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The process of Harvesting | Ethiopia

Coffee is an important export commodity for Ethiopia, contributing 41% of the country’s total foreign exchange earnings and about 10% of the gross domestic product. Over 25% of the population of Ethiopia, representing 15 million people, are dependent on coffee for their livelihoods. This includes 8 million people directly involved in coffee cultivation and 7 million in the processing, trading, transport, and financial sectors.

Ethiopia is home to large quantities of coffee with two major production styles: Sun-dried natural, and fully washed. Harar, Jimma and Nekemte Coffees are mainly sun-dried natural coffees, where as Sidama and Yirgachefe coffees are mainly washed coffees. Unlike some countries, Ethiopia has both washed and sun-dried processed natural coffees. Coffee processing involves removing the skin, pulp, and parchment from the outer layers of the coffee cherry, to reveal the green coffee bean. Coffee pulp, or mucilage, is very sticky and dense in sugars. Special processes are needed to remove the mucilage from the beans.

Washed Processing

It is the common processing for premium coffees. After the red cherries are picked and the coffee is further sorted by immersion in water. Less dense cherries will float and others will sink. The skin of red cherries is removed by eco-pulpers to get parchment coffee; however, the parchment coffee has still significant amount of mucilage. In order remove the mucilage, the parchment coffee will be kept in a fermentation tank for about 2 to 3 days depending on the temperature and humidity of the area. Once the mucilage is removed, the coffee goes to a soaking tank.

Washed coffee tends to have a clarity of flavor and aroma that is often lacking in natural coffees. Many cuppers assert it is easier to taste the influence of soil and varietal in washed coffees. Acidity comes through more clearly, and the cup is generally cleaner. The cleanest, highest quality, high-altitude washed coffees can have an intensely refreshing character; however, the disadvantage of the washed process is that it requires large quantities of water and more infrastructure. In many locales, it is simply not feasible to do the washed process.

sun-dried Coffee Processing

In Ethiopia, this is usually done using raised drying beds. Raised beds made out of wood posts, about waist-high, are covered in a material like burlap or nylon netting. Producers lay the coffee cherries, skin and all, out to dry on the beds.

The great advantage of natural processing is that it does not require any water, nor any elaborate machinery or facilities. As a result, one finds more naturally processed coffees in drier areas, as well as poorer or more remote areas.

Generally, as the result of prolonged and sun-fueled contact with the cherry’s own natural sugars, sun-dried natural coffees have a sweet, fruity character with a creamy mouth feel. The best, most-carefully cared-for sun-dried natural coffees can have intense berry flavors, tropical fruit aromatics, and chocolaty undertones.

Natural-process green coffee beans often have a yellowish or orange-like tinge to them. This comes from prolonged contact with the sugars as they “cook” into the bean in the sunlight.