Ethiopian Harrar Coffee

ethiopian coffee ceremony

Ethiopian Harrar Coffee is like nonother. It is bold and ancient. It is perhaps the oldest coffee variety in Ethiopia! Harrar coffee’s striking berry flavors and spice tones make for a fabulous cup of coffee. 

A sip of Ethiopian coffee takes you on a journey through the origins of coffee. We are starting your adventure with a very special Harrar coffee. This coffee symbolizes the potent coffee history and culture of Ethiopia. 

Running short on time? Check out our 5 quick facts on all things Ethiopian coffee!

The Origins of Coffee

Ethiopia is known as the birthplace of coffee. It all began with a funky local legend in 850 AD. 

A herder named Kaldi noticed the newfound energy of his goats after nibbling on bright red berries. With enthusiasm, he brought them to the monastery to share his findings. But, the monks found the berries boring and threw them into the fire. Suddenly, an amazing aroma erupted from the flames. The monks salvaged the surviving beans from the embers. Then, they were ground and steeped in water to make the world’s first cup of coffee.

Coffee farms soon blossomed in Ethiopia. This is a result of Harrar’s history. This city made coffee famous with its extensive trade relations. Harrar was the hub for commercial trade since the Middle Ages. This is how Harrar coffee found its name. Trade with the Arabian peninsula was major. The exchange between Ethiopian and Arab merchants resulted in coffee traveling throughout the world. 

At the time, Harrar was really the only place in Ethiopia producing coffee. Ethiopian coffee culture had yet to evolve. Instead, coffee farms grew as trade demand increased. 

Harrar is a particularly special place of religious importance as well. The city was under Arab rule for many centuries. This led to the creation of stunning mosques and relics. Today, Harar is a treasured historical and religious city in Ethiopia. In fact, UNESCO identifies it as the fourth holy city of Islam.

Coffee still reigns as Ethiopia’s main cash crop in the global marketplace. Ethiopia produces the most coffee in Africa. It is also the 5th largest coffee producer worldwide.

The Ethiopian Terrain

Ethiopia is a gorgeous country with a nearly perfect geographical location. Its ancient terrain and sea exposure defines its vast history. 

Ethiopia is in Northeastern Africa. It is south of Sudan and Eritrea. Its location is extremely close to the Arabian peninsula. This explains Ethiopia’s extensive trade history.

Ethiopian land is spectacularly diverse. Ancient rock formations comprise the country from North to South. The land varies from the more rugged Western highlands to the lakes of the southern Rift Valley. The variation in altitudes and land formations makes Ethiopia an excellent place for coffee production.

For the most part, the country is very arid and rocky. The Eastern and Western Highlands display some epic mountains and views. These provide more temperate temperatures than the rest of the country, with ample rain. Venturing into the country’s lowlands, you will find a desert-like environment that is sparse in inhabitants. Ethiopia’s climate widely varies just like its terrain!

Coffee Production

What makes Ethiopian Harrar coffee so sensational? This comes down to two major factors: cultivation area and processing methods.

Harrar coffee is an ancient Arabica variety grown in the most optimal areas for coffee production. Of course, Harrar coffee is not grown in the city of Harrar! It grows just outside, in the region of Oromia. Southern Oromia is home to many Harrar coffee farms. There, farmers cultivate these sensations coffee beans in high altitudes of 1500 to 2000 meters (nearly 5000 to 6500 feet.) High altitude slows the growth rate of the coffee plant. This slow maturation process gives the bean more vivid flavors. 

Also, most Harrar coffee farms are very small. This means that the cultivation and processing is all done by hand.

The processing methods give the beans it’s stellar flavor. Harrar coffee is naturally processed. This is also known as the dry process. After the coffee cherry achieves ripeness, farmers pick the cherries then dry them in the sun. The fruit rests longer with the mature beans. This imparts complex fruity notes most similar to the fruit flavors of wine. Just like wine, these green coffee beans are bold.

It is important to note the grades of raw Harrar coffee beans. There are three:

  • Longberry
  • Shortberry
  • Mocha (or Mokka) Harrars

These bean grades vary by shape, size, and flavor. Harrar shortberry beans are the standard raw coffee beans with a quintessentially bold Harrar coffee flavor profile. Mocha Harrars are extra special. These are Peaberry coffee beans. Resulting from a rare mutation, these beans are much more forward in character. Their rarity and flavor make them highly sought after on the global coffee market. Finally, the Longberry is similar to the shortberry, except it is larger. This also lends its bolder flavors.

Ethiopian Coffee Culture, It is a Ritual!

Getting to know one another is always better over coffee. The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is a quintessential part of everyday life for Ethiopians. It is a tradition that continues to persist for centuries.

Photo credit: Jasmine Halki

In Amharic, Ethiopia’s main language, ‘buna’ or ‘bunna’ is coffee. Coffee’s history is known as ‘Kaffa.’ The coffee ceremony reflects the significance of both. The ceremony is an opportunity to spend time with friends and family. But, it is also an exceptionally spiritual and reflective experience. This is understood through the length of the ceremony. Typically, it can last around 2-3 hours. This is because the ceremony begins with raw beans!

The Ceremony Process

Traditionally, the woman of the household leads the ceremony. She can do this up to 3 times a day, especially when guests are visiting. Then, she prepares the room by burning incense to ward off any nearby evil spirits. With a fully cleansed room, the ceremony is ready to begin.

The entire ceremony occurs in one room. The host cleans and roasts the beans in the same pan over a charcoal stove. The roasting is gentle and slow. The fragrant and striking aromas of the coffee determine its readiness. This usually is the most alluring part of the ceremony for guests.

Once the coffee is ready, the host grinds the beans by hand with a mortar and pestle. Sometimes, she incorporates additional spices. Nonetheless, the grinding, as you can imagine, is hard work! Luckily, the beans only need to reach a coarse grind. Traditionally, coffee boils in a jebena. This is a clay pot for boiling the grounds. It actually looks more like a jug! It is found in every Ethiopian household.

traditional jebena (clay pots)

Once the coffee boils, the host filters it several times before serving. There are typically 3 servings of coffee. To highlight the brilliant coffee flavors, one may opt for sugar or even salt. But, never milk. Milk overtakes the flavors and aromas of the beans. This is seen as taking away from the flavor and the ceremony as a whole.

The final cup is widely seen as a blessing to guests.  This is where the ceremony is very spiritual. Thankfully, the coffee becomes weaker by the last serving.

The Best Way to Enjoy Ethiopian Harrar Coffee

We know you probably do not have enough time to host a complete coffee ceremony. Thankfully, there are some fabulous ways to enjoy Ethiopian Harrar coffee at home.

Harrar coffee is delicious hot. We suggest making it in a french press. This way, you can share it with friends. Maybe you can even host your own mini coffee ceremony!

Harrar coffee also tastes exceptional as an iced coffee. It makes a truly refreshing cup of joe. The bright berry notes and spice aromas really shine when chilled. We suggest preparing your Harrar coffee as a cold brew (don’t worry, we have an easy cold brew recipe on our site!) We advise you make a little extra cold brew to be frozen as ice cubes. This gives you a longer-lasting and exceptionally refreshing drink!

 And, as we promised, 5 quick facts on all things Ethiopian Harrar coffee:
  1. Ethiopia altogether produces the most coffee in Africa and is the 5th largest coffee growing country worldwide.
  2. Harrar coffee gets its name from the city of Harrar, Ethiopia. This became one of Africa’s most famous trade hubs during the Middle Ages
  3. Harrar coffee is grown at very high altitudes, around 1500 to 2000 meters (5000 to roughly 6500 feet.)
  4. Harrar coffee is naturally processed (or dry-processed.) This is what gives the unroasted coffee beans their innately complex flavors.
  5. Harrar coffee is known for its intense winery and berry flavors. It also can be particularly bold and spicy, with earthy undertones.

Ethiopian Harrar coffee is a symbol of global coffee history. And, its character and quality are dynamite. We always recommend exploring the world through your cup of joe. And, what better way to start than with Ethiopia. Spoil yourself with some exciting coffee, we dare you!

Let us know about your coffee journey in the comments below!

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