ETHIOPIAN COFFEE CULTURE
Welcome to the African country that produces some of the best coffee varieties on Earth
Words: Aleksandra Georgieva
Photography: Tyler Nix
28 February 2019
Having worked for an independent specialty coffee shop for two years, I developed an appreciation for quality tasting notes and methods of brewing. Believe me when I say that one of the most delicious coffee tastes belongs to the beans from the fields of Ethiopia.
A clear example is the coffee from the Geisha variety. If extracted properly, those coffee beans turn into a strong drink with very delicate and floral tasting notes. It is believed to have been imported to Panama from Costa Rica and attracted the attention of coffee experts during a competition through its distinctive flavour and aroma. The heirloom varietal is considered to have originated from Ethiopian village named Geisha. The plant branches and leaves grow long and thin but remain open to strong winds. Alike all coffee with higher qualities, the Geisha variety can be found at higher altitudes. Due to the very limited parcel it grows on and the specific weather conditions that appear rarely throughout the year, the Geisha coffee reaches record prices. Yet, when extracted properly, the taste is indulging and light, improving with every further sip.
Geisha is far from the only Ethiopian coffee type with great tasting characteristics. Regions such as Haro Wachu, Oromia, Guji and Uraga are rich in coffee fields where farmers make a living by growing and sourcing beans to companies and roasters around the world. They sort the coffee cherries and process them either as 'Washed' or 'Natural', where the beans are placed on raised beds to dry in the sun for up to ten days or double that time given bad weather conditions.
Ethiopia has adopted the terms 'Typica' and 'Bourbon' from the well-known Central and South American varieties. The African country uses the two terms colloquially to describe the cultivars, whose coffee and berries are resistant do diseases. The Ethiopian sort of 'Typica' and 'Bourbon' coffee is genetically removed from all other regions on the planet. The tasting notes provided are fruity and creamy, mixing together notes such as strawberry and vanilla, which gives the coffee its light and delicious taste.
One of the dominant factors for the quality of the coffee culture and produce in the country that is the home to the second-biggest nation on the African continent, is its climate. Dominated by tropical monsoon, the country still experiences climate differences throughout its various regions. For example, the Ethiopian Highlands, which cover a large amount of the country's territory appear quite cooler than other locations with similar distance from the Equator. Most of the country's major cities, including the modern capital Addis Ababa, are positioned at altitudes of around two and a half thousand meters (over eight thousand feet) above sea level. The climate and seasons change in those locations is hugely influenced by the relatively dry first half of the year followed by heavier rainfall from around June throughout to September.
The grasslands in the east and regions such as the Danakil Depression, which is famous for the town of Dallol - the hottest settlement on the planet, the climate remains significantly dry and hot throughout all seasons of the year.
Part of the eight independent centres of origin with fundamental role for cultivated plants in the world, Ethiopia faces a major danger to its natural resources, human livelihood, culture and the biodiversity. The African country is under threat by major deforestation, which results in loss of nutrition in the soil, accompanied by erosion and significant loss of animal habitats. Since the beginning of the century the percentage of forest-covered land in the country has dropped from approximately thirty-five to around eleven per cent. This equals an estimation of over 1,400 km of natural forest loss each year. Educating people, providing alternative materials to timber, emphasising on the need for agriculture that does not destroy forest habitats and introducing reforestation programs have become government's objectives in recent years. Over eighty communities have been affected by these major issues and the collaboration between the Ethiopian government and organisations such as Farm Africa, which strive to train people and create a forest management system with positive outcomes.
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