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Guji coffee: Everything you need to know.

Guji coffee is everywhere. But it has not always been this way. Over the past six decades, rapid developments, both commercial and cultural, have elevated Guji coffee as a unique coffee region. Making a stark contrast with Yirgacheffe and Sidamo coffees. In this article, we take a deep dive into the history and culture of the Guji people, and the origins of the Guji coffee and its enticing flavor.

Coffee as the constant backdrop in Guji region

The Guji region of southern Ethiopia is a remote place, beautifully forested and – in many ways – an untouched area of the country. A glance outside your window, as you drive through these rural roads, and all you see is lush green forest undulating gently over hills and valleys as far as the eye can see.

Very few urban centers exist in this place, but despite what first meets the eye, the Guji region has seen change over the years, and quite a lot of it in the past five to six decades. Through it all, Guji coffee has remained a pleasant and constant backdrop as the people of this region, their livelihood, and their way of life have all slowly changed.

Guji history – From pastoralists to farmers and beyond

The southern part of Ethiopia, of which Guji is a part, is where the Oromo people first lived in what is today modern Ethiopia. It is from here that they slowly moved northwards across the country over the centuries. Historians believe that Guji (together with the Borena zone) is one of the very first areas where the Oromo people settled in present-day Ethiopia. We know that the Oromo people have lived in this area for at least 500 years.

The Oromo of Guji are believed to be descendants of a man called Gujo whose children and grandchildren – tradition tells us – reared cattle in the area. Today, most of the residents of the Guji region are still Oromo people. However, people from other parts of Ethiopia have also settled in parts of the region over the years, many of them coming from more arid areas of the country to farm here.

While the original Guji residents were pastoralists taking care of their herds of cattle, today, less than one percent are pastoralists and cattle herders. Most are now farmers. We covered this transformation in our short-documentary titled, ‘The Story of Guji‘. Only about a tenth of the area’s people live in towns.

The Guji region is excellent for farming. As much of the land was an untouched forest, the soil is incredibly fertile. There is little need for added fertilizer here. As one coffee farmer puts it, “The default here is organic.”

Coffee History in the Guji Region

Coffee is an inseparable part of the Guji, and the wider Oromo, culture. Some historians believe the Oromo people used coffee as early as the 10th century AD, although it wasn’t used as a drink then. In those times, coffee beans were mixed with edible fat to create small balls that people chewed on to ward off tiredness. It was an ideal snack to carry on long and tiring journeys.

There are a couple of stories in Ethiopia about how coffee was discovered and developed as a drink. The better-known one is the story of the goatherder Kaldi. However, Oromo culture has its own story of how coffee came to be. Here is one version of that:

The Guji people, just like the rest of the Oromo people, have grown coffee in their fields for centuries. Even today, many Guji farmers follow traditional methods to grow their Guji coffee. Coffee is often intercropped with food crops as a means of maximizing land use and providing food for families.

Where to find Guji coffee

Producers, processors, exporters, and coffee importers flock to Guji because the flavor has made a name in the industry. As a coffee importer, we have worked with Guji growers for over a decade. Sourcing and building relationships that do not feel like a regular business transaction, but lean to deep and meaningful friendships.