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Ethiopia – The Birthplace of Coffee?

Many countries claim ownership over the origin of coffee (most notably Sudan and Yemen), but it’s widely accepted that the natural birthplace is Ethiopia. More specifically, it is the town of Kaffa (Where coffee also gets its name) that’s attributed with the discovery. Here, coffee still grows wild in the forests in the mountains.

Research suggests that before the advent of roasting and brewing, the beans were consumed as food. They were ground raw and blended with animal fats.

Coffee is an integral part of Ethiopia’s identity. It’s also a major contributor to the country’s GDP, making up 28% of the country’s exports. It’s also responsible for the livelihood of approximately 15 million people.

Ethiopia is the biggest coffee producer in Africa, and the third largest Arabica producer in the world. It produces between 4 and 5 million bags each year. Each region’s production has very distinctive characteristics. It produces some of the best and most sought after coffee in the world.

The high quality of coffee is attributed to the optimum growing conditions of the country. Mountain altitudes range from 1200 to 2750 masl (miles above sea level), and yearly rainfall of around 2000mm. Temperature fluctuates between 15 and 25C. The diversity of the country’s climate and varied elevation means coffees from different regions hold their own unique characteristics. The main producing regions are Bebeka, Djimmah, Harrar, Lekempti, Limu, Sidamo and Yirgacheffe 

Coffee in Ethiopia has been traded on the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange since 2008. The ECX was established to create a new market place which served the needs of all of the actors involved in the coffee supply chain, from the farmers to the final consumer. Previously, only a third of all the agricultural products produced in Ethiopia reached the market due to the high costs and risks involved with trading. There was no assurance of product quality or quantity which meant buyers would only trade with suppliers they knew and trusted. This resulted in many of Ethiopia’s agricultural producers becoming isolated from the market, forcing them to sell their produce to the nearest buyer, and leaving them unable to negotiate on price or improve their market position.

With the introduction of the ECX, coffee exports in Ethiopia have become centralised, enabling more smallholder producers to have access to the global market. Ninety per cent of all the coffee produced in Ethiopia now moves through the ECX where it is cupped and graded according to flavour profile and quality.

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