Before we dive in and explain when the best time of year to buy Ethiopian coffee beans is, there’s something you need to know about Ethiopia…
You see, Ethiopia is to coffee what the Vatican is to Catholics. It’s the homeland. It’s the where it all began, the beginning of the story of coffee. Arabica plants (which grow the most commonly sourced coffee beans) was first discovered in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) by Kaldi, an Abyssinia goatherd, who lived around AD 850.
As the story goes, Kaldi observed his goats prancing excitedly after chewing on red berries that were growing on bushes nearby. So he tried some himself. After much elation, he filled his pockets and ran home to spread the news of his discovery. He presented the berries to the chief Monk at a monastery near Lake Tana, who immediately threw them in the fire and demanded Kaldi to leave.
But, after a few moments, an aroma spread through the monastery like wildfire. The smell of roasting coffee was enough for the chief Monk to rescue the beans and place them in hot water overnight by way of preservation. The next morning, the monks awoke and drank the fragmented brew, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Interesting backstory, right?
Drinking Ethiopian coffee, then, is any coffee-lovers right of passage. Time must be put aside, and phones must be turned off. It’s an experience to savour, not a casual ‘pick me up’ after a hard day at work.
But when’s the best time to buy beans?
Like any fresh produce, there’s a good time of year to grow, a good time of year to harvest, and consequently, a good time of year to buy beans.
Different coffee-producing regions across the world have different times for harvesting. For Ethiopia, the perfect harvest is between October to December, according to Royal Coffee’s coffee harvesting map
However, coffee harvesting is only one consideration to factor in when buying Ethiopian coffee beans. We must also think about coffee arrival times. If cherries are harvested in November, beans might not arrive to the consumer country until sometime the following year.
Arrival times into the United States
The disparity between harvest and arrival is for good reason, however. For instance:
- Coffee has to be graded based on quality by producers.
- Coffee quality managers have to work through a variety of samples to source the best coffee for their shops.
- Some beans are left longer to dry in the sun encased in their berries (natural drying process). Other beans are washed (washed process). Read here to find out the difference between the two.
For the United States, then, coffee most often arrives between June and August, according to Royal Coffee:
What does this mean for consumers?
This is an extremely tough question, and one without a definitive answer. So far, the biggest consideration to factor in when buying Ethiopian coffee beans has been freshness. For U.S. coffee brokers, the best time to buy coffee beans is likely to be as soon after beans arrive into the country. They’ll be freshest, and unique flavours will be ‘in season’ for that year’s harvest.
For consumers, however, coffee companies could hold onto green beans for a while before roasting them, which is no bad thing. But it does mean that, like Avocados in supermarkets, there isn’t a ‘good season’ for purchasing Ethiopian beans, because technically speaking, they can (and are) roasted all year round.
Our advice, then, is to buy based on tasting notes and seasonal changes.
Something light and floral?
There are many coffee producing regions within Ethiopia, and each farm will process beans differently, which result in unique flavours and a variety of tasting notes. However, there are commonalities between these regions when it comes to flavour. For example:
- Ethiopian coffee is often bright, fruited and floral in flavour.
- They often have high acidity, making for a juicy ‘berry-like’ cup.
- They’re often quite light in body.
For us here at Coffee Bros, the best time of year to drink Ethiopian coffee is during the summer season. A hot summer’s day requires a light and fruity cup of coffee, often enjoyed in the warmth of the sun while sat in a park or by the pool. It’s the time of year for bright, floral flavours, swiftly followed by a cool afternoon beer or margarita.
We’ll leave that one up to you…