Coffee 101: Coffee Origins – Ethiopia
Abyssinia – also known as present-day Ethiopia – is widely considered to be the birthplace of coffee. Today, it is also the 5th largest coffee producer worldwide.
Ethiopia is known for its diverse typography, geography, and climates. Altitudes can range from 100 meters below sea level to 4600 above in the Semien Mountains (the roof of Africa), and environments can range from dry deserts to the lush tropics. These ideal conditions yield a coffee that is renowned for its low acidity and fruity flavors.
The Legend Continues
An Ethiopian legend tells of Kaldi, a goat herder in the Kaffa Highlands, circa 850 AD, who noticed some of his goats were becoming riled after eating the red berries on a nearby shrub.
Taking the beans back to his local monastery, Kaldi was at first chided for sorcery. When the berries were tossed into the fire, however, the resulting aroma attracted other local monks, who decided to give these the strange berries a second chance. Attempting to preserve their flavor in water, they ultimately discovered the wonders of coffee.
Some historians believe Ethiopian monks and tribal warriors were already chewing coffee berries for their energy-giving properties. In fact, a brewed Ethiopian drink, known as buna or bunchum, pops up in Arabic texts as early as 900 AD.
Coffee did not begin to be formally cultivated in Ethiopia until the early 15th century. Commercial production followed two centuries later.
Ethiopia would experience tumultuous periods of war and changes in government on three separate occasions between 1950 and 2000, but the coffee industry never faltered.
A Brief Glance
Ethiopia’s coffee harvest takes place November through February. More than half of its coffee crop is consumed within the country, which – while one of the poorest nations in the world – is nonetheless well-equipped for its coffee production.
Coffee is ingrained in every fiber of Ethiopian culture. It is an intimate way of life that drives social conventions, such as coffee ceremonies in which the host roasts and brews coffee for their guests in one sitting.
Almost 98% of Ethiopia’s coffee producers are small landowners, who still manage to farm 300kg of the crop annually. The country produces upwards of 200,000 tons of coffee annually and boasts an industry that employs nearly 15 million individuals.
Ethiopia’s coffee plants boast 99% more genetic material than is found in the rest of the world. Most of these plants are not even categorized. However, naturally processed coffees have the unmistakable aroma of fruit – specifically berries.
Original Gesha plants originally found in Ethiopia are now grown throughout Central America.