Ethiopia is where Coffea arabica, the coffee plant, originates.
Legend has it that an Ethiopian goatherder named Kaldi discovered the plant in the ninth century. He noticed that when his flock ate the bright red berries of a certain bush, they became more energetic and were jumping around. Kaldi tried the berries himself and experienced a feeling of exhilaration. He took some of the berries to a monk in a nearby monastery. The monk disapproved of their mind-altering properties and threw them in the fire. A delicious aroma resulted. The roasted beans were rescued from the embers, ground up, dissolved in water, and, voilà, the first cup of coffee was made! So the story goes!!
This tale did not appear in writing until 1671 so it’s likely to be a myth, but who cares? It’s still a good story!
Coffee in Ethiopia Today
Coffee is vital to Ethiopia’s economy, accounting for 60% of the country’s foreign income. It is thought that 15 million Ethiopians rely on some aspect of coffee production for their livelihood.
Ethiopia is the seventh-largest coffee producer in the world and the biggest in Africa. Of the 26,000 tonnes produced each year, half of it is drunk by Ethiopians. Our guide told us that his mum drinks ten to twelve cups a day! Of the remainder, half of it is exported to Europe, 25% to the USA and 25% to Asia.
The total area used to grow coffee in Ethiopia is thought to be around 4000 square kilometres. It’s hard to be exact because most growers are individuals or small businesses. Production methods have changed little through the centuries with almost all of the cultivating and drying still done by hand.
Ethiopian Coffee Beans
Ethiopian coffee beans of the species Coffea arabica can be divided into three categories