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Before we’d heard the words Italian espresso and before Colombian coffee had any meaning, there was Ethiopian coffee. Rife with history and providing a quality that few countries could hope to compete with, Ethiopian coffee beans are the reason that any of us have our morning cup of coffee.
Whether you have tried it before or not, you deserve to try coffee from the best Ethiopian coffee beans. Well I have good news, because that is exactly what we’ll be discussing in this article. But first, let’s talk about the origin of this delicious bean.
If you want to skip all of that and just buy my #1 pick, here’s the link: Volcanica Coffee: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.
What Makes Ethiopan Coffee Unique?
The history of Ethiopian coffee
There’s a story told in 9th-century Ethiopia about a goat herder named Kaldi. As the legend goes, Kaldi was out in the field tending to his flock on day when he noticed something unusual. His goats kept eating a particular type of berry and getting very excited.
Kaldi passed this information to the Abbot of a local monastery who began experimenting with the beans. The Abbott’s experimentation quickly showed the invigorating effects of the coffee beans. Soon, word of this discovery spread across the country, and coffee became a staple.
The truthfulness of that story may be in doubt, but there is little doubt that Ethiopia is where the coffee plant was discovered, and they were certainly the epicenter of the coffee revolution. No country can boast a history with coffee that comes close to rivaling theirs.
In the 15th-century, the Ethiopian coffee bean mades its way into the hands of Sheikh Gemaleddin Abou Muhammad Bensaid in Yemen, leading to coffee’s eventual growth into the global powerhouse it is today. None of that would have happened without Ethiopia: the growthplace of the Arabica bean.
Ethiopian coffee regions
There are thousands of varieties of Ethiopian coffee. The country’s uniquely-varied geographical landscape and the importance of coffee to their culture and economy provide both the ability and impetus to grow some of the best and most varied beans in the world.
The coffee from even neighboring farms can differ due to growing and processing methods, but the coffee growers in Ethiopia can roughly be broken up into large growing regions. Of these regions, three stand out as dominant players on the world field: Sidamo, Yirgacheffe, and Harrar.
In the South East Zone of the country, you’ll find a province called Sidamo. They have everything that a coffee grower could ask for: rainfall, high altitudes, the right temperature, and high-quality soil. Everything comes together to give their coffee beans a superb quality, floraland citrus notes, a distinct acidity, and a full-body mouthfeel.
Yirgacheffe is a name that every coffee lover should come to know. Although it’s located within the province of Sidamo, their coffee is a wholly distinct product from that of their neighboring regions. Most coffee in this region is grown on small family farms, which may explain some of its unique aspects. Most regions in Ethiopia dry-process their beans, but Yirgacheffe prefers to wet-process theirs, further accentuating the regional differences.
Their coffee has a more complex flavor profile and is very bright. Instead of the full-bodied mouthfeel in the rest of the province, Yirgacheffe coffee tends to be medium-bodied. The aromatic notes in Yirgacheffe coffee are flowery, and it is typically described as leaving a pleasant aftertaste.
Northeast of those regions you’ll find Ethiopia’s other world-famous coffee-growing region: Harrar. This region grows beans that result in a medium-acidity, full-bodied coffee. It’s intense — often pungent — fruity flavor is often compared to that of wine, pairing well with the berry flavor notes. Their beans are grown at a high elevation, but not quite as high as those of other regions. The region is full of small farms, and many even still naturally process the beans
Ethiopan coffee stats
- Ethiopia produces over 440,000 metric tons of coffee each year, representing 3% of the global coffee market.
- Ethiopia’s coffee exports total roughly 240,000 metric tons per year, making them the 10th-largest coffee exporter in the world and the largest African producer.
- Coffee is Ethiopia’s most valuable export, accounting for 34% of the total value of their exports.
- The US is the 4th-largest importer of Ethiopian coffee, purchasing roughly 11% of their exports.
- Of the roughly $5.7 billion of coffee that the US imports each year, Ethiopian coffee accounts for $140 million dollars worth.
- About 4,000 square kilometers of land in the Ethiopia are devoted to growing coffee.
- 15 million Ethiopians, 14% of their population, rely on coffee as their sole source of income.
The 7 Best Ethiopian Coffee Beans
1. Volcanica Coffee: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
Show me a list of the best Ethiopian coffee beans that doesn’t include Volcanica coffee as number one, and I’ll show you someone that doesn’t know amazing coffee. We’ll get to the flavor in a minute, but let me start with a really cool fact:
Volcanica sources their beans from indigenous coffee trees that grow in the wild. How many coffee brands can say that?
This medium roast has a sweet, sophisticated flavor to it. You can also expect hints of pineapple guava, dark chocolate, and strawberry. It is medium-bodied with a bright acidity that is hard not to love.
Their beans are grown organically, and they are fair trade certified. This is a coffee that you can feel good about drinking.
Out of the Grey also sources their beans from indigenous coffee trees. You can expect chocolatey and floral notes from their coffee. In particular, expect hints of sandalwood, lychee, spice, and cocoa. Their medium-dark roast coffee is forest-grown, bird-friendly, and organic.
They work with a local Ethiopian group called the Oromia Coffee Farmers’ Co-operative Union. This small organic cooperative produces 65% of Ethiopia’s premium coffee beans using a technique known as intercropping — with coffee beans grown among several varieties of mangoes, avocadoes, ginger, and more. The cooperative was even recognized for their unique varietals by the Specialty Coffee Association of America.
3. Fresh Roasted Coffee: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Kochere Coffee
This one is a bit different. They aren’t wild-grown, fair trade certified or organic. Instead, they come from a small, coffee-producing district, one of the most popular in Yirgacheffe. Kochere offers a light roast coffee that is delicate — with honey sweetness, lemon acidity and an overall balanced flavor profile.
If you want a Fresh Roasted Coffee option that is both fair trade certified and USDA organic, Ethiopian Natural Sidamo is a great alternative. It’s earthiness, creamy mouthfeel, and berry sweetness create a balance that is certainly worth a try.
4. Wild Coffee: Sidamo Coffee
Expect hints of blueberry (although some say its more like raspberry) in the overall fruity, floral flavor of this roast. It has a creamy mouthfeel that is just heavenly. Their beans are fair trade, organic and naturally processed. If you are looking for a low-acid coffee option from Ethiopia, this is probably the one for you.
Square one is an award-winning micro-roaster that believes in transparency. They ethically source their beans from a washing station in the village of Chelchle. The fruity flavor of this roast will remind you of a fine wine, and you can expect hints of peach, cocoa, and concord grape in each sip. The only downside of the high standards of this Pennsylvania company is that you may find your favorite products sold out at times. Sometimes you have to sacrifice availability to maintain a rigorous quality standard.
The first review I ever read of this coffee described it as having a resemblance to gingerbread cookies. Needless to say, I was intrigued. The usual floral and fruity notes of Ethiopian beans are replaced by hints of currant, blackberry, cocoa, and spice in this roast.
This may be one of the boldest Ethiopian coffee options out there, and it makes a great espresso. You may want to add some milk to counteract the bitterness and elucidate the cocoa flavor.
7. Cooper’s Cask Coffee: Ethiopian Light Roast
The best coffee is roasted in small batches, and that is no different with Ethiopian coffee beans. Expect hints of honey, tart lemon, floral nectar and berries in this unique roast. Its bright and aromatic nature is simply delicious. Their high standards lead them to use organic, fair trade, and Farm Gate coffee beans.
The only thing deeper and richer than the flavor of coffee is its history. Ethiopians have had hundreds of years of a headstart on developing the best coffee in all the world, and they took full advantage. When it comes to floral aromas and fruity flavors, you can’t go wrong with Ethiopian coffee.
In this list, I’ve tried to offer some of the best Ethiopian coffee beans from a variety of Ethiopian coffee styles. I guarantee you’ll find something you enjoy.