As the fabled birthplace of arabica coffee, no other place in the world has as historically profound a relationship with coffee production as Ethiopia. Producing and drinking coffee is a centuries-long cultural practice as coffee trees were first domesticated and grown for household use, and eventually, to sell in commercial markets. Even today, it’s one of the only coffee-producing countries that consumes nearly half the coffee it produces.
As such, the vast majority of Ethiopia’s coffee production rests on the efforts of smallholder subsistence farmers, each with less than 1 hectare of land dedicated to coffee cultivation. It may be more accurate to describe these agricultural operations as gardens than as farms since coffee trees are usually intercropped with fruits, vegetables, and legumes on small plots. Nevertheless, coffee production continues to be the agricultural backbone of the country’s economy, providing employment for millions of smallholder farmers. It’s each farmer’s coffee contribution, no matter how small, that adds to the remarkable diversity of coffee production and lends to the distinctive nuance of Ethiopian coffees.