Ethiopian coffees are sweet and show a wide variety of natural flavors, depending on the region or the roast. The most desired flavor is blueberry, which can be found in the best Ethiopian coffees. Ethiopia is famous for other fruit flavors, like strawberry and melon.
It’s no surprise that Ethiopia produces some of the best coffees in the world – it is the birthplace of coffee. Coffea arabica, the coffee plant, hails from Ethiopia. They have been caring for the coffee bean for longer than anyone else.
Ethiopia also makes an art out of drinking coffee. Coffee is a community occasion. Any meeting of people will include coffee, served black with sugar. This ceremony starts with roasting the beans. As people smell the beans roasting, they draw near to drink coffee with friends and strangers.
In this guide we’ll explore the coffees of Ethiopia and the nuances of their flavors.
In This Guide:
Ethiopia is still the seventh largest producer of coffee in the world. It always rises to the top 5 when people rank the best coffee-growing countries. We know their coffee for its genetic diversity. Most growers around the world grow single strains, which focus on a single taste. In Ethiopia, the plants have a mix of different genes. Ethiopian coffee holds 90% of the genetic diversity in coffee.
The legend of the birth of coffee goes like this. A goatherder saw his goats eating berries off some low trees. After eating, the goats would dance around. He tasted some berries, and, liking them, brought them home to his tribe. Of course, the legend leaves out drying, roasting, and converting to a liquid.
We categorize Ethiopian coffees by their growing conditions. These are listed in order of their overall quality.
- Forest coffees – from the southwest of the country, mostly from wild trees
- Garden coffees – from a small coffee grower with trees planted around their homestead
- Plantation coffees – from trees grown on large, intensive farms
Almost all coffees in Ethiopia are forest and garden coffees cared for by small family farms. The coffee is nearly all organic, because the farmers are too poor to buy fertilizers and other inputs.
Types of Coffee Berries
The berries are also categorized by size and quality. But all these beans are high quality. The mocha just delivers a great version of more frequently found flavors.
- Longberry – the largest beans and highest quality
- Shortberry – smaller high-grade bean from Eastern Ethiopia
- Mocha – prized for peaberry beans with tastes of chocolate, spice, and citrus
Ethiopian coffees are famous for their taste when roasted dark. They make good espresso beans, and the taste comes out even better in a full city (medium-dark) roast.
However, try light-roasted coffees. With a light roast, the regional flavors of blueberry, strawberry, mint, bergamot, and more appear in your drink. A pour-over brew will bring out the multiple flavors of a light- or medium-roasted coffee.
Specific regions and their associated flavor profiles
Ethiopians name (and trademark) their coffees by region. The best way to find the flavors you want is to search for coffees by region.
Sidamo (or Sidama) is the largest and highest zone that produces coffee in Ethiopia. This region may be the original region where people cultivated coffee. Their coffee tastes of chocolate and fruit, especially berries and citrus. Its high acidity gives the coffee a crisp taste. This coffee qualifies as “Strictly High Grown” (SHG), being cultivated at elevations from 1,500 up to 2,200 meters (about 1.37 mi) above sea level.
Yirgacheffe is the smallest and most famous coffee-growing region in Ethiopia. Its taste is floral and sweet, including notes of lime, peach, and mint or bergamot. Overall, the coffee is smooth and mild with a clean flavor. Yirgacheffe has some of the harshest growing conditions. These conditions make the beans grow more slowly, so they develop more complex flavors.
Guji coffees are floral and fruity with special flavors of tangerine, lychee, and strawberry. The Guji Zone is the most recent, separated from Sidamo in 2002. Many of the trees in Guji are wild heirloom trees. A coffee tree can be called an “heirloom” if it is over 50 years old. You can search for the blueberry taste among Guji’s coffees.
Harar coffee is less popular than it used to be in the west. This is odd because the coffee has a fantastic, savory flavor. Its blueberry taste is famous if it can be brought out by the roaster. Other major tastes are fruit and wine. Harrar coffee is mostly sundried and sorted by hand.
Genika coffees taste like spiced wine and chocolate. The beans are small and greyish, but do not let their appearance fool you. These beans supply vibrant flavors.
Try these Ethiopian coffees
Geisha is currently the most expensive coffee in the world. It went on a wild journey. Geisha beans from Ethiopia were sent to Latin America, where they were called Gesha. Panama refined them through careful breeding and improved them to increase their value. After that, they returned to Ethiopia as Geisha again. Bergamot, jasmine, and peach are some of the rare flavors released by the bean.
Volcanica’s Ethiopian Yirgacheffe gives you the best tastes of Ethiopia with its range of complex flavors. This coffee is roasted medium-light to highlight the fruit flavors of lemon, blueberry, and blackberry. Unlike Geisha, Volcanica’s coffees are affordable and easy to find.
Going with a small roaster, Jim’s Organic Coffee’s Ethiopian Sidamo Nura Korate comes from a co-op of small farmers. Much of their coffee is grown on heirloom trees. This medium roast has strong tastes of lemon, chocolate, and spice.
Honestly, you cannot go wrong with an Ethiopian coffee. Look above and pick the region whose tastes you are most drawn to and try it. The reason that Ethiopian coffee is so famous is that it is all exceedingly high quality. My recommendation is to go for a berry hunt to find those elusive blueberry, strawberry, and blackberry flavors.