If you’re looking for the world’s best coffee, skip Italy or Colombia and head straight to Ethiopia. Coffee is without a doubt the heartbeat of Ethiopia’s agricultural economy. Ethiopia is the fifth largest coffee producer in the world, producing 3-5% of the world’s coffee each year. In addition to an estimated 15 million Ethiopians relying on the coffee industry for their livelihood, the globally adored beverage has become a central part of Ethiopia’s culture.
History of Ethiopian Coffee
Ethiopia is the birthplace of Coffea arabica, the coffee plant. Legend says a 9th-century goat herder observed his energized goats nibble on the beans. This legend has two different endings: One ending explains how the goat herder simply tried the beans himself and experienced a glorious jolt of energy. Another version says the goat herder took the beans to a local religious leader who threw them in the fire, dismissing the beans as the devil’s work. But, after smelling the sweet aroma of the roasting coffee beans decided coffee must not be so bad after all. Either way, we have an Ethiopian goat herder to thank for our morning cup of coffee.
Ethiopian Coffee and the Economy
Since that young goat herder stumbled upon the beans, Ethiopia’s coffee production has grown significantly. Ethiopia accounts for around 3% of the global coffee market. Only five years ago, coffee made up 40% of Ethiopia’s foreign export earnings, and today it accounts for roughly 28% of the foreign export earnings.
Coffee Agriculture in Ethiopia
There are over 1,000 known genetic varieties of coffee in Ethiopia. This number is staggering, especially considering the closest country in terms of variety is Colombia, with about 30 known varieties. Even more shocking is that there are still thousands of varieties of Ethiopian coffee yet to be identified. A huge majority of Ethiopia’s coffee is wild-harvested or grown on small farms, with only 20% commercially farmed.
Ethiopian Coffee Culture
The humble cup of coffee has been elevated to important cultural significance in Ethiopia. There are ceremonial ways to prepare, serve, and drink coffee here. The coffee ceremony typically follows a large feast. Coffee beans are roasted in front of guests as the ceremony leader wafts smoke throughout the room. A jebena—a clay coffee pot—is used to make the coffee before it is served with sugar or salt, depending on the region of Ethiopia. Popcorn is often served with coffee and the traditional coffee ceremony also includes burning frankincense.
Truly traditional Ethiopian coffee is served in local “jebena bets”. Many of these jebena bets are small huts with tin roofs where coffee is brewed in clay pots. Although it is interesting to see coffee roasted by hand in the traditional way, the quality of jebena bets varies widely. To sip the best brews in Addis Ababa, look for spots that are packed with locals or check out our coffee suggestions listed below.
Cafés in Addis Ababa: Ethiopian Coffee
Alem Buna: Ethiopian Coffee
It’s hard to beat the macchiato at Alem Buna. This Addis Ababa café has perfected the ratio of coffee to milk in their macchiatos, making it significantly stronger than most other coffee shops. After lunch, Alem Buna is packed with Ethiopians taking a break from their busy days and enjoying a nice jolt of caffeine. Alem Buna roasts their own Ethiopian coffee daily and is a local favorite. A coffee here is less than 50 cents and a kilo of roasted Highland special blend is about $7.50.
Tomoca Coffee: Ethiopian Coffee
Tomoca Coffee was established in 1953 by an Italian, and was one of the first modern coffee shops in Addis Ababa. Rumors say that one of the café’s first waiter’s rose through the ranks and eventually bought Tomoca. Since then, Tomoca has been owned by three generations of the same family for over 60 years. There are now six branches throughout Addis Ababa and one international branch in Tokyo, Japan.
The original location is in Addis Ababa’s Piazza. Upon arrival, visitors pay for a plastic chip and exchange it for a delicious cup of Ethiopian coffee. Enjoy your brew at the standing bar, and arrive early in morning to experience the café when it’s buzzing with Ethiopian businessmen in suits, reading the newspaper, and enjoying coffee before a day of work.
The Chohe Café: Ethiopian Coffee
This coffee shop is housed in the old train station building. The Chohe Café is the perfect place to relax while sightseeing. Ethiopian coffee is roasted in house here, resulting in a delicious cup of joe.
Café at The Ethnological Museum: Ethiopian Coffee
This coffee spot is housed in Haile Selassie’s former palace. Outside of the museum entrance, there is a British double decker bus brought to Ethiopia by Haile Selassie. The bus has been transformed into a café and is a great place to grab a cold drink or a cup of Ethiopian coffee.
Enjoy Ethiopian coffee in Addis Ababa while on your Addis Ababa Tour!
Addis Ababa Tour Benefits
- Curated Sites
- Audio Tours
- Offline Map