Top 7 Best Ethiopian Coffee Beans - Reviewed

As the 5th largest producer of coffee in the world, Ethiopia takes coffee seriously. Coffee in Ethiopia is only grown in select regions, each famous for the coffee beans grown there. And luckily for us, each company that sells authentic Ethiopia coffee names it after the region: Yirgachaffe, Sidamo, Harrar, etc.

Before we go in-depth on the best choice for Ethiopian beans, let’s take a short history lesson and learn more about Ethiopia’s relationship with coffee.

Ethiopian coffee history: Birthplace of coffee + (growing regions)

Imagine you’re a goatherder in the year 850. As you wake up just as the sun peaks over the horizon, you set off into the hills to give your goats some exercise and put some food in their bellies. 

You don’t have the slightest idea that your goats have a secret. 

And that secret is — they love getting hopped up on coffee!

The legend goes that in 850 AD, a goatherder named Kaldi observed one of his goats acting super-energized (read: weird) after eating some berries. Kaldi took the suspiciously yummy looking fruit to a monk. However, Kaldi was distraught when the monk discarded the fruit into the fire. 

Neither Kaldi nor the monk knew that what would happen next would define coffee culture for millenia. The aroma from the now-roasted beans was so appealing that the monk ground them up and added hot water. That’s how coffee was born.

That’s the legend — and the fact that Ethiopian coffee beans of the species Coffea arabica were proven to originate in Ethiopia means perhaps the legend of Kaldi is true.

Map of coffea production
  • Map of coffea production
  • r: cultivation of Coffea robusta
  • m: cultivation of Coffea robusta and Coffea arabica.
  • a: cultivation of Coffea arabica.

Today, Ethiopia has the second-largest population in Africa. It’s struggling economically, but there are initiatives and government incentives that promise to propel the country into a better future. 

Ethiopia produces and exports millions of pounds of coffee each year. As we will see, coffee isn’t just a major cash crop, it’s critical for the economy as well as the Ethiopian culture. 

Let’s look at where coffee grows in Ethiopia.

Growing regions

Not all of the country’s land is suitable for farming, let alone coffee-farming. The Western Lowlands and Highlands have a special type of soil that’s perfect for growing coffee. It’s a dark clay that’s full of nutrients, so anything can grow — including food and agriculture. 

Ethiopia is a unique country in that there are varying micro-climates within each region as well as elevation, rainfall, etc. That’s why if you want true specialty coffee, you can’t just look at the variety or region on the package. When making your purchase, keep this in mind, so don’t fall for cheap mass-produced coffee that’s not ethically sourced.

Ethiopian coffee types + (Longberry, Shortberry, and Mocha)

Most specialty Ethiopian coffee is grown in three main regions: Sidama, Yirgacheffe and Harrar. The coffee you buy will likely have one of three trademarked names.

Sidama — is a region south of the capital, Addis Abeba. It’s made up of 20 administrative areas that vary in altitude and climate. Sidama has the magic, dark clay soil that supports healthy coffee plants at an altitude of 5,000-7,000 ft above sea level. 

Yirgacheffe — is a small area in the Sidama region. It has its own Coffee Farmers’ Union with 28 members who represent over 45,000 member farmers. Yirgacheffe is known for having a large variety of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee beans, adding to the depth of flavor you get in your cup.

Harrar — is no longer a separate region, but posthumously kept the name to avoid any confusion. Ethiopian Harrar coffee beans produce coffee with an intense flavor profile that’s fruity and floral. Harrar coffee is notably heavy-bodied. Coffee growers have identified three distinct types of coffee fruit — longberry, shortberry and Mocha. We’ll look at the difference between them in the next section. 

Honorable mentions 

These areas aren’t as well known as the big three above, but each has its charm. Remember, you’re still buying Ethiopian coffee — and many brands offer the same Organic Certified, Fair Trade and Kosher certifications.

Jimma — another area that produces Ethiopian coffee. It’s home to the Jimma Research Center, an institution that specializes in researching how to improve the yield of coffee and spices. As you can see, Ethiopians do take their coffee seriously.

Limu — an area in the Oromia Region, located near Jimma. Coffee here is fruity, with citrus tones and right in the middle of bold and body. 

Longberry, Shortberry, Peaberry and Mocha

Harrar beans can be split up into three grades: longberry, shortberry and mocha.

Longberry is the largest coffee bean grade.

Shortberry is the smaller size bean grade.

Peaberry refers to coffee beans where only one bean is fertilized instead of two, resulting in a smaller bean. This mutation affects around 5% of coffee beans. However, there are coffee varieties that look similar.

Mocha is a variety of coffee originating in Mocha, Yemen. The beans are hard and small, resembling a peaberry shape.

Hopefully, we’ve piqued your interest. The next step is to introduce you to our Top Picks for the highest-rated Ethiopian coffee.

Our top 5 picks for best Ethiopian coffee

Coffee is a polarizing subject, especially when you get into specialty coffee. Our reasons for picking these five are simple: coffee quality, certifications and social responsibility.

An Ethiopian coffee bean is unlike any coffee bean on Earth. From plant to brew, every step of the process benefits local farmers.

Fresh Roasted Coffee: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Kochere Coffee

Fresh Roasted Coffee: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Kochere Coffee

  • Region: Kochere, Yirgacheffe
  • Type of roast: light-medium
  • Form: Whole beans
  • Flavor notes: honey, citrus
  • Certifications: USDA Certified Organic, Fair Trade, Direct Trade, Kosher, Rainforest Alliance

Kochere is a district in Yirgacheffe known for its massive water stations. Farmers from all over the area wash their beans here. This coffee is punchy in flavor, with sweet citrus notes at the forefront. These beans are grown at an altitude of 5,900-6,500 ft above sea level, washed and dried naturally in the sun.

Fresh Roasted Coffee is serious about sustainability — they pick the best beans and deliver them to your door as a subscription service or a one-time buy if it’s your first time trying.

Cooper's Cask Coffee: Ethiopian Light Roast

Cooper's Cask Coffee: Ethiopian Light Roast

  • Region: Goma
  • Type of roast: light
  • Form: Whole beans
  • Flavor notes: Floral, deep aroma, wine-like
  • Certifications: Direct Trade

Unique to our list, Goma coffee isn’t as well known as Sidama or Harrar. However, don’t let that stop you from buying this aromatic coffee. The flavor notes are a bouquet of flowers, citrus and wild berries. The beans used in Cooper’s Cask Coffee are grade 1 — only the best beans.

Farmed at 6,500 ft, the beans are roasted in small batches to ensure every bean creates a flavor impact when you brew it.

stone-street-coffee-ethiopian-yirgacheffe-fresh-roasted

Stone Street Coffee Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Fresh Roasted Coffee, 1 lb Whole Bean

  • Region: Yirgacheffe
  • Type of roast: light
  • Form: Whole beans
  • Flavor notes: floral, fruity
  • Certifications: Kosher

Another coffee from Yirgacheffe — the mountainous region famous for producing some of the best beans in Ethiopia. This coffee has subtle floral and fruity flavor notes, and with the right mood and atmosphere, will take you on a ride. Stone Street Coffee has been in business for over a decade, and their approach to coffee is — buy the best, roast the best and offer the best.

Stone Street also offers a variety of coffee from key coffee-growing locations around the world — Colombia, Indonesia, Tanzania, etc.

fresh-roasted-coffee-organic-ethiopian-sidamo-coffee

Fresh Roasted Coffee: Organic Ethiopian Sidamo Coffee, Light Roast, Whole Bean, 2 Pound Bag

  • Region: Sidamo
  • Type of roast: light
  • Form: Whole beans
  • Flavor notes: blueberry, earthy
  • Certifications: USDA Certified Organic, Fair Trade

This Sidama-born coffee has an earthy flavor with a touch of blueberry. When it comes to sourcing and ethical/social responsibility — Fresh Roasted has everyone else beat. Their approach to coffee should be the gold standard. They’re not in it just for the profit — they certify that the farmers they buy from are paid exactly what they deserve.

Ethiopian Sidamo green coffee beans are light, flavorful and fruity. Beans from this region grow at a high altitude and are naturally dried and roasted in a special roaster that cuts down on CO2 emissions.

fresh-roasted-coffee-ethiopian-natural-sidamo

Fresh Roasted Coffee: Ethiopian Natural Sidamo

  • Region: Sidamo
  • Type of roast: Vary
  • Form: Whole beans
  • Flavor notes: Vary
  • Certifications: USDA Certified Organic, Fair Trade

You may be thinking, isn’t #4 the same coffee? Yes and no. Fresh Roasted has an entire Sidama coffee line, including Ethiopian Sidamo Guji Coffee (grown in the Guji district), Organic Ethiopian Sidamo Swiss Water Decaf Coffee, and Dark Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Kochere Coffee. 

This lineup covers the entire spectrum of coffee drinkers. You have the light roasts that give you a complex taste and aroma. And you have the dark roast and decaf — one for people that want their coffee extra bold, and the other for caffeine-hungry grumps that have cut caffeine but love coffee.

No matter what your preferences are, Fresh Roasted has a coffee for you.

How to brew Ethiopian coffee beans (Methods)

Contrary to popular belief, nobody can tell you what kind of beans you can use for a particular coffee machine or brewing method. Sure, the traditional coffee ceremony does it a certain way (we’ll show you in the next section), but you can enjoy your coffee how you want.

While you can use any method, why not explore the depths of flavor that coffee has to offer? You did buy a specialty coffee after all — give it a try!

Here are some tricks for making Ethiopian coffee:

  • Coffee brands usually recommend either the French press, auto-drip machine, pour-over or cold-brew.
  • Ethiopian coffees are lighter in roast and pop with acidity — don’t be surprised if it’s different than what you’re used to.
  • If you go with pour-over, make sure to bloom the grounds.
  • Cold-brew is a great choice to extract subtle floral and fruity notes.

The type of filter is important. If you want a cleaner taste with fewer essential oils, go with a thicker paper filter (where applicable). To get the full flavor with all the oils, go with either a thin paper filter, or a mesh filter. 

New-fangled modern contraptions can never replace tradition, culture and way of life. The next step in our coffee journey takes us to the traditional coffee ceremony practiced all over Ethiopia.

Traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony 

Going back to our short history lesson from before, remember Kaldi the goatherder? Both he and the monk were obviously male, but somehow, females, especially younger female members of the family took over responsibility for crafting the perfect cup of coffee.

Unlike Western countries, where coffee is a mostly solitary thing, other parts of the world use coffee to connect with friends, family and everyone in between.

The traditional coffee ceremony begins with roasting the beans, which is done in a pan over an open flame. Then, they’re ground up using a special mortar and pestle. Once the grounds are ready, they’re put into a traditional coffee pot called a jebena. The coffee and boiling water get a chance to intermingle. This brew is heated and reheated several times, with the woman preparing it tasting it after each step. After she’s satisfied with how it tastes, it’s time to pour!

The grounds are used three times in total. The first cup of coffee is called “abol,” and is meant to be enjoyed with pleasure. The second round, “tona” is used to sit and ponder, and the third cup is to say a prayer or blessing. 

Coffee is served with snacks like popcorn, peanuts or a local sweet flatbread. Depending on the region, some locals add sugar, salt or even homemade butter. Bulletproof coffee, anyone?

Ethiopian coffee production

Ethiopia is the largest exporter and producer of coffee in Africa. The country currently holds 5th place worldwide. What’s interesting about coffee farming in Ethiopia is that most Ethiopian coffee farms were started in the wild. And a lot of coffee is still grown in the wild! 

From firsthand accounts, farmers aren’t keen on using pesticides or fertilizers. Agriculture reports state that all coffee production in Ethiopia depends on rainfall. Every fact points to a strong community that isn’t letting in big corporations.

The numbers don’t lie — coffee production in Ethiopia is growing, but there are a few pitfalls with trying to increase yields. The country and its infrastructure may not be ready for scaling up. A practical strategy needs to be put in place.

So, what does the process look like?

  1. Coffee farmers grow and harvest coffee.
  2. There are two options — washed beans or natural. Washed beans are ones where the outer fruit is washed/scrubbed off in special washing stations. Natural uses the sun to draw the entire fruit. The beans inside also dry out but stay intact. This natural sun-drying process takes weeks.
  3. After either being washed or naturally-dried, the beans are graded, sorted and separated into large bags.
  4. Once the government has cleared the sale of coffee beans, they are roasted and sold locally by Ethiopian coffee brands and brands overseas.

Conclusion

Ethiopia is a unique place with unique people. Ethiopians are hard-working and ambitious. They know how to tackle challenges collectively. And they’ve increasingly begun to unite under unions and associations. Coffee was born in Ethiopia, and it’s here to stay. 

Ethiopia’s special climate and soil produce the optimal conditions for growing. Each region in the Western Lowlands and Highlands grows coffee — and every coffee is different.
In our opinion, the best Ethiopian coffee beans are Fresh Roasted Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Kochere Coffee. With subtle hints of citrus and sweetness, this coffee is good for any time of day.

Not all Ethiopian coffee is made the same — read the label before you buy anything, and don’t stress out if your tastes don’t align with the price tag or the raving reviews. 

We also learned about the coffee ceremony practiced in Ethiopian culture. The birthplace of coffee knows how to brew a darn fine cup.

Try Ethiopian coffee today!

Renat Mamatazin

Renat Mamatkazin

2021/04/20

Founder and owner of Lion Coffee and 3ChampsRoastery, 1st place winner of Ukrainian Barista Championship 2017. Interested in travelling, football and Formula-1 (besides coffee, of course).

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