Great Coffee Generates Great Business: Ethiopia’s Coffee Shops
By admin October 30, 2014




Ethiopia, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda are the main producers of coffee in Africa, with Ethiopia being the continent’s leading coffee grower. Traditionally it takes rather a long time to be served a cup of coffee in Ethiopia, but things are now speeding up. As coffee plants originate from the east African nation, where they first grew wild before cultivation started in the country more than 1,000 years ago, it is perhaps unsurprising that Ethiopians take coffee drinking very seriously. So much that Ethiopia has a ceremonial method of making coffee at home that continues to this day. The ceremony sees raw beans roasted over hot coals, with each person in attendance being invited to savor the smell of the fumes. The beans are then ground with a wooden pestle and mortar before finally being brewed – twice – in a clay boiling pot called a jebena. The whole process can take more than an hour, and a growing number of Ethiopians say they no longer have the time. And so, as Ethiopia’s economy continues to expand strongly, more people, led by young professionals in the capital Addis Ababa, are instead buying pre-roasted beans, or visiting coffee shops to have their favorite drink made for them. It means boom times for the country’s independent coffee roasters and cafes, who have seen their numbers rise and some are even looking to expand overseas.

Coffee has long played a central role in Ethiopia’s macroeconomic fortunes as the country’s largest export earner. In 2012 coffee exports generated more than $800 million, a figure expected to exceed $1 billion by 2015. But besides the grand figures in annual economic reports, the simple act of selling a cup of cheap coffee plays a significant socioeconomic role for many trying to carve out a better life in Ethiopia. This is especially true amid the uproar of a rapidly changing Addis Ababa, where diverse coffee services by various practitioners exists. “Ethiopian coffees have two major advantages over all other coffees in the world,” said Geoff Watts, vice president of coffee at Intelligentsia Coffee, a Chicago-based roasting company. “Incredible genetic diversity and near perfect growing conditions.” For Ethiopia to produce ‘great’ coffee every year is because ‘it’s truly the birthplace of coffee’, according to Sarah Allen, editor of Barista Magazine. She stated that it is native to Ethiopia means its producers ‘rarely contend with problems that overwhelm’ coffee growers in Central and South America (where coffee is not native, but rather introduced). The largest producer of coffee in Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia is the fifth largest coffee producer in the world next to Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, and Indonesia, contributing about 7 to 10 percent of total world coffee production. Coffee production is important to the Ethiopian economy with about 15 million people directly or indirectly deriving their livelihoods from coffee. Ninety five percent of Ethiopia’s coffee is produced by small holder farmers on less than two hectares of land while the remaining 5% is grown on modern commercial farms. Coffee is a major Ethiopian export commodity generating about 25% of Ethiopia’s total export earnings.

The Ethiopian government has sought to protect its industry with regulations. Foreign companies may now conduct commercial coffee farming in the country, as well as produce roasted and ground coffee for local and export markets. They can’t open cafes yet, although many in the industry expect that to change. In a country with a strong tradition of roasting coffee at home, a deep cultural preference is for coffee not dispensed by machinery. As a result, many Ethiopians eschew brands and cafes, opting instead for the women with flasks of coffee or for one of the ubiquitous jeubeuna bunna stands across the city, which in turn support an entire strata of low income coffee entrepreneurs. “I never go to cafes,” said 36-year-old Fitsum Berhe, one of Ethiopia’s returning diaspora, who spent years in Ireland. “It’s not about saving money. It’s about quality”, adding that he likes seeing beans roasted and knowing he’s drinking the real deal. Producers in Africa accounted for about 12 percent of the global coffee supply and less than 11 percent of global coffee exports in the 2009/10 season, according to the African Development Bank Group. According to Assefa and ECEA President Hussein Agraw, the association plans to hold the third International Ethiopian Coffee Conference on November 6 and 7 under the banner, “Towards Quality and Traceability.” The conference aims to “examine quality levels of coffee and discuss ways of further improving the quality level, and to understand how quality is linked to marketing and better pricing,” Agraw told AA.

Brazil exports roughly half of the total global export of Arabica coffee. During the 2014/15 fiscal year, said Assefa, Ethiopia is set to export between 235,000 and 250,000 tons of Arabica coffee. According to Assefa, Ethiopia is also planning to expand its global reach by entering markets in India, China, South Korea and Russia. Ethiopia ranked first among top 10 coffee growing countries by a group of 11 roasters and writers. asked 11 coffee industry experts to rank their top three coffee growing countries. The experts ranked Ethiopia the best coffee growing country with 25 points, while Kenya and Colombia stands second and third respectively with 12 and 10 points. Ethiopia is the genetic birth place of Coffee Arabica, which has been growing wild and harvested here for millennia.


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