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How do you take your Ethiopian coffee?

This article is taken from the Spring 2014 edition of the geog.newsletter, for schools using the KS3 geography course.

Did you know that Coffea arabica (that's coffee!) originated in Ethiopia? As legend would have it, a ninth-century goatherd named Kaldi discovered the effects of the caffeine-laden beans after noticing an increase in energy among his plucky charges.

How do you take your Ethiopian coffee?

This article is taken from the Spring 2014 edition of the geog.newsletter, for schools using the KS3 geography course.

Did you know that Coffea arabica (that's coffee!) originated in Ethiopia? As legend would have it, a ninth-century goatherd named Kaldi discovered the effects of the caffeine-laden beans after noticing an increase in energy among his plucky charges.



Whether that's apocryphal or not, the humble coffee bean has come to be worth 60% of Ethiopia's annual trade exports and the country's coffee accounts for 3% of the global market. It's estimated that 15 million Ethiopians (out of a population of 91.73 million) rely on some aspect of the industry for their livelihood.

The taste of Ethiopian coffee is a result of the perfect climatic conditions in which the many indigenous heirloom varieties grow, predominantly at high altitude. The plants experience sufficient rainfall and the rich, just-acidic-enough variety of soil they need to flourish and mature.

Grown for the most part in distinct regions, the coffee reaches you having been either "washed" or dry-processed. The washed varieties tend to be lighter and less earthy than the rich, sun-dried beans.

Three regional varieties and their characteristics

Sidamo Province
  • small, greyish beans
  • deep spice, wine or chocolate taste
  • floral aroma with citrus acidity


  • Yirgacheffe
  • much sought-after beans!
  • ripe red fruit flavour with a hint of dried fruit
  • long, creamy chocolate finish


  • Harrar
  • greenish-yellow beans
  • one of the oldest varieties still produced
  • the Harrar Mocha bean is a highly prized commodity