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 (Grade 1 or Grade 2), and natural dry methods where water is scarce (Grade 3 or Grade 4). 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 flows 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.
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. Non-traceable ECX traded coffees retain this wonderful personality, and the quality of our washed Sidamo, Yirgacheffe and Kochere coffees from the ECX often rivals that of more traceable, farm-specific lots. 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 Yirgacheffe Union coops like Dama and Koke for many years. Whatever the buyer’s needs for quality and traceability, our partners in Ethiopia are able to deliver.