For many, the word Ethiopia provokes visions of deserts, droughts and famines. Yet the lush, green hills of southern and southwestern Ethiopiaare more likely to strike visitors who actually go there as paradisal. And, although Ethiopia remains among the world’s poorest countries per capita, for the coffee aficionado it is perhaps the richest place on earth, the source of some of the world’s most varied and distinctive coffees. Ethiopia typically generates about 4% of the world’s coffee, but all is Arabica and much of it is impressive to extraordinary.
Southern and Western Ethiopia
The producing regions of southern and southwestern Ethiopia in particular stand apart from the world’s other fine coffee origins. Witness:
- The forests of southwestern Ethiopia are the original botanical home of Coffea arabica, and they continue to harbor most of the unexplored genetic diversity still existing in the species.
- Much Ethiopia coffee is produced from indigenous Ethiopian varieties of Arabica; these native landrace varieties display symphonic complexities in aroma and flavor that, at their most distinctive, can make even other distinctive varieties of the world — like SL28 and Bourbon — seem a bit limited in sensory range. The only currently cultivated competitor to the finest native Ethiopian varieties in respect to cup and complexity is Geisha or Gesha, which is an Ethiopia variety (a particularly brilliant one) brought to the New World.
- Export-quality Ethiopia coffees from the south and west are almost always free of significant processing or drying taints. Fruit removal for the wet-processed coffees of these regions is performed using classic ferment-and-wash techniques carried out at well-managed, centralized wet mills or washing stations. Dry or natural-process coffees intended for the specialty market are most likely prepared with analogous care.
- Almost all Ethiopia coffee is grown by small-holding farmers, most of whom very likely have never used chemical inputs. Not only is this reassuring to consumers, but it also makes a transition to formal organic certification relatively easy, accounting for the widespread availability of superb organic-certified Ethiopias.
- Ethiopians deeply care about coffee and understand it. Its lore is woven into their culture. They do not produce great coffee and then go home to drink tea, as Kenyans do, or instant coffee, as sadly occurs in many of the coffee world’s other coffee-growing regions. The Ethiopians themselves consume close to half of their country’s production, most of it roasted fresh.
- Unfortunately for the many cash-poor villages of small-holding Ethiopia farmers, but fortunately for coffee lovers elsewhere in the world, most fine Ethiopia coffees are amazing bargains. A really distinguished coffee from the Yirgacheffe region is luminous, extraordinary, as great and distinctive as any in the world, yet it is likely to sell for routine, everyday specialty coffee prices.
The Harrar Exception
Note that these glowing affirmations apply mainly to the coffees of southern and western Ethiopia (traded through the capital Addis Ababa, including the most famous market names Yirgacheffe and Sidama/Sidamo) and not necessarily to the coffees of eastern Ethiopia, which are traded through the city of DireDawa and are sold under the market name Harrar (also Harar, Harer or Harari). Harrars more resemble the coffees of Yemen than the coffees of southern and western Ethiopia; they are produced from indigenous tree varieties naturalized to the rather arid growing conditions of the Harrar region and are almost always processed by the dried-in-the-fruit or natural method.
Unlike the relatively dynamic coffee industries of south and west Ethiopia, Harrar has languished over the past two decades with little innovation or improvement in quality. Many Harrar coffee farmers now prefer to grow khat, a tree whose fresh leaves are chewed as a stimulant, and which offers them year-round income rather than seasonal income, as does coffee.
At this writing, one only occasionally sees Harrar coffees in the North American specialty market, although they may be a bit more common in northern Europe. Hopefully Harrar will find the leadership and partners it needs to bring it back into specialty coffee as the great and honored origin it was 40 years ago.
Ethiopia Growing Regions
The coffee-name geography of Ethiopia is changing. Overlaid on the traditional regional names— particularly Yirgacheffe and Sidama (or Sidamo), both celebrated names in recent coffee history — are more lately established names for regions, zones and districts aimed at reflecting and honoring various Ethiopian traditional or tribal identities. These newer names form the backbone in the complex ECX grading system. On bags and websites, you may find the old, generalized regional naming or the newer, more ethnically correct terminology, or both. Or the main descriptor simply may consist of the name of one of the many well-known cooperatives or wet mills.
Ethiopia Coffee Ratings and Reviews
The Ethiopia coffees reviewed below are listed in reverse chronological order by review date. Only reviews published in the past five years are displayed. Click here to view older reviews of coffees from Ethiopia. Older reviews may no longer accurately reflect current versions of the same coffee.
High-toned, fruit-driven. Boysenberry, pear, cocoa nib, tangerine zest, pink peppercorn in aroma and cup. Sweetly tart structure with juicy-bright acidity; crisp, velvety mouthfeel. The finish consolidates to notes of boysenberry and tangerine zest with undertones of pink peppercorn.
High-toned, juicy-sweet. Mango, cocoa nib, magnolia, lemongrass, pink peppercorn in aroma and cup. Sweet-tart structure with bright, balanced acidity; syrupy-smooth mouthfeel. Flavor-laden finish, long and lingering, centered around notes of mango and cocoa nib.
Richly spice-toned, floral-driven. Bergamot, lilac, cocoa nib, blackberry, wild honey in aroma and cup. Complex, bittersweet structure with juicy, balanced acidity; plush, creamy mouthfeel. The long, flavor-saturated finish carries over all the nuance of the cup.
Rich-toned, deeply floral. White peach, tea rose, cocoa nib, pink grapefruit zest, cedar in aroma and cup. Sweetly tart with high-toned acidity; satiny-smooth mouthfeel. Cocoa nib and tea rose characterize the quiet, confident finish.
Price: $40.00/10 ounces
Richly floral-toned, crisply sweet. Honeysuckle, lime zest, cocoa nib, marjoram, cedar in aroma and cup. Brightly sweet structure with juicy acidity; full, syrupy mouthfeel. The finish consolidates to notes of honeysuckle and lime.
Price: $24.00/12 ounces
Elegantly sweet, floral-toned. Lilac, almond, pink peppercorn, apricot, nougat in aroma and cup. Balanced, sweetly tart structure with juicy acidity; syrupy, viscous mouthfeel. The finish consolidates to notes of sweet almond and pink peppercorn.
Price: $35.00/10 ounces
Delicately fruit-toned, tisane-like. Dried strawberry, baking chocolate, lemon verbena, maple syrup, cashew butter in aroma and cup. Sweetly tart structure with gently bright acidity; silky mouthfeel. Pleasing, quietly berry-toned finish.
Richly sweet, berry-toned. Blueberry pie, baking chocolate, lemon-thyme, agave syrup, cedar in aroma and cup. Sweet structure with gentle acidity; very full, creamy mouthfeel. Richly cedar-framed finish with undertones of crisp chocolate and dried blueberry.
Richly floral, deeply savory, invitingly complex. Lilac, cocoa nib, strawberry guava, myrrh, salted caramel in aroma and cup. Sweet-savory structure with sparkling acidity; elegantly viscous mouthfeel. Long, lingering cocoa- and floral-toned finish.
Richly fruit-toned, cocoa-driven. Bing cherry, lychee, tangerine, cocoa nib, magnolia in aroma and cup. Very sweet, gently tart structure with juicy acidity; plush, viscous mouthfeel. Resonantly integrated, fruity and cocoa-toned finish.
Juicy, citrusy-sweet. Tangerine, cocoa nib, plum, marjoram, freesia-like flowers in aroma and cup. Sweet-tart structure with vibrant, high-toned acidity; lightly satiny mouthfeel. The finish consolidates to notes of tangerine zest and cocoa nib.
Remarkably sweet, rich-toned, deeply floral. Star jasmine, lychee, dried ginger, cocoa nib, myrrh in aroma and cup. Sweetly tart structure with juicy, lively acidity; delicate, very syrupy mouthfeel. Crisp, long, fruit- and cocoa-toned finish.
Price: NT $400/8 ounces
Richly sweet, cocoa-driven and crisply fruity. Concord grape, dark chocolate, plumeria, marjoram, sandalwood in aroma and cup. Sweet-toned structure with bright, juicy acidity; plush, syrupy mouthfeel. The resonant, flavor-saturated finish leads with fruit and chocolate suggestions.
Price: NT $459/8 ounces
Complex, delicate, richly sweet. Star jasmine, pink grapefruit zest, nectarine, sandalwood, bay leaf in aroma and cup. Crisp, sweetly tart structure with bright acidity; silky-smooth, vibrant mouthfeel. Grapefruit, nectarine and cashew notes lead in the multi-layered finish.
Price: NT $350/8 ounces
Rich, intensely floral, fruit-toned. Lilac, dried apricot, baking chocolate, frankincense, fresh-cut oak in aroma and cup. Lively, sweet-tart structure with vibrant acidity; full, syrupy-smooth mouthfeel. The resonant finish centers around crisp citrus and sweet floral tones, deepened by notes of baking chocolate.
Price: NT $399/8 ounces
Delicately fruity, spice-toned. Red plum, ginger blossom, cocoa nib, lemon balm, maple syrup in aroma and cup. Gently vibrant structure with round acidity; viscous, satiny mouthfeel. Cocoa-toned finish, supported by notes of lemon balm and maple syrup.
Complex, nuanced, deep. White nectarine, lavender, dark chocolate, maple syrup, tangerine zest in aroma and cup. Richly sweet structure with crisply bright acidity; very full, syrupy mouthfeel. Cocoa-toned finish supported by notes of white nectarine and maple syrup.
Price: $21.00/12 ounces
Floral and richly fruit-toned. Guava, tea rose, sage, pralines, cane sugar in aroma and cup. Sweet-tart structure with winy acidity; full, syrupy mouthfeel. The rich finish leads with notes of tea rose and guava, supported by cane sugar.
High-toned, crisply sweet-tart. Dried plum, baking chocolate, rhododendron, cedar, almond in aroma and cup. Sweetly tart with brisk acidity; velvety mouthfeel. The fruit-toned finish is supported by notes of cedar and baking chocolate.
Crisply sweet-tart, cocoa-toned. Watermelon candy, cocoa nib, pistachio brittle, fresh-cut fir, brown sugar in aroma and cup. Tart-leaning structure with citric acidity; full, syrupy mouthfeel. Cocoa and pistachio lead the quiet, wood-framed finish.