Searching for the Origins of Harar Coffee

The city of Harar is famous for two reasons: one, as a major holy city of Islam and two for its naturally processed coffee. It is the fourth-holiest city for Muslims worldwide after Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem.

Harar was also a major trading center for coffee since the 16th century. The city’s vibrant markets and city houses or gey gars are standing witnesses to the many centuries when Harar was a major center of trade in the Horn of Africa, linking the ports of Somalia to the fertile Ethiopian hinterland.

Coffee from Harar

Ethiopian Harar coffee refers to the varietal that is cultivated in the region of Harar. The region lies on the north-eastern side of the Ethiopian Rift Valley extending from Chole to the city of Harar.

Harar experiences a drier coffee growing climate and is at times cooler than the other coffee-growing regions of Ethiopia and has a bimodal rainfall pattern. The natural vegetation is characterised by a drier type of vegetation comprising of evergreen trees or shrubs and other native coniferous species.

Much of the coffee is grown in gardens without any shade (sun coffee) or with minimal shade. Coffee is also grown in terraces and irrigated at places where there is sufficient water availability.

Like other coffee-growing regions of Ethiopia, Harar also prides in its variety of heirloom cultivars, chief of them being the Harar Longberry, a coffee with rather large, elongated bean; and Amber coffee, which has an amber coloured bean, owing to its unique soil conditions.

Harar coffee is primarily dry processed considering the regions dry climate. It has a distinctive jam-like flavour with its hallmark blueberry notes (with some stone fruit and spice). They also mark a medium to heavy body with moderate to good acidity.

As in other parts of Ethiopia, Harar too has a deep-rooted coffee culture. Coffee ceremonies are still practiced with much fervor. Harar also has a long-standing tradition of drinking tea made from brewing coffee leaves and of using the fleshy part of the coffee fruit to make a multitude of hot and cold drinks.

Although a much sought-after coffee variety worldwide, Harar coffee production is seeing a decline owing to climate change. Farmers shifting to Khat cultivation owing to low prices is also cited as another major reason.