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A Tour Of Coffee Origins: Ethiopia

Apr 23, 22 | Adrian Constantin

History of Coffee in Ethiopia

Perhaps you already knew that one of the world's most important food crops - coffee - is a native plant of Ethiopia. To give a little background, here’s the story of how Ethiopians originally came to drink coffee:

In the ninth century, a goat herder named Kaldi noticed that his goats got more energetic and active than usual after eating the red berries from a certain tree in his field. He tried eating some himself and found that they had a similar effect on him. The story goes that Kaldi took these berries to an imam at the local mosque, telling him about his experience. Intrigued, the imam decided to try them for himself. After mixing them with other ingredients and boiling up into a beverage, he found this new drink gave him more energy too - enough energy to stay up all night praying! Other monks heard about what happened and started making this beverage themselves. From there came its popularity among Ethiopian people, which eventually spread throughout Europe and the world!

Click here to check out our selection of Ethiopian coffees roasted here in Edmonton—and don't forget: if your order is more than $25, we'll ship it to you for free!


Ethiopia is known for producing coffee of the highest quality

First things first—quality coffee is produced in specific growing environments. Terroir, the interaction of the soil, microclimate, altitude and other factors that influence flavor, determines whether a coffee bean is going to be an award-winner or something that should have stayed away from the roaster. 

So when we say Ethiopia produces some of the highest quality coffees in the world, we’re talking about its unique terroir as much as its rich cultural history.

When it comes to producing coffee of the highest quality, Ethiopia has a reputation for being at the top. There are a number of reasons why Ethiopian coffee is produced in such high quality. Let's take a look!

  • Ethiopia produces over 1/3 of all coffee produced in Africa and ranks #7 on the world's production list.
  • Ethiopia has an ideal climate for growing coffee (warm and dry most of the year).
  • The country also has an ideal altitude for growing coffee (1,400 to 2,200 meters above sea level).
  • They've been cultivating coffee since the ninth century.
  • Some Ethiopian coffees are ranked among the most expensive in the world!


Ethiopia's coffee production is characterized by an abundance of small-scale farms.

Ethiopian coffee plants are grown in numerous regions throughout the country. Around 80% of the coffee produced is grown on small plots - compare that to Brazil, where almost all coffee production comes from plantations or farms owned by one company that can range from 30 hectares to hundreds of hectares.

In Ethiopia, most farms are less than one hectare in size and owned by families, who grow their crops under a canopy of native trees. The majority of these farms lie in remote mountainous regions about 20 kilometers from any town or village; even so, 70 percent have electricity. Smaller farms typically produce more than 1000 kilograms (about 2205 pounds) of green coffee per year; however, most farmers own between 200 and 250 trees. There are more than 7 million coffee trees in Ethiopia that produce different varieties of coffee beans!


Ethiopia's coffee regions and what coffee tastes like in each region

The most important coffee growing regions or zones of Ethiopia are Sidamo, Guji, Gedeo or Yirgacheffe, Harar, Bebeka, Limu (Jimma) and Lekempt. Within these regions there are different coffees that have their own tasting notes. 

Ethiopia has three coffee “production systems”, forest, garden and plantation. Harvests are usually between October-January, shipments usually arrive in Edmonton from February to April.

We estimate that more than 60% of Edmonton based roasters bring in at least one Ethiopian coffee per year. And, because green beans have a fairly long shelf-life, Ethiopians are available year-round.

Here is some information about the different regions, geographies and the flavor you can expect in your cup. We've also linked locally roasted coffees from the respective regions we currently have on our store. Keep in mind that inventory changes all the time.


Sidamo Zone Ethiopia 

Sidamo has around 3.5 million inhabitants and a very strong coffee culture. The people here speak the Cushitic language Sidamigna and are predominantly farmers and pastoralists. The most famous part of Sidamo is Kaffa, also known as ‘heaven on earth’ – a paradise of coffee, waterfalls and natural protected areas.

Sidamo coffee is a beautiful mosaic, with a wide range of fruit notes and acidity levels. Sidamo coffees are often perceived as sour, but that doesn't mean they're unpleasant. They can provide a refreshing drink with a vibrant, fruity flavor.

Sidamo is the coffee region that spans the most land in Ethiopia. From Lake Abaya in the north to Maji where the Abay River flows into Sudan, it encompasses the Basketo, Dawro, Gamo Gofa, Kembata & Timbare, Konta, Segen Peoples, Sidama, South Omo, West Arsi and Wolayita zones—not to mention the numerous woredas found in these areas. 

There are three primary washing stations in the region: Korate Washing Station and Bonko Washing Station and the Bensa Washing Station. Some roasters will list coffees from these stations under those names as opposed to Sidamo. 

It's also worth mentioning that sometimes coffees from Guji and Yigacheffe are sold under the Sidamo name. Unlike other beans, the Sidamo is a diverse mix of heirloom coffee trees. 

The Washed Sidamo Cup Profile: Low to bright acidity, medium to full body, spicy and citrusy to fruity and floral.

The Natural Sidamo Cup Profile: High acidity, medium to thin, citrusy to fruity and floral.

We have an Edmonton roasted coffee from Sidamo, and it's pretty great!

This coffee from Alternate Route Coffee Co has tasting notes of roasted almonds and rich strawberry jam, although there is absolutely no almond butter or jelly in this coffee, your taste buds might think otherwise. And just like a good old PB&J, this coffee will fuel all of your adventures.



Gedeo Zone or Yirgacheffe Ethiopia

Did you know that Yirgacheffe isn't really Yirgacheffe? It's actually Gedeo, which is a zone in Ethiopia.

Yirgacheffe is part of the SNNPR state in Ethiopia, which stands for Southern Nations and Nationalities People's Region. But Yirgacheffe is not actually the name of the region.

The official name of the region is Gedeo, but coffee buyers label it as Yirgacheffe. 

Yirgacheffe is divided into six woredas, namely: Wenago, Kochere, Yirgacheffe, Gedeb, Bule, and Dilla Zuria. There are 4 major washing stations (Gersi, Haru, Qisha, Reko) and even a cooperative (Adado Co-op) in this area.

There are several other popular coffee districts in Gedeb, such as Chelbesa.

But don't worry—for clarity's sake, here at Gems of Edmonton, we'll be continuing to classify coffees under both names so no matter how you search you’ll find the coffees you’re looking for. 

The Washed Yirgacheffe Cup Profile:  Citric acidity and sometimes malic acidity, thin to medium body marked chocolate like notes and jasmine with a background of lemon undertones.

The Natural Yirgacheffe Cup Profile:  High to medium acidity, thin to medium smooth body, notes tend to revolve around chocolate, citrus and berry, can be described as winey.

Click here to shop locally roasted coffees from the Gedeo Zone or Yigacheffe! Below are two of our favorites.

We're highlighting a few coffees from the Yirgacheffe (Gedeb Zone) area.  

Yirg'Onna Love It, Catfish Coffee Roasters

This coffee—which comes to us from Catfish Coffee Roasters—was grown in the Kochere Kore village in the Kochere district or woreda within Yirgacheffe (about 25 kilometers from the centers of Yirgacheffe Town). The coffee is picked between November and January. The soils in this region are red-brown clay soil, about 1.5 meters deep.


This coffee from Transcend Coffee Roasters here in Edmonton, Alberta has a floral base with hints of honey and orange. It is delightfully refreshing – a real treat.


This coffee comes from Chelbesa, one of the finest coffee-producing areas in the famous Gedeb Woreda. It was farmed by Abra Degala, who has been farming coffee on 5 hectares in Chelbesa since 1982. 

Aspen Coffee Roaster Yirgacheffe

This Coffee from Aspen Coffee Roasters is one of the fruitiest roasts we carry, as it has a wide range of flavors—from tropical fruits to jammy blueberries and white chocolate. It's comes from the Yirgacheffe area and made up of indigenous heirloom cultivars.


Guji Ethiopia

Guji, Ethiopia is home to some of the most sought-after coffee beans in the world. It's a region that has been producing coffee for hundreds of years; however, only in recent history has it been recognized as its own distinct region, rather than being lumped into Sidamo or Yirgacheffe.

Coffee professionals throughout the world are realizing that Guji, as a coffee region, is significantly different from its neighboring regions. 

The soil in this region is fertile with a high level of natural organic substances that contribute to the favorable terroir for growing coffee. The traditional varieties grown in this area are Dega (Kurume) and Welisho (Wellega), though there are also many new varieties being planted.

Guji is a region located in the southeastern part of Ethiopia that is the ancestral cradle of Oromo culture. The Gada age-group system, which includes ceremonies, rituals, and lore, is still widely practiced among Guji’s inhabitants. The system and coffee are inseparable.

There are lots of different processing techniques available, but traditionally you'll find that Guji is home to washed coffees and naturals exclusively. Recently producers have begun producing honeys here too.

The Washed Guji Cup Profile:  Medium to high acidity with an underlying sweetness, thin to medium body with floral vibes, with notes of jasmine and black tea.

The Natural Guji Cup Profile:  Acidity is high in intensity ranging from citrusy to bright and juicy to the tongue, has a medium smooth body, with core notes of berries or stone fruit and sometimes hints of chocolate

Click here to shop locally roasted coffees from Guji! Below are two of our favorites.


This organic coffee, naturally processed coffee from Monogram was sourced from three farms, grown by Jilo Barko, Jarso Muda and Teklu Miju, around the community of Gatame Muka in the Shakiso district. It has notes of strawberry, chocolate and black tea. 

Ethiopia Udotu, Guji, Edmonton

This coffee is special because it's grown by 486 smallholders in the Kercha district. Like in most of Ethiopia, growers in the Kercha district are smallholders, aka “garden farmers,” so called because most of them are producing coffee in the “garden” areas around their homes, and often harvesting cherries from coffee occurring naturally on the land where they live. Farm sizes tend to be between .5 to 2 hectares in size on average, though occasionally can reach upwards of 10 hectares. The average yearly yield in green coffee from the smaller farms is around 2 to 4 bags. 


Limu (Jimma) Zone Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, the Limu zone is a nationally recognized coffee-producing region, but not an official government-defined zone. The politically defined zone is named Jimma. 

While all Ethiopian coffees are grown by smallholder farmers, Limu coffee is different because they are typically grown in the farmer’s backyard. This means that when harvest time comes around, all the garden coffees from this area come together and give us Limu coffee!

Limu coffee beans are unique because they are titled based on the processing method used. Natural process coffees from this region are known as Jimma coffees, while washed processed coffees are called Limu, despite coming from the same place.

The Ethiopian Commodity Exchange has divided Limu coffees into two categories: A and B. Category A represents coffee from Jimma's woredas of Gera, Goma, Gumay, Kersa, Limu Kossa, Limu Seka, Mena, Seka Chekorsa, and Shebe Sambo. Category B represents the woredas in Illubabor wherein Limu flavored coffee is cultivated: Ale, Bedelle, Chora, Dedesa, Noppa and Yayu.

All the coffee in both categories are grown by one of four cooperatives: Gera Cooperative Union (GCU), Yayu Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (YCFCU), Illubabor Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (ICFCU), or Shebe Sambo Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (SSCFCU).

The Washed Limu Cup Profile: Medium to High sweetly intense acidity, combined with a tea like body, citrusy and fruity.

The Natural Limu Cup Profile: High acidity, medium body, identifiable flavors of strawberry


Harar Ethiopia

Harar, Ethiopia is one of the most famous coffee origins in the world. The beans are harvested and processed by hand. The coffees from this region are known for their bright, fruity flavors and aromas. Harar is a small town in eastern Ethiopia that sits at an elevation of around 1,800 meters above sea level.

The province of Harrar, is east of Addis Ababa, the country's capital.

Harar is actually known as the "City of Saints" because it is considered a holy city by Muslims in Ethiopia. Today, some of the local residents celebrate both Islam and Christianity because they believe that each religion adds something special.

Dry Processed Cup Profile: Bright acidity, full body, and strong berry notes.


Shop Ethiopian Coffees Roasted in Edmonton and the surrounding areas


If you're looking to try some delicious Ethiopian coffee, you've come to the right place. Click here for all of the locally roasted Ethiopian coffees we have on Gems now. 

Have questions? Email us at hello@gemsofedmonton.ca or call 780-887-4310

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