Courtesy of Kenneth Davids, 21st Century Coffee: A Guide
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.
Click here to view Ethiopia coffee ratings and reviews
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.
Price: NT $1,250/4 ounces
Richly sweet, spice-toned. Bergamot, nectarine, almond butter, cocoa nib, star jasmine in aroma and cup. Sweet-toned structure with gently bright acidity; full, syrupy mouthfeel. Focused, juicy finish centers around notes of bergamot and cocoa nib.
Price: NT $320/8 ounces
Richly floral, deeply aromatic. Narcissus, raspberry, cocoa nib, thyme, maple syrup in aroma and cup. Sweetly tart structure with bright, juicy acidity; full, syrupy-smooth mouthfeel. The finish leads with notes of narcissus and raspberry and undertones of cocoa nib.
Price: $34.50/12 ounces
: Anaerobic intrigue, gracefully balanced. Delicately tangy/tart, sweetly herb- and cocoa-toned. Clove, cocoa, tangerine zest, honey, orchid in aroma and cup. Lightly juicy and sweetly tart in structure; satiny in mouthfeel. The finish is cocoa-centered yet deeply and subtly nuanced.
Price: $28.00/12 ounces
Cleanly fruit-toned, crisply chocolaty. Date, pomegranate, cocoa nib, maple syrup, fresh-cut oak in aroma and cup. Sweet structure with high-toned, balanced acidity; viscous, syrupy mouthfeel. Long, resonant, flavor-laden finish.
Price: NT $550/8 ounces
Gently sweet-tart, floral-toned. Pomegranate, wisteria, pistachio, lime zest, fresh-cut oak in aroma and cup. Crisply sweet-tart structure with delicately bright acidity; satiny-smooth mouthfeel. The tart-leaning finish leads with notes of pomegranate and lime zest, with undertones of oak and pistachio.
Price: NT $349/8 ounces
Sweetly fruit-forward, richly aromatic. Lychee, tangerine zest, cocoa nib, lemon verbena, maple syrup in aroma and cup. Sweet-tart structure with bright acidity; satiny-smooth mouthfeel. The finish centers around notes of lychee and tangerine zest with cocoa undertones.
Price: NT $500/8 ounces
Balanced, crisply fruit-toned. Black cherry, pink grapefruit zest, almond, agave syrup, lilac in aroma and cup. Sweet-toned structure with gentle acidity; full, syrupy mouthfeel. Delicately fruit-toned finish with undertones of almond.
Price: NT $369/8 ounces
Balanced, delicate, fruit-toned. Lily, baking chocolate, dried blueberry, cedar, agave syrup in aroma and cup. Sweet-toned with brisk acidity; velvety mouthfeel. Fruit-toned finish with cedar undertones.
Price: $22.00/12 ounces
Richly floral, subtly complex. Star jasmine, cocoa nib, apricot, almond butter, cedar in aroma and cup. Sweet-toned structure with floral acidity; crisp, silky mouthfeel. The resonant finish centers around notes of cocoa nib and almond butter.
Price: $22.00/12 ounces
Sweetly citrusy, floral-toned. Violet, pink grapefruit, baking chocolate, fresh-cut fir, cane sugar in aroma and cup. Sweet-tart structure with brisk acidity; crisp, satiny mouthfeel. The quiet finish consolidates to notes of pink grapefruit and fresh-cut fir.
Price: $35.00/12 ounces
Elegantly fruit-toned, lactic-leaning. Mulberry, pineapple yogurt, cocoa nib, hop flowers, sandalwood in aroma and cup. Bittersweet structure with bright, winy acidity; plush, syrupy mouthfeel. Crisp finish with notes of pineapple yogurt and sandalwood.
Price: $20.95/12 ounces
Complex, multi-layered. Cocoa nib, Meyer lemon marmalade, magnolia, hazelnut, maple syrup in aroma and cup. Brightly sweet structure with high-toned acidity; very satiny, smooth mouthfeel. Crisp finish that leads with notes of Meyer lemon and cocoa nib.
Price: $20.00/12 ounces
Sweetly-fruit-forward. Just-picked blueberry, honeycomb, cashew butter, marjoram, baking chocolate in aroma and cup. Sweet-toned structure with pert acidity; pillowy, creamy-smooth mouthfeel. The finish is centered around notes of honey and cashew.
Price: $19.00/12 ounces
Sweetly-tart, fruit-toned. Dried raspberry, baking chocolate, clove, lime zest, fresh-cut oak in aroma and cup. Sweet-tart structure with brisk acidity; lightly satiny mouthfeel. Spice-toned finish with undercurrents of berries and crisp chocolate.
Price: $20.00/12 ounces
Delicately sweet-tart. Green grape, cocoa powder, bay leaf, fresh-cut fir, brown sugar in aroma and cup. Sweet-tart structure with brisk acidity; crisp, velvety mouthfeel. The gently drying finish leads with notes of cocoa powder and brown sugar, with hints of sweet herbs in the long.
Price: $22.00/12 ounces
Gently fruit-toned, richly wood-framed. Pie cherry, balsa wood, maple syrup, lemon balm, grapefruit zest in aroma and cup. Sweet structure with gentle, round acidity; crisp, silky mouthfeel. Wood-framed finish with tart cherry and grapefruit suggestions.
Price: $17.00/12 ounces
Brightly sweet, quite vibrant. Pink grapefruit, cocoa nib, apricot, bay leaf, maple syrup in aroma and cup. Sweetly tart structure with juicy acidity; very silky, lively mouthfeel. The finish centers around notes of cocoa nib and sweet grapefruit.
Price: NT $450 /4 ounces
Richly fruit-centered, deeply chocolaty. Dried mango, dark chocolate, wisteria, cedar, lemon thyme in aroma and cup in aroma and cup. Sweetly tart structure with winy acidity; plush, syrupy mouthfeel. The deep-toned finish consolidates to notes of dried mango, dark chocolate and cedar.
Price: NT $390/8 ounces
Brightly sweet-tart, fruit-toned. Apricot, dark chocolate, pistachio butter, bay leaf, blood orange in aroma and cup. High-toned and sweet with juicy acidity; viscous, satiny-smooth mouthfeel. Resonant, flavor-laden finish consolidates to dark chocolate and pistachio notes.
Price: $22.00/285 grams
Crisp, citrusy-sweet. Baking chocolate, lime zest, cedar, date, agave syrup in aroma and cup. Sweetly tart structure with brisk acidity; silky mouthfeel. The finish consolidates to notes of baking chocolate and lime zest.