PARTNER CONTENT FOR

Nespresso white logo
 ...

Ethiopia’s coffee culture is steeped in ancient ritual

In Ethiopia’s Sidamo region, experts are carefully integrating modern methods into traditional practices—a balance that must be as well-crafted as the coffee produced.

WORDS BY JACK NEIGHBOUR

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENA EFFENDI

A CRADLE OF LIFE FOR COFFEE

A genetic home of Arabica, Ethiopia has practiced coffee cultivation for centuries. Sidamo coffee growers still use the same techniques handed down from one generation to the next to grow and process distinctive beans. It is craftsmanship that needs to be preserved yet remain robust enough for this incredible coffee to be enjoyed sustainably across the world. To help ensure this, Nespresso’s AAA Sustainable Quality™ Programme is working with locals to refine their methods—without altering a culture that has spanned millennia.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENA EFFENDI

THE MORNING ROUTINE

Each morning coffee farmer Birtukan Bekele performs a coffee ceremony with her family. This coffee ceremony is one of the oldest in civilized history and is still deeply engrained in everyday life. Typically performed by the matriarch of the household, it is considered to be a great honour, and deft hands are required to prepare the brew before pouring for everyone from the traditional jebena coffee pot.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENA EFFENDI

THE ORIGINAL ARTISAN COFFEE

Crafting a cup of quality coffee is not as new a concept as we may think, as brewing techniques have been specialised in Ethiopia across the ages. Birtukan prepares to roast her beans over an open fire while her daughter watches, learning to wield the same tools that have been used by families centuries ago. Getting the beans to this stage is a process that’s just as meticulous as the brewing ceremony itself, and it’s difficult to maintain standards when producing them on a larger scale. Thankfully, a solution lies in making traditional growing and processing methods more efficient with delicately integrated modernised techniques.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENA EFFENDI

NEW TECHNIQUES HELP FARMERS KEEP UP WITH DEMAND

Ethiopians have been making coffee longer than anyone else in the world, and it’s this ancient pedigree that helps to give coffee here its unique taste. To ensure that growers like Bekele Erango and his son Biruk (pictured) can continue to keep up with global demand for their coffee, Nespresso’s AAA Sustainable Quality™ Programme employs local experts to teach modern agricultural techniques for healthier trees that produce higher quality coffee. Here, Bekele and Biruk are working together to prune the coffee trees in their field to promote healthy new growth.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENA EFFENDI

FLAVOURED BY THE SUN

Although some Sidamo farmers use traditional processing methods of washing and depulping, the region’s inconsistent water supply makes it difficult for many to do so. As an ingenious work-around, farmers employ a “dry” processing method, the first step of which is to spread fresh coffee cherries out under the sun to dry naturally, as shown here at the Biloya Mill. As the moisture evaporates inside the cherry, pulp flavours intensify, penetrating the bean in the centre and infusing it with fruity tones.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENA EFFENDI

TRADITIONAL METHODS, WITH A MODERN TWIST

To ensure they dry evenly, coffee cherries are routinely turned by hand over a period of four weeks, and it’s not uncommon for workers to burst into song while doing it. Traditionally, coffee cherries are laid on mats on the ground to dry, which can cause issues with moisture seeping up and contaminating the fruit. To negate this, Nespresso worked with Ethiopian growers to raise coffee cherries off the ground on nets supported by bamboo structures, ensuring the best uniform quality.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENA EFFENDI

SEEING IS BELIEVING

Once dry coffee cherries are removed from their dried skins, the coffee is sorted by hand, with any damaged beans picked out. These methods for controlling quality have taken a little time to adopt, as farmers in Sidamo needed convincing before altering age-old practices. But, as they benefit from better crop yields and increased profits—allowing them to send their children to school, build homes, and invest in their farms—they believe that these relatively small changes are indeed for the better. More coffee stories here.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RENA EFFENDI

Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us

Subscribe

  • Magazines
  • Newsletter
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2016 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved