Ethiopia is well known by many for being the birthplace of coffee. Legend has it that a goatherd witnessed goats eating berries from a tree, becoming extra high-spirited, and later sleepless in the evening. The goatherd relayed his finding to the priests of his local monastery, who began experimenting with the berries. The abbot discovered that it enabled him to increase his alertness and stamina through long evening prayer sessions. Soon, the whole monastery was using coffee to improve their performance.
Ethiopian Coffee Culture
Coffee would eventually become a large part of Ethiopian culture. In fact, Ethiopians prefer to keep the best beans in the local economy, as they have developed a strong culture around drinking and enjoying the brew. Most other cultures tend to export the premium beans (which fetch top prices on the global commodities markets), and to leave the dregs for local consumption.
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In fact, Ethiopians have created great ceremony around their enjoyment of coffee. They have created a ceremony that might be compared with the Chinese and Japanese tea ceremonies. In the coffee ceremony, the beans go through the full preparation process, from roasting through to the final pour. Traditionally, a young woman in a white dress will perform the ceremony for participants. The ceremony is a central part of social life in Ethiopian villages and takes place at three times of the day: morning, noon, and night, in cities like Yirgacheffe.
Yirgacheffe Bean Diversity
After the diaspora of the coffee bean via early trade routes, the bean began to diversify according to the climate it found itself in. Thus, the generic term ″coffee″ no longer implies a single flavor profile. There are as many flavor profiles for coffee as there are regions that grow the bean.
In Ethiopia alone, there is a wide variety available. The Sidamo region is Ethiopia’s primary growing region, and it includes the original Yirgacheffe beans. While people do compare coffee from Sidamo to other varieties, such as Kenyan beans or even Central American varieties, they are effectively comparing green apples and red, or tangerines and navel oranges.
Ethiopia’s Harrar region may not have been the first to cultivate coffee, but that’s okay, beans from there are wild, which means that the beans are allowed to dry on the branch. This natural process yields a sweeter, fruitier flavor that some people compare to blueberry, but also to cardamom and cocoa. Compare these Harrar beans to typical Robusta or Arabica beans.
Everyone has their favorite bean and roaster, but coffee lovers should all seek out the Ethiopian beans for a real treat. Keep an eye out for Yirgacheffe or Sidamo beans to get a taste of what those early monks enjoyed, and then move on to coffee from Harrar for a completely new taste. Ethiopian coffee should certainly be sampled at least once by any true lover of the bean!