Ethiopian mountains are considered the origin of all Arabicas. 

The country is located in northeast Africa, borders Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya and Sudan. The western half is a mountainous region traversed by the Great Rift Valley. To the east it is mostly arid plateaux. The highlands are warm with summer rainfall, though droughts occur; the east is hot and dry. Most people live in the centre, around the capital Addis Abbeba and northern provinces.

Subsistence farming is the main activity, though droughts have led to famine. Coffee, gold, qat and oilseeds are the main export goods.Regional instability and wars have hampered economic developments.

Main regions of coffee production are Sidamo, Kaffa, Wollega, Illubabor and Harrar with also a small part in Shoa.



Only Arabica

The vast bulk of the coffee is unwashed Arabica. There are, however, two very special types in the Ethiopian market which should be mentioned. 

The first is washed Ethiopian usually coming from the mountainous region south of Addis Abeba in the Sidamo province and has a special flavor, plus remarkable acidity. 

The second special type refers to the so called Harrar coffee which comes from an area southeast of Addis Abeba. It is an unwashed Arabica and is the traditional coffee which made Ethiopia famous. It has a peculiar acid flavour which appeals greatly to certain people, however is very difficult to find as the bulk of this coffee is bought by few customers, mainly from Saudi Arabia. "Genuine Harrar Longberry" can sometimes be seen on offer but whether or not it is the real, remains questionable. The Saudi buyers seem to be prepared to pay high prices for the coffee, so it is difficult to imagine it being diverted to other markets. Further more this Harrar coffee is not usually traded in Addis Abeba as other coffees, but in a place known as Dire Dawa on the railway line from Addis to Djibouti a couple of hundred kilometres east from Addis. Since Harrar became virtually unobtainable in the general world market, buyers in the U.K. and Europe have been accustomed to buying coffee described as Lekempti as a substitute, as it is widely considered as the next best thing although it is grown in quite a different part of Ethiopia.

Ethiopian coffee

Probably the oldest coffee exporter in the world and one of the largest African consumers and exporters. Still today, about 20% of the Djimmah 5 coffee, the most commonly exported, is growing naturally in various regions and not only on plantations.

Washed coffee now accounts for around 20% of the total production and around a third of the export revenues.

Nice to know

Ethiopia consummes more than the half of its own production. It is the most elavated ratio for a producing country.

Crop periods

Flowering Period

Main : From January until March

Secondary : From July until September


Shipping Period

Main : November until October



Harvesting Period

Main : October until April


Transit days

Port of Shipment




Assab (1)









(1)  In the older days most of the coffee was shipped via Assab, now part of Eritrea on the Red Sea, but recently all shipping has shifted to the port of Djibouti at the "Horn of Africa". On a historical note Assab was also the port where the military government acted in the mid seventies to give priority to berthing vessels intending to load coffee.


Countries of Export

1. Japan,
2. Italy
3. USA, Saudi Arabia, Belgium

Ethiopian coffee is pretty well exported worldwide, with other destinations including Kalingrad, Felixstowe and Sydney.

ICO Figures


Only Arabica. Native varieties.

By Region

Although it should not be considered as an official classification, exporters usually also offer coffee under some territorial description such as Djimma, Ghimbi, Lekempti, Limmu, Illubabor or Sidamo. The most common description one meets is that of Djimma UGQ which sells in substantial quantities, particularly to the USA. As this has become the most common description, the exporters are accustomed to using coffee from other regions to bulk with genuine Djimma to achieve the necessary volume. Below some of the most common coffee producing regions of Ethiopia are listed.

Washed Coffee



Grows on altitude ranging from 1,700 - 2,000 metres above sea level. About 87% is above screen 14. Good solid beans. Sharp acidity. Medium to full body with very pleasant spicy flavours.


About 87% above screen 14. Solid and slightly coated. Usually pointed acidity. Medium to full body and balanced. Needs more heat to obtain well developed roast.


Altitude 1,600 - 2,100 metres. 92% above screen 14. Good to bold, uniform and usually blueish colour. Thick girth with several round ended beans. Balanced acidity and body with its winey flavour as one of its identifying characteristics.


Grows on altitude ranging from 1,100 to 1,400 meters above sea level. 86% above screen 14. Good bean size. Medium acidity. Medium body. Clean smooth cups.


About 1,100 metres above sea level. 89% above screen 14. Uniform bean size. Slightly softish type. Light/medium acidity. Medium body. Generally clean but low acidity.


Altitude 1,500 - 1,800 metres above sea level. 90% above screen 14. Bold beans but there are same districts producing small to medium bean size. Medium acidity and body. No fruity taste like the unwashed lekempti-5 rather sourish at the backround of the palate.


Unwashed Coffee



Grows from 1,500 - 2,100 metres above sea level. Bold to large beans. The golden yellow beans known as "Ambers" are distinctive for Eastern Harrar. Balanced cup with good acidity and body. A distinct coffee, known as the king of coffees, with its unique mocha flavour.

Lekempti 5

Greenish to brownish colour. Medium acidity and body. Usually described as "fruity" taste.

Djimmah 5

The bulk of unwashed Ethiopian Arabicas of which the major component is coffee from Kaffa and Illubabor regions. The liquor is plain indicating that good quality coffees are present in the mixture.

Sidamo 4

Concerns the bulk of unwashed Sidamo and Yirgacheffe origin. Fairly uniform medium bean size. Very few defective beans. Good acidity and body with distinct pleasant flavour

By defects




0 - 3


4- 12


13 -25


25 - 45


46 - 100


101 - 153


Grade 3 and 4 are sometimes also called U.G.Q. (Usually good quality) The most common type is grade 5. 
The so called Grade 5 Europrep is an improved Grade 5, since it should not exceed 80 defects.

Grade 7 and 8 also exist, but are not allowed for export.

Cup profile

Unwashed coffees in the early stages of new crop shipments tend to be fruity in flavour, comparable to new crop Brasil, Ecuador and even Kenya Mbuni. Although there are no standards for bean size, colour or roasting qualifications, there is an intense effort by government authorities to maintain the standard of cup quality.

Typical Description

Typical description

Ethiopia Djimmah 5 UGQ
Ethiopia Arabica from the region of Djimmah, type 5, Usual Good Quality



Handpicking, selective

Washing (1)

Washed methods (Sidamo, Limu, Yrga Cheffe, Bebeka, Teffi, Lekempti), and Unwashed methods (Djimmah, Lekempti, Harrar, Sidamo) are used. 


Full fermentation with little semi-washed


Sundrying on earth, drying beds or concrete


Mainly manual, electronic and mechanical


(1)  About Washing


Djimmah, Lekempti, Harrar, Sidamo


Sidamo, Limu, Yrga Cheffe, Bebeka, Teffi, Lekempti


(2) About fermentation

In the past there were also semi-washed coffees coming out of areas with little water available, but in recent years they have disappeared. It is believed that the government has stopped this flavour in favour of completely unwashed coffees as semi-washed coffee differentials were too hard to control.


Nice to know

All coffees are processed in Addis Abeba excepting the Harrar, which is done in Dire Dawa.

About Exporters

If one looks back into the past of the Ethiopian coffee trading community, one discovers "Good old days!" of considerable presence and affluence. The community was once very large, rich, and world-known. Existing copies of the long extinct Ethiopian exporters magazine show the numerous faces of traders whose names were once legendary, and even glimpses of those particularly grand occasions when the coffee trading community would host the old Emperor himself. 

The glittering scene vanished with brutal finality after the revolution in 1974. During the 17 years of communist rule, the Ethiopian coffee trading community shrank to such negligible force that it was consigned to history by most people in the global coffee business. At one time in the late 1980s, only about eight private firms were still at least marginally active, and their communal share of the Nation's coffee exports dipped to less than 10%.

Such feebleness in recent times makes ongoing renaissance in private Ethiopian coffee exporting all the more amazing. With the change in government in the early 1990s and, even more importantly, the shift back to a free economy, by 1992 the coffee industry's recovery had begun. Although political turmoil and military activity between 1990-1992 had a disastrous effect on coffee exports the recent re-invigorated and liberalised coffee market, supported by a vibrant and growing private sector, promises to be a more and more stable origin in the years to come.

A few years before the revolution, the authorities had developed a rather primitive but practical and efficient auction system in Addis Abeba. The provincial dealers who bought coffee from small growers in their home regions trucked it into a central depot and the coffee was literally sold off the truck within 48 hours and promptly delivered to the buyer's factory or warehouse. Although crude compared with the very sophisticated methods of the Nairobi Market, the scheme worked amazingly well. 
The coffee, once it has reached the Addis market after having been bulked by the dealers into 10-ton lots, is too low in grade to meet the minimum export standard. It is the function of the exporter to pick and screen their raw material and make up larger lots of exportable quality coffee usually known as "usual good quality" (U.G.Q.) or type 5 (the government standard). 

Following liberalisation in the early 1990's private exporters were encouraged to compete with the restructured state exporter, ECEE, which was expected to be phased out. 

Since 2002 however some structural changes in the commercialisation of coffee have been taking place in Ethiopia. The major evolution from selling coffee through an auction to an open market, is in a trial period to evaluate if the new system works. This liberalisation of the market entails that minimum prices are no longer set or required for registration. A minimum price is still being published however purely as an indicator. With this new rule, the local exporter can register his sales without having to take a minimum price into account. In reality, the prices registered by the different exporters are very similar and in line with the indicative prices. One of the most obvious reasons being that every exporter tries to get the best price possible for his coffee.
What still remains in place from the old system are the registration procedures. That is the registration with the National Bank who issues the export licenses on the one hand and the one in the auction where volume and price are registered on the other. This auction registration can be done at a maximum of 6 months in advance and is always at a fixed price. Statistically, the coffee sold in the auction still represents more than 90% of the total volume exported. The National Bank also still requires payment with a letter of credit, mainly to ensure the declaration of US Dollar revenues. The registration is moreover a kind of safety net for both buyer and seller who can present their dispute to the Department of Coffee and Tea.
Nevertheless, a certain flexibility in the auction registrations has been implemented. Some small quantities of special grades, organic, shaded grown, ... are sold directly without being auctioned. The price and quantity are still registered in the auction for future reference. A new regulation is also in place for mixing different grades (ie Sidamo and Yirgacheffee). Mixing different grades was not allowed in the past but is now accepted with some specific quality requirements. Before export, all coffees are checked by the Department of Coffee and Tea to verify if the quality meets the minimum standards.

Nice to know

In almost all languages in the world, the word coffee has the same origin: Kaffee - Coffee. Except in East Africa where the bean is called Buni or M'buni. The first beans traded where made under the denomination of Kaffa Buni, or the bean from Kaffa region. Thus the English expression Coffee Bean or the German Kaffee Bohne may have its origins with the first Ethiopian traders. 

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