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Ethiopia coffee is remarkable for it comes from the country that was the origin of the Arabica variety. In the year 900 A.D. Kaldi, an Ethiopian shepherd discovered Arabica, and from here the world-beating East African coffee rose to prominence. The goatherd noted the intoxicating effect of the wild cherries on his goats. The distinctive aromatic Arabica variety now grows extensively in the Western Highlands. Ethiopia exported $936893 worth of unprocessed raw coffee in 2017. This was roughly some 3% of the total global production margins of the produce. The beverage-making crop is so important in the country that it accounts for 60% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Of the 15 million people who farm the crop in the nation, 90 percent are smallholders who rely on it for their livelihood. The country has climbed to Africa’s number one producer of coffee and the seventh, globally.
Ethiopia coffee is available in four forms. The first and most preferred is raw, unprocessed beans. The coffee goes to the market in parched form, which means just dried but not milled. It may optionally consist of whole beans with their husks intact. The second form is roasted but decaffeinated. This entails beans with a thin roast under low heat to retain their caffeine content. The third form is that of coffee that is decaffeinated but is not roasted. Of the four kinds, the parched type accounts for 99 percent of all Ethiopia coffee.
The Main Varieties
Though Ethiopia produces only Arabica coffee, there are various regional cultivars. These include:
Ethiopian Harar: it grows mainly in the Harar region. It has a deep scarlet color with a fruity odor.
Ethiopian Sidamo: as its name suggests, it originates from Sidamo, the former name for Oromia region. It is unique to Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Yirgacheffe: this is a produce of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region from the district of the same name as the cultivar.
French Mission: this variety of Arabica is the only foreign coffee in the country. It first grew in the country in 1897 in the form of Bourbon courtesy of European missionaries.
Other varieties include Genika, a produce of the Bench Maji Zone. Its bean has a tiny size with grayish-scarlet color whereas its smell is floral.
Other than the regional cultivars, Ethiopia coffee also comes in three broad categories by bean size. The largest are the Longberry cherries. These are very prized in the markets and make the best grades because of their aroma, size, and quality. Shortberry are relatively smaller than their counterparts. They mainly come from the Eastern region. Mocha, on the other hand, is peanut-sized but very spicy, fruity and chocolatey.
Growth and Harvesting
Ethiopia coffee grows in the western and the southwestern highlands. The primary sources are Limu, Harar, Oromia, and Maji. The soils of these places in the heart of the Great Rift Valley are deep, alkaline and fertile. Many farmers further enrich the fields with farmyard compost to boost the quality and aroma of the cherries.
The coffee growing does well in the Sidamo region at altitudes of between 1500 and 2200 meters above sea level. This makes them acquire a deeply satisfying aroma. Those in the drier Eastern Ethiopia develop a glossy red cherry skin. All parts of the country where the produce grows have optimal temperatures between 16 and 24 degrees Celsius.
The harvesting of Ethiopia coffee starts early in the day. Workers with large baskets astride on their backs harvest only the cherries that have ripened for fast processing. The meticulous selection of the beans leads to some of the highest quality Arabica graded beans in Africa. Every 100 pounds of cherries produces around 9.5 kilograms of coffee beans.
Seasonality & Export Seasons
Ethiopia coffee is seasonal produce but available most of the year. The following months are essential in the country’s harvesting calendar:
- January-late picking of the cherries in mainly Oromia Zone.
- October-the start of the main harvesting season.
- November-the middle of the main harvesting season.
- December-the peak harvesting month.
The picked beans take a while after the harvest to reach the foreign markets. Processing and handling account for much of the interim. In Europe, for example, Ethiopia coffee starts arriving in March through June.
Post-harvest Handling, Drying, Processing and Packing
Ethiopia coffee reaches the European markets mostly in dry parchment form. Drying starts after the delivery of the harvested cherries in designated warehouses. Here, the sorting of light and heavy beans in hydraulic tanks takes place. Only light seeds are considered healthy, and these undergo hulling. This is the removal of the outer-most skin and then the polishing of the parchment layer beneath. The drying of the now glossy beans follows under mild temperatures. The parchment coffee may also come without polishing or even hulling. This is known as husk coffee.
Processed coffee in Ethiopia is far less in export volume than dried parchment. In 2017, the country exported only $871000 roasted and $147000 decaffeinated coffee as opposed to $936893 of unprocessed coffee. Roasting begins after the milling of the beans. The thick powder then undergoes roasting at 550 degrees Fahrenheit. Decaffeinating, on the other hand, is the removal of caffeine from the beans. It involves the ‘Indirect-Solvent’ method where the beans undergo boiling at high temperature. The caffeine dissolves in water, and a solvent extracts it through another bout of steaming. However, the beans retain their other natural chemicals even when decaffeinated.
The packing of Ethiopia coffee follows international standards. Users wear rubber gloves when sorting and grading the beans now ready to pack. Packing takes place in warehouses in gunny bags, sisal bags, and jute bags. There are also bulk shipments of containers with plastic-lined interiors. Roasted coffee comes in 60 kg gunny bags.
Coffee goes into storage at 23 degrees Celsius. It also maintains an excellent relative humidity of 60 percent.
Thus, Ethiopia coffee has the distinction of being the only coffee in Africa that is native to a country. So proud are the locals with their biggest agricultural export that the government has trademarked three major regional cultivars, namely Sidamo, Harar, and Yigharffa. On top of that, it is optional for importers to order unprocessed, roasted or decaffeinated coffee. Finally, almost all the cherries grow in smallholder farmers under co-operative societies that acquire Global Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certifications.
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