Coffee country: Ethiopia
True coffee-lovers couldn’t imagine life without their favourite beverage. Many of them, however, don’t even know where this dark brown elixir originated. We are devoting this page to the birthplace of coffee, and will be explaining why goats are surprisingly clever creatures.
Even if, according to the latest studies and local accounts, South Sudan and Yemen also lay claim to the title of the country of origin of coffee, Ethiopia is indeed the undisputed birthplace, and the spread of coffee in Ethiopia was the first step in its triumphal advance throughout the world. Ethiopia is extremely rich in coffee varieties, and is known today for its diversity of speciality coffees, each has its very own flavour profile and is particularly popular among connoisseurs.
One legend of the discovery of coffee tells of an Abyssinian goatherd named Kaldi who was surprised by the strange behaviour of his goats who, having filled up on the red berries from a bush as yet unknown to him, started to frolic around in a wild and hyperactive way. Once he worked out the reason for this behaviour, he decided to try the fruits and found himself invigorated and full of energy for his daily work. It is even rumoured that he held – and won – races with his goats! Monks from a nearby monastery became aware of his acquired physical state and, having discovered his secret, started to copy him and eat coffee cherries every evening before prayers.
First came the energy bar, then the beverage
During the discovery phase, therefore, coffee was eaten, not drunk. In Kaffa in south-western Ethiopia, coffee cherries were mixed with butter and red pepper and other spices, and served to the family’s guests of honour as an energising snack. At this time, the coffee cherry was traded primarily for its nutritional value. Only the freshest cherries would do, and due to the natural fermentation process, the cherries needed to be transported as quickly as possible. This could be extremely difficult or sometimes even impossible, which is why many landowners began cultivating coffee plants locally.
Other accounts relate how, towards the end of the eighteenth century, coffee beans were roasted, ground and combined with butter. These caffeine shots served as energy-rich nutrition for the Oromo people, providing them with more power than many other foods. Even meat dishes or bread were unable to compete with this coffee bomb.
One of the oldest coffee-based beverages is chemo, which involves toasting or drying coffee leaves before crushing and boiling them with herbs from the forest and a wide range of spices. This caffeinated beverage continues to be prepared and drunk in the western regions of Ethiopia to this day.
Flavours vary according to preparation
And now back to the present day – Ethiopian coffee is highly popular, and enjoyed all over the world. But why is this? Does Ethiopian coffee have a typical flavour? Not as such. Depending on the coffee variety and preparation method, completely different notes become apparent – from refreshing citrus through nutty to floral notes with a light sweetness. Washed Ethiopian coffee has a complex, elegant flavour profile, while dry-processed coffee may have intensively fruity notes. Something, then, to suit every coffee-lover’s taste.
Single origin from south-western Ethiopia
A single-origin coffee offers specific flavours for an intense and unadulterated coffee experience. Our Café Royal Ethiopia has an intense, powerful taste with a hint of apricot and honey, as well as a subtle, floral acidity.
The Arabica beans used in this coffee come from the Kaffa Forest plantation in south-western Ethiopia, which lies 1,750 to 1,850 metres above sea level and is around 2,000 hectares in size. The coffee plants grow wild among other trees in a natural forest that covers around half of the plantation area. This protects the coffee plants from excessive exposure to the sun, while also helping to maintain biodiversity as a home to a large number of different plants and animals. The soil is fertilised naturally by the falling leaves.
Kaffa Forest coffee is UTZ certified, and provides permanent employment for 400 people. The ripe cherries are picked by hand before being washed or dried in the sun. The area is divided into six micro-farms to enable cultivation and harvesting to be organised more effectively.
Word has it, by the way, that the last Ethiopian lions, who live in the rainforest, can be found here. What is not known is whether they, like the Abyssinian goats, eat the cherries and then become hyperactive hunters.