The Ethiopian Arabica seeds have, on the whole, an excellent flavour. The uniqueness of the coffee in its “home country” lies, however, also in the traditional art of the cultivation. This can be classified in the following four categories. The Forest Coffee is harvested in the wild and tropical forests of the Southwest mountainous regions of Ethiopia (Kaffa). The forest is cared for with minimum management, for example cutting off the undergrowth. The wild coffee constitutes about 5 – 6% of the entire production of Ethiopian coffee.
While the forest during the forest coffee cultivation is left as is, undisturbed, during the Semi Forest Coffee cultivation, the forest is trimmed by the famers, and the wild coffee trees are actively attended to like on coffee plantations. This type of procedure for coffee takes place in general in South and Southwest Ethiopia. This coffee covers about 20% of the entire Ethiopian coffee production.
The so called Garden Coffee is the most common form of cultivation among all the coffee grown in Ethiopia. The famers plant a few mostly cultivated coffee trees in their backyards, weed and hoe the soil and mulch the ground the whole year round. Garden Coffee is grown in South and East Ethiopia by small farmers. The productivity of this method of cultivation is much higher than the aforementioned methods. Plantation Coffee is grown efficiently and in a modern way on big farms. For this, the farmers use high quality, cultured seeds in their plantations, and ensure enough space between the saplings. The planation coffee occupies a share of only 4% of the total production, but is increasing rapidly.
Just as with other crops, the taste of the coffee also differs based on the region of cultivation and weather conditions. In Europe, the flavour of the traditional sun-dried Ethiopian coffee is described as “very good” and “flowery wild with a flavor of lemon and wine”. The Ethiopian “Coffee & Tea Authority” assigns its coffee-growing areas in accordance with their associated flavours as follows (1999).
Harrar Region: Harrar Coffee is one of the most popular coffees of the world. It is well-known for its rich flavor, for its wine-like after taste, its distinct body as well as its typical mocha flavor. Harrar-Coffee is difficult to get, because most of the harvest is supplied to Saudi Arabia at an inflated price.
Yirgacheffe Region: The Yirgacheffe region is also famous for its premium coffee produced in Ethiopia. It has a strong, distinct taste and combines citrus and flowery flavours.
Sidamo Region: Coffee from the Sidamo region is particularly popular amongst the coffee aficionados. Spicy flavours combine with a smooth, balanced bitter taste.
Kaffa Region: This coffee is very delectable and has a long lasting body, at the same time it also has a wine-like after taste. The wild coffee originating from here has a particularly intensive and strong flavour.
There are more coffee producing regions such as Bebeka, Tepi, Limu, Illubabur and Nekempti/Lekempti.
The red, fully ripe coffee cherries are picked by hand by the family members of the farmers across all regions in October and November, and then processed into fresh, raw beans. The coffee in Ethiopia is both sun-dried and washed. The farmers bring the dried coffee cherries after they are dried in the blazing sun to the next convenient collection station. Here the dried cherries are once again thoroughly cleaned for branches, leaves and twigs, and the dried flesh of the fruit is separated from the beans. Then the coffee beans are sorted according to size and stored. The dried beans are preserved in the warehouse till the coffee price rises. When there is no collection station close to the farmer, then the coffee is sold directly to the middlemen after drying.
When the coffee is washed, the farmers bring the harvested coffee cherries on the same day as the harvest to the next collection station, where they can be washed. There, the pulp of the coffee cherries is removed and the seeds are dried in the sun without the pulp. Then the coffee cherries are brought to the branch office of the official inspecting authority, “Ethiopia Exchange Commodity” (ECX)  by the association of producers or a broker, where the coffee is inspected for its quality. The ECX is an innovative collaboration of the most important market players, the stock exchange, and the Ethiopian government, wherein the buyers and the sellers come together for trading under controlled terms and conditions. Through such a collaboration, quality assurance of the coffee as well as the payment and delivery modalities are guaranteed. The buyer (importer) buys the coffee at an auction and stores it for further inspection and processing. Then he packs the coffee for export. 28% of the Ethiopian coffee is exported to Germany and 22% to Japan, that is, half of the production of Ethiopian coffee is sold to these countries.
Visit to the original coffee trees
Once on a day trip, I went from Addis Ababa to Bonga, a small town in the central region of Kaffa in Southwest Ethiopia. My intent was to visit the forests of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and the German organization NABU, in which natural, wild coffee trees grow. On the way to Bonga, we passed beautiful landscapes, drove through vast expanses of pasturelands, as well as through old forest highlands, full of the Teff plant, the traditional Ethiopian staple food, from which the soft, sour flat bread, Injera is made.
Bonga is a small town, in and around which many families live from coffee. There is always, everywhere in the city, a fresh roasted coffee aroma of the coffee ceremony, because coffee plays an important role in the daily life of the Ethiopian: on an average, coffee is freshly roasted and prepared three times a day or consumed in one of the numerous café-like shacks. On the edge of the wild coffee forests, the farmers have built their round huts (Tukulus), where they stay during the harvesting season from October to January. Standing in the forest between all the old, wild and original coffee trees, I experienced a sublime feeling. I was surprised at how tall the trees were, when I discovered the not-yet harvested red, ripe coffee berries towering over me. I had expected smaller coffee trees, because so far I had only known of smaller coffee trees in coffee plantations. The fruits that are not plucked simply fall on the ground. The seeds contained in them spring up as new trees again and again and the people who live here harvest those fruits anew. This has been the cycle of the wild coffee and of the village people since the time of Kaldi, the goatherd. The people unfortunately often cannot survive only from the income of the coffee. That is why, when place permits, they also farm wheat and maize. If the coffee price sinks too much, some farmers clear up the forest for new land, which likely endangers the existence of the coffee forests.
I am invited for coffee by one of the coffee farmers. We sit in front of the clay hut, and farmer’s wife prepares the coffee inside – this has been women’s work since times immemorial, and girls are trained in the art of coffee preparation from the age of ten. Inside the clay hut, the woman roasts the coffee, and then crushes the warm coffee beans into a powder with a pestle. Finally, the coffee powder is cooked with water on an open flame. Then the farmer’s wife brings us from inside the clay hut a very strong, black and fuming coffee. Luckily, I am offered some sugar, as the Ethiopians also like to drink their coffee salty. The farmer next to me offers me freshly roasted barley kernels as a snack to accompany the coffee with gestures of “eating”. It goes surprisingly well with the coffee! While we drink coffee and eat kernels quietly, without talking, for the first time, I have a feeling of understanding the land and the people, better.
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