Coffee’s evolution in Ethiopia is quite distinct. Thus far coffee has remained a social drink where it is freshly roasted and brewed for immediate consumption by women at home. Coffee is served daily to relatives, neighbours, and other visitors. Ethiopian women’s life is so intertwined with coffee that many Ethiopians would only find it puzzling to hear about the initiatives like #ShesTheRoaster that are meant to bring about equality and equity in the global coffee industry. It not for economics behind coffee, the Ethiopian men would have remained beekeepers and faithful coffee drinkers.
For all that’s being said, these reflections are only meant to emphasize the natural fit between Ethiopian coffee and specialty coffee; the focus on quality, including the freshness of inputs and processes, is a preoccupation for both. Some instances pick up this link and synergy, like barista competitions and the Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
Interestingly, both evolved to become occasions to showcase quality, creativity, and skills; it is mostly the players and the reward that is distinct. The latter is dominated by young Ethiopian women trying to flaunt their skills and win acceptance as marriage material.
Even so, Ethiopians still consume annually over 250,000 tons of green coffee beans and mostly at home. This figure will change substantially if systematic efforts are made to document the volume of coffee cups consumed through lightly roasted coffee leaves and coffee husks as both coffee, tea, and latte drinks across communities over the years. Specialty coffee also prospers in innovation where most innovations are adaptive rather than disruptive.
A relevant instance globally will be the ongoing effort to introduce; lab-manufactured coffee: Notwithstanding the perception, it will disrupt the industry in every possible way. Within specialty coffee, processing methods that are more than simple washed coffee that involves various fermentation processes on both natural and washed coffee varieties are fast becoming the trend, but fermentation dependent natural coffee processing methods have long been a hallmark of Ethiopian coffee.
Ethiopia still processes a majority of its coffee via natural drying methods, and smallholder farmers still use some kind of fermentation of the cherries before drying. Generally, they don’t use African beds, managing it instead on a much smaller scale. This owes to the smaller landholdings of the farmers representing under 15% of the 0.9 ha of average farm size.
Considering the millions of dollars of investment made over the past four decades to greatly increase washed coffee supply, it seems appropriate to positively explore the position of Ethiopian coffee in the specialty coffee sector, positioning it as a pioneer and leader of the evolutions that would come across the value chains, including consumption trends.