The Motherland of Coffee: Ethiopia

Photo by Cup A Lot

Photo by Cup A Lot

Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee - the only country/region where coffee is endemic. Mainly through the French and Dutch colonialists the cultivar was spread around the world (or coffee belt) in the 17th and 18th century onwards.

In contrast to all other origins, most coffee trees in Ethiopia are not cultivars but mixed heirloom varieties - an estimated six to ten thousand different unspecified varieties. Most coffee is grown by smallholder families with farms between 1 and 2 hectares. They are members of a cooperative and deliver their ripe cherries to their local washing station, operated by professional staff.

One other particularity of Ethiopia is its elevation: The high central plateau varies from 1290 masl to 3000 masl. Thus, Ethiopian coffee is grown at great altitude and develops very complex acidity. This results in typical cup profiles, although there are certain differences based on terroir/growing region and processing.

Washed processed coffees usually have a rather high acidity, floral and fruity cup characteristics and an elegant body. Natural processed coffees from Ethiopia tend to show intense and funky berry-like flavors and have a big body.

Coffee trade wise, Ethiopia has undergone various changes in the past. In 2008, the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) was established and all commodities like wheat, sesame and corn but also coffee had to be sold through this auction system. The idea of the Ethiopian government was to ensure the development of an efficient modern trading system that would protect the rights and benefits of sellers, buyers and intermediaries.

By selling/buying through this system blurred traceability and specialty coffee buyers basically had either the option to buy non-traceable coffee from private exporters or limited supply of traceable coffee from cooperative unions or large farms. This system created a disincentive for farmers to produce high quality lots and sell them at a premium price - much rather the farmers produced average quality good enough to pass the ECX auction grade.

With the years and although rather difficult, ECX suppliers and coffee merchants became good at finding unofficial ways of tracing coffee back through the system.

In 2017 though, the Ethiopian Coffee and Tea Authority started loosening the existing regulations and drafting a new set of principles with the goal of generating increasing amounts of export earnings. Although not all regulations have been set in stone yet, coffee from Ethiopia has increased its traceability - not only down to the cooperative or washing station, but the separation into different lots and growing micro-regions.

We rely on our green coffee partners - for our Ethiopian coffees this is Cup A Lot based near Gent, Belgium - to foster the relationship with the local producers, cooperatives and exporters as well as to handle logistics and quality control. They are our link to origin while we don't have the resources to travel around the world to find coffee.

Photo by Cup A Lot

Photo by Cup A Lot