Posted in Kafevend Blog

The original coffee hotspot

It was this time last week that we brought to you our blog exploring the wonderful legends surrounding our favourite hot drinks trio- tea, coffee and cocoa. We started with the well known story of Kaldi the Ethiopian goat herd, whose herd were invigorated by the coffee cherries they ate while out grazing. Although the story is no doubt apocryphal, coffee does indeed originate from Ethiopia and it's coffee's birthplace that we are going to be focussing on today.

Chewing coffee

Coffee's formal cultivation and role as a drink is thought to have been established in Ethiopia, or Abyssinia as it used to be known, by the tenth century. However, it is anyone's guess as to how long ago the people of Ethiopia's Kaffa region, where coffee trees have always grown wild amongst the forests, began using coffee. It seems likely that monks there had been chewing the berries for their stimulant properties during long hours of meditation and prayers for a long time before the drink was ever invented.

Wet or dry

It is the region of Kaffa, where coffee grows indigenously, that gave its name to coffee as it began to spread out into the world, although in Ethiopia itself it's known as buna, pronounced boona. Coffee is processed there by one of two methods, wet or dry. Coffee that is farmed on a larger scale on estates is generally processed via the wet method, whereas on a smaller scale the less formal dry method, is used. This involves simply leaving the coffee cherries out to dry in the sun, before hulling and roasting them. Coffee produced this way is also known as naturally processed coffee. It's typically for local use and not for export, the exception being dry processed Harrar coffee which is exported around the world. Lacking enough available water to carry out the wet processing method, Harrar coffee is all produced via the dry method. The fact that the coffee cherries stay intact throughout the drying process results in an inherent fruitiness; the longer the coffee cherries take to dry out, the greater the fruitiness imparted to the coffee bean inside.

Of the two main species of coffee, arabica and robusta, Ethiopian coffees are all arabica. Aside from coffee cultivated on larger government estates, most of the nation's coffee is grown by smallholders without the use of chemicals and pesticides. It also tends to be shade grown within forest or semi-forest conditions. Apart from Harrar, another well known growing region for the export market is Sidama in the south of the country. Amongst the coffees produced there is Yirgacheffe, a wet processed coffee said to have citrus and floral tones. With the prevalence of smallholders in coffee cultivation, you would expect farmers' cooperatives to have sprung up to represent individual farmers' interests and you'd be right. Sidama, for instance, is home to the Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union and represents as many as 85,000 small coffee farmers. It's no wonder either that in a nation of coffee growers, coffee is widely drunk and enjoyed, so much so in fact, that Ethiopia has its own coffee ceremony. Check in with the blog this time next week for the low down on this long established coffee tradition.

Ethiopian coffee
Coffee's history in Ethiopia

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