Origin Notes

Ethiopia is universally recognized as the birthplace of coffee, and produces some of the most complex and exciting coffees in the world.

Coffee was first cultivated in Ethiopia in the 1500’s. In the nearly 500 years since, growing methods have remained largely unchanged. The vast majority of Ethiopia’s coffee production comes from small-holder farmers, each producing an average of 300kg (5 bags) per year. The coffee from these small producers comes from one of three production methods: forest grown (wild coffee grown under full cover of forest trees), semi-forest (farmers thin trees and slash weeds once a year to facilitate harvesting), and garden (planted in low densities, fertilized with organic material and inter-cropped). Private and government owned plantations utilizing more modern farming techniques are responsible for the rest of the country’s production.

Coffee is processed both by washing methods where water is available, and natural dry methods where water is scarce. Within Ethiopia Grades 1 and 2 are considered specialty grade, and Grades 3 and 4 are considered commercial, although “commercial” typically means processed at home vs centrally, and we see many high-scoring Grade 3 and Grade 4 naturals.

Very generally, washing is most used in the southern zones of Sidama and Gedeo, know for producing Sidamo and Yirgacheffe coffees, although natural dry processing is also common. The eastern growing areas around Harrar produce almost exclusively natural dry coffees. The western areas around the town of Jimma have historically produced primarily natural dry coffees, but began washing coffee as well in 2009, when the NGO TechnoServe introduced mechanical “aquapulper” washing equipment to the area.

The year 2009 brought another fundamental change to Ethiopia’s coffee industry, the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX). The ECX is a government-run, open outcry commodity exchange for coffee, which manages nearly all smallholder coffee transactions. With the exception of cooperatives and private estates, all coffee exported from Ethiopia flowed through this exchange, where it is graded and traded anonymously, identified only by its region, processing method, and cup quality (as judged by panels of certified Q Graders). Private exporters bid on small lots (equivalent of 30 x 60kg exportable bags) which they blend together (by region) to make an exportable lot.

But in early 2021, the government changed its regulations to allow “Vertical Integration” to happen (meaning, in this case, that a producer has a direct contract with an exporter, and that the coffee does not need to go through the ECX), although all samples still need to go through Ethiopia’s Coffee Liquoring Unit (CLU) to be graded, ensuring that the coffee meets contract specifications. While plenty of commercial-grade coffee still flows through the ECX, most specialty grade lots are sold through vertical integration.

The cup character of Ethiopian coffee is nearly impossible to reproduce anywhere else in the world. Washed Ethiopian coffees sparkle with an array of citrus and tropical fruit flavors, and floral fragrances and aromas and natural Ethiopian coffees can include notes of dried berry, red wine, and even fresh berry notes.

We’re proud of our continuing farm and coop relationships, and the bulk of our sourcing efforts in Ethiopia are invested in building and maintaining these connections. Atlas was one of the first importers to feature coops from the western areas of Kaffa and Illubabor, and we’ve been offering spectacular lots from groups in Sidamo and Guji, such as Daye Bensa and Sibu, for many years. Whatever the buyer’s needs for quality and traceability, our partners in Ethiopia are able to deliver.

Ethiopia Standard Specialty Coffee

  • Gr. 2 Washed Sidamo
  • Gr. 2 Washed Yirgacheffe
  • Gr. 4 Natural Sidamo
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