almost tropical, with a juicy fruit base and a sugary, floral sweetness.
BERITI: Prominent florals backed by a creamy citrus.
CHELCHELE: Cooked-sugar sweetness more like toffee or caramel, almond, and a floral, citrus overtone.
KOCHERE: Fruit tea backed by citrus and stone fruit.
KONGA: Peach and apricot—more floral stone fruit—along with a strong, tart citrus.
** About Ethiopian place names: There is much confusion and inconsistency where place names are concerned in Ethiopia, partially due to the fact that Amharic does not use a Roman alphabet like English does. Therefore, it is not necessarily incorrect to spell the region as Yirgacheffe, Yirgachefe, or even Yirga Chefe. We have chosen a company-wide set of standard spellings for clarity’s sake, but there are various ways of interpreting the phonetic spelling of certain places.
As for Sidamo vs. Sidama, it has been brought to our attention that “Sidamo” is a somewhat disparaging variant on the place name, and we have decided to use the more acceptable Sidama instead.
THE ETHIOPIAN COMMODITY EXCHANGE
The Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) was established by the Ethiopian government in 2008 with the intention of democratizing marketplace access to farmers growing beans, corn, coffee, and wheat, among other commodities. As farmers in Ethiopia typically own very small plots of land and are largely sustenance farmers—growing what crops they need for household use and selling the surplus for cash—it was decided that standardization would be the most egalitarian way to improve economic health and stability in the agricultural sector.
The ECX strove to eliminate the barriers to sale by giving farmers an open, public, and reliable market to which to sell their products for a set and relatively stable price. At its inception, the ECX rules dictated that any coffee not produced by a private estate or a co-operative society was required to be sold through the Exchange, which established guaranteed price and sale for farmers, but by design, it took the “specialty” out of the coffee and turned it into a commodity—escaping all traceability aside from the most basic regional and grade information.
Part of the definition of a “commodity” is that it must be replaceable: For instance, 100 bags of Grade 1 washed Yirgacheffe bought in December must be of equivalent quality to 100 bags of Grade 1 washed Yirgacheffe bought in August, period. Coffees are assigned grades based on their uniformity, cleanliness, and presence or absence of defect without consideration for flavor notes.
After pushback from the specialty-coffee industry and several rounds of intense negotiation, a later iteration established that washing-station information was made available after the coffees were purchased, though certainly tracing them down to the individual producers would prove impossible.
In March 2017, the ECX voted to allow direct sales of coffee from individual washing stations, which will not only allow for increased traceability, but will also allow for repeat purchases and relationship building all along the chain—a change that increases the potential for higher prices to the farmers. It remains to be seen what the impact of greater traceability and more direct sales will have on specialty coffees from Ethiopia, but the industry appears optimistic.
CAFE IMPORTS + ETHIOPIA
Jason Long, Café Imports’ CEO, has worked for many years to develop long-term partnerships in Ethiopia, and through our various relationships there, we are pleased to offer a variety of Ethiopian coffees every year. We buy directly from the second-tier co-operative society SCFCU (Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union), which allows us to bring Fair Trade– and organic-certified Sidama coffees from specific farmer co-ops to our customers. Through an export partner, we are also able to offer washing-station-specific lots, with limited traceability as purchased through the current ECX structure: In future years, the traceability of these lots should be increased, as we will be able to buy directly from the washing stations through our exporter. We also do offer some standard, less-expensive and less-traceable but still very good quality ECX lots, sourced for their quality and true-to-region profiles.
As the industry waits to see how the marketplace will develop in the wake of the Exchange changes, we are committed to strengthening our relationships, specifically in Sidama and within Yirgacheffe, and hope that coming years will see more farmer-specific lots and special-prep projects with price premiums attached for quality and differentiation.
Ethiopian Coffee Culture - Legend, History and Customs
Ethiopia is considered to be the birthplace of the coffee plant and of coffee culture. It is thought that coffee was discovered in Ethiopia as long ago as the ninth century. Today, over 12 million people in Ethiopia are involved in the cultivation and picking of coffee, and coffee remains a central part of Ethiopian culture.
Ethiopian Coffee Expressions
Perhaps one of the clearest reflections of coffee's role in Ethiopian culture is in its language.
Coffee plays such a heavily ingrained role in Ethiopian culture that it appears in many expressions dealing with life, food and interpersonal relationships.
One common Ethiopian coffee saying is "Buna dabo naw". This literally translates to "Coffee is our bread". It demonstrates the central role that coffee plays in terms of diet and illustrates the level of importance placed on it as a source of sustenance.
Another common saying is "Buna Tetu". This is an Amharic phrase that literally means "Drink coffee". It applies not only to the act of drinking coffee but also to socializing (much like the way people use the phrase "meet for coffee" in English).
If one says, "I don't have anyone to have coffee with," it is not taken literally, but assumed to mean that the person does not have good friends in whom they can confide. This relates closely to the enormous social role that coffee consumption plays in Ethiopia and the fact that people often gather over coffee for conversations that cover daily life, gossip and deeper issues alike.
Similarly, if someone says, "Don't let your name get noticed at coffee time," they mean that you should watch out for your reputation and avoid becoming the topic of negative gossip.
The Ethiopian Coffee Legend
The most popular legend of coffee in Ethiopia usually goes something like this:
Kaldi, an Abyssinian goat herder from Kaffa, was herding his goats through a highland area near a monastery.
He noticed that they were behaving very strangely that day, and had begun to jump around in an excited manner, bleating loudly and practically dancing on their hind legs. He found that the source of the excitement was a small shrub (or, in some legends, a small cluster of shrubs) with bright red berries. Curiosity took hold and he tried the berries for himself.
Like his goats, Kaldi felt the energizing effects of the coffee cherries. After filling his pockets with the red berries, he rushed home to his wife, and she advised him to go to the nearby monastery in order to share these "heaven sent" berries with the monks there.
Upon arrival at the monastery, Kaldi's coffee beans were not greeted with elation, but with disdain. One monk called Kaldi's bounty "the Devil's work" and tossed it into a fire. However, according to legend, the aroma of the roasting beans was enough to make the monks give this novelty a second chance. They removed the coffee beans from the fire, crushed them to put out the glowing embers and covered them with hot water in an ewer in order to preserve them (or so the story goes).
All the monks in the monastery smelled the aroma of the coffee and came to try it out.
Much like the tea-drinking Buddhist monks of China and Japan, these monks found that coffee's uplifting effects were beneficial in keeping them awake during their spiritual practice (in this case, prayer and holy devotions). They vowed that from then on they would drink this newfound beverage each day as an aid to their religious devotions.
There is an alternate coffee origin myth, which attributes the discovery of coffee to a very devout Muslim man named Sheikh Omar who was living as a recluse in Mocha, Yemen.
Ethiopian Coffee History
It is thought that the legendary character of Kaldi would have existed around 850 A.D. This account coincides with the commonly held belief that coffee cultivation began in Ethiopia around the ninth century. However, some believe that coffee was cultivated as early as 575 A.D.
Although the legend of Kaldi, his goats, and the monks says that coffee was discovered as a stimulant and as a beverage on the same day, it is far more likely that coffee beans were chewed as a stimulant for centuries before they were made into a beverage. It is likely that the beans were ground and mixed with ghee (clarified butter) or with animal fat to form a thick paste, which was rolled into small balls then consumed as needed for energy on long journeys. Some historians believe that this custom of chewing coffee beans was brought (along with coffee itself) from Kaffa to Harrar and Arabia by Sudanese slaves who chewed coffee to help survive the arduous journeys of the Muslim slave trade routes. Supposedly, Sudanese slaves picked up this custom of chewing coffee from the Galla tribe of Ethiopia. Today, the tradition of consuming ground coffee in ghee remains in some areas of Kaffa and Sidamo. Similarly, in Kaffa, some people add a little melted clarified butter to their brewed coffee to make it more nutritionally dense and to add flavor (a bit like the butter pu-erh tea of Tibet).
According to some sources, there was also a way of eating coffee as a porridge, and this method of consuming coffee could be seen amongst several other indigenous tribes of Ethiopia around the tenth century.
Gradually, coffee became known as a beverage in Ethiopia and beyond. In some tribes, coffee cherries were crushed and then fermented into a kind of wine. In others, coffee beans were roasted, ground and then boiled into a decoction. Gradually, the custom of brewing coffee took hold and spread elsewhere. Around the 13th century, coffee spread to the Islamic world, where it was revered as a potent medicine and powerful prayer aid, and was boiled much like medicinal herbal decoctions are boiled -- for intensity and strength. You can still find traditions of boiling coffee in Ethiopia, Turkey and much of the rest of the Mediterranean, where they are known as Ethiopian coffee, Turkish coffee, Greek coffee and other, similar names.
The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is central to the communities of many Ethiopian villages. You can read more about this in my article The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony.
The Etymology of Coffee
In the local language, the word for coffee is "bunn" or "buna". The origin of coffee is Kaffa. So coffee was sometimes referred to as "Kaffa bunn," or coffee from Kaffa. For this reason, some believe that the term "coffee bean" is an anglicization of "Kaffa bunn". Given that coffee beans are actually berries, this theory makes even more sense.
For more about languages and the word coffee, check out Words for Coffee Around the World.
Ethiopia Coffee Farms - TOP 7 Sites
July 23, 2017 By Samuel
Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX)
- is an organized marketplace, where buyers and sellers come together to trade, assured of quality, quantity, payment, and delivery. The Exchange is jointly governed by private-public Board of Directors
- Coffee is a beverage obtained from 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
- 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.
Gesha Village Coffee Estate
- In 2011 we began developing a 500 hectare coffee farm in Gesha, Ethiopia with one vision in mind: to produce the best coffee in the world. After an exhaustive search, the estate location was chosen based on our strict criteria of altitude (1900-2100 MASL), ample rainfall, temperature patterns, rich virgin forest soil, old growth trees, and an existing coffee ecosystem.
- Founded in 1975, the Konga Cooperative is located in Yirgacheffe, the most densely populated part of Ethiopia and the country’s leading producer of coffee. It began with a group of 275 women and over 1,000 men and it has since grown to nearly 4,000 members. Compare that to Capucas, one of the most well-known cooperatives in Central America, which has around 300 members.
- The reason for this is because in Ethiopia people cannot be landowners. They only have squatting plots which are handed down within families, so an Ethiopian coffee farmer is working a very small area and will typically only produce 1-4 bags of green coffee per season.
Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (OCFCU)
- is an exporting cooperative with offices in Addis Ababa, and affiliated farmer cooperatives located throughout the coffee growing regions of Ethiopia. Oromia was established in 1999 to facilitate the direct exportation of coffee produced by Ethiopia’s small farmers and assist in marketing, processing and credit issues.
- Oromia is a well organized umbrella organization responsible for processing, marketing, and commercializing coffee for its members. The union is comprised of 101 cooperatives, made up of 74,795 members as of 2006. OCFCU works exclusively in Oromia Regional State, which accounts for 65 percent of the country’s total coffee growing land and includes coffees from Limu, Sidamo, Yirgacheffe, Nekemte, Jimma, Sidamo, Neqemte/ Ghimbi, and Harrar.
Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union
- Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (SCFCU) was founded in 2001 to represent coffee producing cooperatives located throughout the Sidama Zone of southern Ethiopia. Originally, the Union consisted of 47 cooperatives societies which represented over 70,000 farmers.
- Today, SCFCU has grown to represent 47 primary cooperative societies and over 70,000 farmers (small holders) making SCFCU the second largest coffee producing cooperative union in Ethiopia. Nearly all coffee produced by our member cooperatives is shade grown in low densities under the canopies of indigenous trees and enset (false banana), a staple food crop.
Sigiga Multipurpose Cooperative
- Back in 2009 the actor and Broadway star Hugh Jackman spent a day working in the Sigiga Multipurpose Cooperative, a member of the Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperatives Union, in the Gedeo region of Ethiopia as part of his role as an ambassador of World Vision, an international relief, development and advocacy organization. The relationship he built with one of the farmer-members, Dukale, spurred he and his actor wife Deborra Lee Furness, also a World Vision ambassador, to start a social enterprise Laughing Man Worldwide, which markets the coffee produced by the cooperative.
Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperatives Union (YCFCU)
- currently represents over 43,794 farmers belonging to more than 300,000 families, and was established in June 2002. Its currently 23 member cooperatives are all located in Gedeo, southern Ethiopia. This area is in a region that is famous for coffee growing in the country.
- The 62,004 hectares gardens that are dedicated to coffee alone, on average produce 9,000 tons of Yirgacheffe and 3,000 tons of Sidamo washed coffee each year. The area also produces 24,000 tons of sun-dried coffee annually.
Filed Under: Coffee, Export Tagged With: coffee