A roaster’s guide to Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee

Pavel Corena
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March 24, 2023
An image of a coffee roaster holding a custom printed coffee bag of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee, a Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee bag, in an article on roasting Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee

As coffee is grown worldwide, cultivated by different cultures, and processed using different methods, there are now several single origins available on the market. 

That said, the history of all coffees can be traced back to Ethiopia, where the beans were first discovered during the 9th century. 

One of the most important coffee-growing regions in the country is Yirgacheffe. Yirgacheffe is part of the Sidamo region located in southern Ethiopia, where coffee beans thrive.

Learn more about the unique, highly regarded characteristics of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee, and how to unlock them during a roast.

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A history of coffee in Ethiopia

When coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia, the beans were harvested from plants that grew naturally in forests across the region. 

For centuries, coffee was consumed locally by collectors and occasionally traded between tribes. Then, during the 1500s, coffee began to be cultivated on a smaller scale.

During the 17th century, Ethiopia began exporting coffee in small amounts due to the plantations that were built under colonial rule.

As time went on, the popularity of coffee soared and it became a vital segment of the global economy. 

The rest of coffee’s history in Ethiopia is quite turbulent as the country has undergone many changes in government. 

In the past 40 years alone, Ethiopia has had three forms of government, from a militaristic Marxist ideology to the federal system today.

Amidst the turbulent political and economic climate, coffee farming in the country took a hit. In 2003, the price of coffee plummeted lower than it ever has.

The price of coffee was no longer covering the cost of production and, as a result, many farmers abandoned their crops. 

Despite all of these hardships and challenges, coffee remains Ethiopia’s biggest export. The country is the 8th largest coffee producer in the world, exporting approximately 4.72 million 60kg bags a year.

According to Coffee Hunter, it is estimated that over 15 million people are involved in the coffee industry in Ethiopia.

The coffee sector is the main source of income for hundreds of families in the country.

Furthermore, more regions are getting involved in specialty coffee trends in order to create more value and integrate higher quality coffees into international trade.

An image of a coffee roaster roasting Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee in an article on roasting Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee

Ethiopia’s Yirgacheffe coffee

Ethiopia has ideal conditions for growing high quality coffees. 

Notably, one of the most prestigious regions is Yirgacheffe, located in the Sidamo region in southern Ethiopia. 

The mountainous region boasts a warm, tropical climate that allows coffee plants to grow naturally. 

Additionally, thanks to the high elevations of around 2,000 metres, there is thick vegetation with healthy, nutritious soil. This exotic area is recognised for its exquisite coffees, which are widely regarded as the best high-grown coffee in southern Ethiopia.

These high altitude conditions allow the coffee beans to develop a high intensity and more complex attributes in the cup. 

Several Ethiopian coffees are known to undergo the traditional natural or dry process. However, Yirgacheffe coffee typically undergoes wet processing to help develop its delicate tasting notes and unique fruit profile.

Typically, Yirgacheffe coffee farmers are members of the Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (YCFCU). This union comprises 23 different member cooperatives consisting of over 40,000 farmers.

Members are exempt from the Ethiopian Coffee Exchange (ECX), allowing them to receive a premium for the coffees, including Fair Trade and Organic certifications.

An image of custom printed coffee bags containing roast Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee in an article on roasting Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee

The unique flavour profile of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee

Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee is often considered one of the best coffees the country has to offer. 

In the cup, Yirgacheffe coffee often boasts a clean taste with chocolate, citrus, and berry flavours. The acidity is high to medium, with a clean taste and an elegant, smooth mouthfeel. 

Compared to coffees from other regions within Ethiopia,  Yirgacheffe coffee’s cup profile tends to be more aromatic and fruity. The wet process produces a clean, subtle, and delicate profile with a trademark citrus flavour.

That said, depending on the variety and processing variables on farms, some distinctive tasting notes could also be peach, lemon, and pineapple flowers.

The optimal roast profile for Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee

When roasting any coffee, there are many variables roasters must consider. 

It is essential they understand the characteristics of the green bean, such as its density, variety, processing method and origin. 

When roasting Yirgacheffe coffee, the main variable roasters must take into account is its wet-processing. 

The profile of wet-processed coffees tends to be smoother and more gentle than others. Therefore, roasters should develop a medium roasting profile to highlight the acidity of the coffee without taking the caramelisation of the sugars too far. 

As Yirgacheffe coffees are grown and harvested at higher altitudes, the beans are often smaller with a higher density. As a result, great care must be taken when roasting, as the beans will react differently from other coffees.

Roasters should ensure they use a low heat, as the beans are delicate and over-roasting may result in a bitter taste. Low heat allows the delicate qualities of Yirgacheffe coffee to shine and enhance its bright acidity.

In the specialty coffee industry, it is important to preserve the quality of roast coffee to ensure consumers get the very best product. 

Maintaining the freshness of the roasted coffee bean is as important as maintaining consistency along the roasting process.

At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of 100% recyclable coffee packaging options that can be fully customised to reflect the uniqueness of Yirgacheffe coffee offerings.

Roasters can choose from renewable materials such as kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an environmentally friendly PLA lining, all of which minimise waste and contribute to a circular economy.

Our design team is available to work directly with you or your marketing team to create the ideal coffee packaging for your brand.

Plus, we are able to custom-print coffee bags using innovative digital printing technology, with a quick turnaround time of 40-hours and 24-hour shipping time.

MTPak Coffee also offers low minimum order quantities (MOQs) to micro-roasters who are looking to remain agile while showcasing brand identity and a commitment to the environment.

For more information on sustainable custom-print coffee bags, contact our team.

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