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Our editors are grateful for the following article which was sent to us by Cactus Advertising of Addis Ababa. We visited Ethiopia's capital twice in 2000 and were made welcome by some of the most friendly and gracious people on the planet. Watch for a major feature in our next editions of Africa Travel Magazine. At the Holy City of Lalibela in the Northern Highlands, we experienced our first full fledged Coffee Ceremony, which was complete with some of the most energetic, spirited and colorful dancing I've sever seen. Another such occasion was at the Crown Hotel in Addis Ababa, where we were guests of Ethiopian Tourism Commission. It was even more of a show, which proves they really take their coffee seriously. Our magazines are interested in sponsoring a series of Tours to Ethiopia, which will include the Holy Route, plus a Tour of Ethiopia's Coffee Country. If you are interested in such a program, send us an E-Mail.

The Birth of Coffee: There is an old Ethiopian legend that says that a young goatherd noticed his herd becoming unusually frisky after eating some bright red berries. After trying some himself, he found that they had the same stimulating effect on him. A monk from a neighboring monastery also tried these berries after he found the young goat herd in this state, and to his amazement, he also found that the berries helped keep him and others alert during their night prayers and thus spread the use of coffee.

Haicof Plc / Coffee
Box 4854, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Tel: ( 251) 1-510124, 515117, 516888
Fax: (251) 1-518588

E-mail: haicof@telecom.net.et

Early Coffee Trade: Coffee has always been Ethiopia's most important cash crop and largest export commodity. A writer by the name of Harris wrote in 1844 that coffee trade from Ethiopia started five hundred years earlier when it was transported from Ethiopia to Arabia by a trader.

An Ethiopian monk known as Brother Thomas corroborated this story and described the exact route taken when the coffee was traded with Arabia. Travelers to Ethiopia in the early days noticed a large amount of coffee trees growing in some areas because the weather and nature of the soil make it ideal to grow there, which led many to believe that coffee originated in Ethiopia.

As the production of coffee in other countries slowly started to increase, Ethiopian producers started to feel the competition. The Dutch controlled the American and Asian markets, and the French Company of the Indies began to import coffee directly from Yemen and started growing it in the Bourbon Islands. Other African countries like Angola, Kenya and Madagascar also started to grow coffee and by the early 1960s, the production of Robusta in Africa was almost four times that of Arabica, which was the coffee type indigenous to Ethiopia.

Coffee Consumption in Ethiopia: Coffee in Ethiopia has always been regarded as a medicine, a food and a beverage. Both Christians and Muslims took advantage of its stimulating effect for their long, religious services. But the Orthodox or conservative sides of the priesthood, who considered it to be an intoxicating drink, soon prohibited it. Regardless though, coffee drinking quickly spread throughout the country. In the sixteenth century, it was used in very small dosages as a medicine in some parts of Ethiopia.

In other parts, coffee was eaten with other grains. In fact, only fifty years ago, it was discovered that in some societies, coffee cherries are mixed with butter, pepper and other spices and are offered as a snack to honored guests. Other parts of Ethiopia traded coffee for its food value. This type of consumption required that the berries be fresh, so the traders could not travel far, thus encouraging the richer people to plant their own coffee trees in their regions.

There are two ways Ethiopians prepare coffee for drinking. The first method, which is still used in some places, creates what is known as white coffee and results when the beans are boiled to produce a greenish liquid. The second method of preparing coffee is obviously the most common one, and starts with roasting the coffee, grinding it, then brewing it with water. Coffee drinking in Ethiopia has always been ceremonious and brings everyone in the house together to talk. The whole process could take up to an hour or even more if neighbors and friends come over to talk and have coffee also!

Coffee Quality: There are many factors that contribute to the quality of coffee, mainly man and nature. Natural phenomenon include altitude, duration and severity of rainfall, type of soil, pH, genetic origin, location of producing area, chemicals and pesticides, harvesting methods and timing, packing and so forth. Supervision of quality coffee begins with the coffee seedlings and ends when the coffee is shipped out to the international markets. Experts known as coffee 'disciples' who are trained in the cultivation and handling of coffee, are placed in each of the coffee producing regions to train and guide producers in the modern and scientific methods of planting, cultivating, processing and storing of coffee. They do so by visiting different coffee processing plants and educating farmers on coffee quality.

Coffee quality differs to everyone depending on their upbringing as well as their society. An Ethiopian believes quality coffee should have a good aroma, and after being brewed in the traditional clay pot, is drank steaming hot and unsweetened, although some prefer sugar or even a dash of salt. A Greek or Turk would enjoy a well roasted, coarse coffee that is brewed in an oriental pot and is served thick, to the point of leaving a black residue at the bottom of the cup! Americans like Arabica coffee that is of a medium roast, well ground and thinly brewed. The French like a mix of Arabica and Robusta, a darker roast and served with milk, which is known as cafe-au-lait. The Italians like espresso, which is a thick and bitter coffee that is drunk in a small cup. Saudi Arabian sheiks like the most expensive of coffees, known as Bun Harrari or Khawa Harrari, and comes from the Eastern Highlands of Ethiopia. They like it lightly roasted and brewed in an elaborate brass coffeepot with cardamom and ends up being a greenish shade with a spicy taste.

Coffee Production: The Oxford English Dictionary states that the word coffee was derived from the Arabic word qahwah, in Turkish pronounced Kahveh, around the 1600s. The name of this beverage is said to have meant ëwineí, according to Arab lexicographers. On the other hand, others say that the word originated from the name Kaffa, a region in the southern part of Ethiopia, where the plant was a native.

Coffee (coffea) is the major category of the Rubiaceae family, which has over 6,000 species. Of the many species that are found in the coffea family, only 2 are presently regarded with importance - Coffea arabica and Coffea robusta. About 70 countries worldwide produce coffee and to these countries, not only is coffee a major means of foreign exchange, but is also responsible for tax income and gross domestic product (GDP).


Ethiopia is Africa's third largest coffee producer after Uganda and Ivory Coast. Coffee export is the main source of foreign exchange. Also, a large segment of the population is involved in the coffee industry. Due to the importance placed on the coffee industry, it has the advantage of receiving government support for research, infrastructure improvement, financial and manpower contributions, quality control systems and publicity. The creation of the Coffee and Tea Authority proves this fact and one of its objectives is to support the production and trade of coffee as well as research efforts. There are a few research centers such as the Jima National Coffee Center (JNCRC) which was created in 1967. This establishment focuses on improving the quality of coffee, disease resistance, nutrition improvement and the general improvement of the coffee industry.

An estimated 200,000 to 250,000 tons of coffee is produced in Ethiopia every year, with fluctuations due to the climate, prices and the seasonal nature of coffee plants. An unknown amount of coffee is bought and sold illegally, of which some goes to neighboring countries. The majority of coffee produced in Ethiopia is exported from the capital city of Addis Ababa. There are a number of ways in which coffee is produced in Ethiopia: Traditional coffee, which is utilized by small growers and yields about 400 ñ 500 kilograms per hectare.

Garden coffee is grown at farms, for the most part inter-cropped with other crops, fruits or vegetables. Large scale modern plantations, which can produce outputs of 1 to 1.5 tons per hectare. There are currently about 25,000 hectares of coffee plantations owned by the government. Presently, small farms produce 90 percent of Ethiopia's coffee, and government owned farms produce the remaining 10 percent. The new government has now stated that the private sector can invest in the coffee industry. This should encourage new investors to establish larger scale plantations with more advanced technology, thus improving the production and quality of coffee.

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