Coffee Origins: Ethiopia

Coffee Origins: Ethiopia

There’s something about the first cup of coffee that makes you fall in love with it.

For our Good Coffee Advocate Zender, this was exactly what he experienced with Ethiopian coffee. He says that Ethiopian coffee is the coffee that made him fall in love with specialty coffee, because of its distinct notes and acidity.

Indeed, the tasting notes of coffee from Ethiopia and well-deservedly diverse. From fragrant florals to refreshing citrus, and even more exotic tropical fruit flavours, Ethiopia has them all. Some varieties even have hints of the taste of wine!

But to understand Ethiopia’s delightful array of coffee tasting notes, we need to first cover how coffee came to be in Ethiopia.

Or rather, how coffee came to be.

Legend of the caffeinated goat

Ethiopia has long been regarded as the OG of all coffee-producing countries.

Legend has it that a goat herder named Kaldi was faced with a rather odd mystery. He realised that his goats always tended to become more energised and full of vigour, but only after eating the fruit of this particular plant.

Curious, he stepped over to this stout tree and examined it.

He picked some fruit and turned these little round cherry-like fruit in his hands, wondering what they contained that made his goats so full of life. He wondered if it was tasty even.

So, as anyone would, he popped a few of these cherries into his mouth and chewed.

“Hmm…” Kaldi probably screwed his face up in displeasure.

Obviously, he would not have discovered more sophisticated ways of “brewing” coffee yet at that time. But what Kaldi DID feel, however, was a sense of elation and replenished energy.

“So that’s why my goats get so rowdy after eating these berries!” Kaldi exclaimed.

What happened afterward, you already know. Coffee brewing methods were developed, and this cherry-like fruit spread far and wide across the world.

There’s also this other story about coffee being from Yemen, but that’s probably a common misconception. True, Yemen might be the first country to officially grow coffee as a crop, but coffee as a wild fruit had been harvested in Ethiopia long before Yemenites planted their first coffee crop.

Wait wait… Coffee as a WILD FRUIT?!

Yup, you read that right. Coffee started out as a wild thing, even the more likely in Ethiopia when coffee was first discovered. 

In fact, wild coffee isn’t even the strangest thing about coffee planting in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s Trifecta of Coffee Production

Coffee production in Ethiopia is rather unique. You’re probably familiar with the idea of coffee being planted and cultivated in large plantations, which is what is happening in most coffee-producing countries. 

In Ethiopia, however, plantation coffees are only one out of three main categories of coffees. The other two being garden coffees and “coffee in the wild”. This last category is known as forest coffees, where coffee is harvested from wild coffee trees. Remember those caffeinated goats eating wild cherry-like fruit?

Naturally, these forest coffees yield the least amount of coffee in proportion to the other two production systems.

You’ll probably think that plantation coffees yield the most right? Well, the answer may leave you once again surprised.

The Gardens of Ethiopia

(Image source:

In Ethiopia, garden coffees are usually planted in the vicinity of homes or group residences, interspersed with other crops and trees. Due to the coffee being planted in gardens, there is less natural shade available to protect the coffee plants. Hence, active management of shade needs to be maintained. Fertilisers, usually organic, are also frequently used in cultivating garden coffees.

Believe it or not, these garden coffees make up the bulk of Ethiopian coffee production, especially in the regions of Sidama and Yirgacheffe, two of Ethiopia’s many coffee production regions.

Landmark resolution between Ethiopia and Starbucks

In 2007, the international coffee company which needs no introduction struck a deal with Ethiopia, recognising Ethiopia’s ownership of its premium coffee, namely specialty coffee from Harar, Sidamo and Yirgacheffe.

However, we all know this post isn’t actually about a company that’s already raking in the big coffee bucks, but about the beauty and magic of Ethiopian coffee. And Harrar, Sidamo and Yirgacheffe are three of the major coffee growing regions in Ethiopia, which contribute the the celebration of flavours in Ethiopian coffee.


Almost anyone who is familiar with Ethiopian coffees definitely knows about Yirgacheffe.

Yirgacheffe, or Irgachefe, is a town located in the central southern region of Ethiopia. The coffees produced in this region are nothing less than unique. No wonder they are the most commonly known and well-loved coffees from Ethiopia.

The aromatic and fruity nature of Yirgacheffe coffee lends itself to a bright acidic taste that is clean yet complex to the taste buds. If you’re paying attention, you might even catch some undertones of berry or wine in a cup of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.

Coffee from Yirgacheffe is mostly wet processed, i.e. washed. However, there are certain varieties which are naturally processed too that are equally worthwhile for your adventurous spirit to try out.


Named after the people in the region of Sidama, Sidamo (coffee from Sidama) is one of the highest altitude crops in Ethiopia. Intense and vibrant, some coffee lovers prefer coffee from Sidama over the lighter, more floral variants of Yirgacheffe.


Coffees from Harrar are slightly special, not because these varieties tend to require irrigation during cultivation, but they also present a more earthy flavour compared to other Ethiopian varieties.

When someone thinks “Ethiopian coffee”, words like “woody” or “unclean” most probably won’t come to mind. Then again, this is also what makes coffee from Harrar exquisitely unusual. 

If you want to experience the diversity of Ethiopian coffees, pick up a bag of beans for Yirgacheffe and another from Harrar. I’m sure you’ll have an absolutely blast tasting the myriad of flavours that Ethiopia has to offer.

Better yet, check out Generation’s very own Ethiopia Cheri Nyekundu here! Freshly roasted, ground (or not) to your liking and delivered straight to your doorstep. 

Back to blog