Origin Story: Ethiopia / by Bryan Hibbard

Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. Unless you talk to a farmer from Yemen; then Yemen is the birthplace of coffee.  But most experts agree that the wild coffee as we currently know it originated in the forests of Ethiopia. Ethiopia has been growing coffee for hundreds of years, and it has remained largely unchanged since its inception.

Small farmers (like 10-15 trees growing in your backyard, small) still cultivate the same heirloom varieties their ancestors grew. There are literally hundreds of heirloom varieties growing in Ethiopia. One such variety, Gesha, has gained a lot of notoriety lately. Farmers in Central America (beginning with Panama) started experimenting with this variety, with pretty amazing results. They were able to produce coffees with a genuine Ethiopian style but mixed with the terroir of their own region. These coffees fetch amazingly high prices and many roasters today like to offer a very limited run Gesha as a special for true connoisseurs. I only wonder how many more hidden gems there are in the heirloom varieties of Ethiopia.

Coffee is culture in Ethiopia. It is one of the few origins where the majority of the best coffee is kept for domestic consumption. Ethiopians roast their own coffee over an open fire and serve it in a traditional ceremony. One thing to remember, if you need good coffee and good food, an Ethiopian restaurant will likely roast their own coffee on site.

In Ethiopia you will find both wet and dry processed coffee. They are both excellent, and unlike anywhere else. Ethiopian dry processed coffees tend to be intensely fruity and full bodied. My importer offers an Ethiopian Natural that is super blueberry. Ethiopian wet processed coffees are some of the most intensely aromatic coffees I have sampled. I offer a wet processed Ethiopian coffee from the Yirgacheffe region that has a hint of blueberry but with black tea and lemon and an intense floral aromatic. I love Yirgacheffe coffees as an introduction for a new specialty coffee drinker. The flavors are so different and distinct, it gives a very clear picture of why my coffee is different from your average diner brew. In fact, I was just doing a cupping with some of my team for Blockhouse and a comment was made about how interesting the flavors in the Yirgacheffe was. It is a new lot I am trying and it tasted like Peach black tea to me.

Ethiopia will always be one of my very favorite origins for the general wow factor of amazing flavors that come from its heirloom varieties. It may be the origin of coffee as we know it, but it is also one of the finest examples of just how much and how little coffee has changed. "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" "The more things change, the more they stay the same."