Last Updated: February 16, 2024, 12:08 pm by TRUiC Team

How to Source Coffee from Ethiopia

Navigating the ins and outs of coffee sourcing can feel like an overwhelming and complicated process.

This guide summarizes what’s involved — and what to look for — when buying coffee beans from Ethiopia so you can make an informed decision for your roastery.

Recommended: Read our full, in-depth How to Start a Coffee Shop Business guides, inspired by coffee professionals, they will help make your coffee dreams real, from sourcing beans to hiring baristas, choosing the best POS system, forming an actual company, and everything in between.

Why Ethiopia?

Known by many as the birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia is home to the first Arabica bean ever discovered. Today, an estimated 15 million people in Ethiopia rely on the coffee industry to make a living. Most of the nation’s coffee farmers focus on shade-grown plants and rarely use chemicals due to Ethiopia’s natural ability to produce high-quality Arabica beans.

There are three types of coffee production in Ethiopia: garden coffees grown in small pots along with other crops, plantation coffees grown on large estates, and forest coffees that grow in the wild. The most common type of coffee production in Ethiopia is the garden coffee system. Ethiopian farmers traditionally followed natural processing practices after harvesting their coffee cherries, although many now use wet processing because it brings out the delicate, floral notes for which Ethiopian coffees are known.

In 2008, the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange — already responsible for managing the country’s wheat, sesame, haricot beans, and maize crops — took over coffee management as well in order to generate government revenue from this crop. It wasn’t long until this organization reigned in farmers’ ability to sell their beans directly and now cooperatives sell just 10 percent of Ethiopian coffee.

Ethiopia's Growing Regions

Here’s a guide to the key characteristics found in Ethiopia’s main coffee-growing regions:


  • Flavor Profile: This region has an optimal coffee-growing environment with good amounts of annual rainfall, fertile soil, and perfect temperatures and elevation. While thousands of bags of coffee from Ethiopia carry the “Sidamo” origin mark, differences in microclimates and altitudes across the region mean the beans can range in quality.
  • Processing Format: Sidamo farmers wash approximately 60 percent of the coffee grown here, but the region also produces many high-quality, sun-dried coffees.
  • Average Harvest Season: October to December


  • Flavor Profile: Geographically part of the Sidamo region, this area produces such high-quality coffees that Ethiopia categorizes it as an individual micro-region. This high quality stems from the area’s dense green land, fertile soil, and high altitude.
  • Processing Format: Washing is the primary processing method for the most common coffee grown here — a garden coffee variety.
  • Average Harvest Season: October to December


  • Flavor Profile: Ethiopia’s smallest coffee-producing region is home to beans known as the “best of the highland-grown coffees” with a wine-like, balanced, and sweet flavor profile.
  • Processing Format: Farmers from this region typically use the washed process.
  • Average Harvest Season: October to December


  • Flavor Profile: This region’s coffees grow on wild trees and produce coffee cherries classified as “longberry” (large), “shortberry” (smaller), or “mocha” (peaberry)” with a wide range of flavors from banana to mint. However, the flavorful characteristics of these heavy-bodied coffees often make them difficult to roast. As a result, roasters typically use these special coffees for espresso blends in order to encourage a bigger, fruitier flavor profile.  
  • Average Harvest Season: October to December


  • Flavor Profile: Guji is another area previously considered part of the Sidamo region, but the country now classifies it as an individual micro-region due to the distinct flavor profiles of its coffees.
  • Processing Format: Guji growers traditionally use the washed and natural processing methods, but some now use the honey process as well.
  • Average Harvest Season: October to December

Popular Coffee Farms in Ethiopia

Here’s a summary of several popular coffee farms in Ethiopia. While we don’t work with these producers directly, these examples offer insight into the common practices of farms in this country.

Shakisso Farm

  • Founded in 2001, this Guji-based farm produces rainforest-grown, fair trade, organic-certified coffees at approximately 1,800 meters above sea level.
  • Since its inception, Shakisso expanded to 640 hectares with more than 300 employees during harvest time.
  • It uses the washed and natural processes for its mixed, heirloom coffee varieties.

Borboya Washing Station

  • Approximately 670 farmers use this washing station while operating privately, meaning they’re not part of a cooperative. Although this is technically a washing station, it also processes some coffees using the natural method.
  • Most producers bring their crops here for processing within 24 hours of harvesting the coffee cherries to ensure quality.
  • Located in the Yirgacheffe region at an elevation of 1,800 to 1,950 meters, this operation produces coffees with a citrusy, peach, or black tea flavor profile.

Biftu Gudina Cooperative

  • Located in the Limu region at an elevation of 1,975 to 2,200 meters, this cooperative’s 138 farmers use semi-forest farming practices and washed processing methods.
  • The majority of growers contributing to this cooperative operate farms of one to 20 hectares, making this a group of small artisanal producers.
  • This cooperative typically produces coffees with a fruity flavor profile — more specifically, with blackberry or peach notes.

Key Differences Among Origin Countries

The main differences between each coffee-producing country include the soil, elevation, and temperature associated with farms growing coffee plants.

Fertile soil is essential for producing high-quality coffee. On farms with higher soil fertility, coffee plants can produce larger yields and better defend themselves against disease — especially important when growing Arabica beans, which are susceptible to diseases like leaf rust. Yet, a soil’s fertility largely depends on the amount of volcanic ash, clay, and/or limestone it contains. Volcanic ash, for example, adds valuable minerals, such as feldspar, quartz, magnesium, cristobalite, and tridymite. Similar to the farming of wine grapes, a soil’s nutrient content plays a large role in a plant’s health and the flavor profile of its fruit.

“In order for a coffee plant to produce 100 pounds of green coffee (1 quintal), it must extract from the soil approximately 1.45 kilograms of nitrogen, 0.28 kilograms of phosphorous, and 1.74 kilograms of potassium.” – Luis Alvarez Welchez, manager and agronomist, ProSuelos Initiative

A farm’s altitude, in addition to its soil conditions, directly impacts the flavor profile of coffee grown there. This is because altitude affects the temperature in which coffee plants grow and temperature can boost or hinder a plant’s ability to absorb nutrients from the soil. Moreover, coffee plants growing at higher altitudes and lower temperatures also can photosynthesize longer. This allows the plant to metabolize nutrients in the soil and produce bigger, healthier cherries. The end result is a desirable hard coffee bean with a high sugar content. In contrast, plants that absorb fewer nutrients due to poor soil and/or hotter growing temperatures tend to produce softer beans with low sugar content.

There are, however, exceptions to this general rule. Hawaiian coffee grows at a relatively low elevation, but, due to the island chain’s location far north of the equator and ample shade to guard plants from the sun, it produces high-quality coffee at a lower altitude.

Final Considerations

If you plan to buy your coffee beans from an importer, the process is fairly straightforward. Contact your potential importer to set up a “cupping” event to sample their coffees and then work with them to place your order.

If you prefer to source beans directly from a coffee farm, there’s a bit more work ahead of you. First, you must travel to the farm(s) in order to “cup” their coffee before you make an order. While this “cupping” trip will enable you to start developing relationships with your farmer(s), you will need to hire a translator to accompany you unless you speak the local language.

If you decide to buy coffee beans from a specific farm after your “cupping” trip, you must then connect with an importer to help you with the shipping and handling of your coffee. Why? Because importers have expertise not only in managing customs and duties imposed on coffee shipments, but also on how to properly transport green coffee beans across borders based on the specific varietals and regions from which you order.

When selecting an importer, keep these considerations in mind:

  • Storage is a major factor in ensuring the quality of your beans upon arrival. Do some research about the practices of your importer’s transportation services, including temperatures during transport, shipping time, and handling of your product.
  • Minimums are another factor in ordering for your business. If an importer has a larger minimum than you are able to roast or store in a short amount of time, you could end up wasting money and product.
  • The frequent availability of beans from specific origins also is important. Ensure you’re able to use a variety of coffees and origins provided by your importer as lots can differ wildly depending on season, climate, and politics.
  • Some importers also can help you ensure you buy fair trade coffee for your business. For example, Crop to CupTM Coffee Importers, Pachamama Coffee, and Copan Trade LLC are just a few importers offering this service.

Pro Tip: Ask around in your community and online before choosing an importer to gain an understanding of their practices.

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