Ethiopia: Where Coffee Began

While we're looking into a recipe for Turkish Cardamom Coffee, our story takes us right back to coffee's beginnings in Ethiopia and a huge discovery.

Thousands of years ago, an unknown shepherd made the discovery of his lifetime: a funny little bush offered up the most delectable bean that would become desired world wide. Coffee was discovered and it wouldn't take long before similar plants were growing all over Northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

From Humble Beginnings

A millennium or two later, coffee remains one of the most enjoyed drinks of all time and Ethiopia is considered one of the finest coffee producing countries there is. Ethiopia has gained much American attention over the last thirty years. As victim to the global changes in weather as well as the overhaul of African governments and political shifts, Ethiopia has seen hunger, disease and economic destruction.

For a short while, we all looked to Ethiopia, emptied our pockets and sang in homage to the poor arid country most of us couldn't even find on a map. Still, with great resolve, Ethiopia started to pull itself out of demise and rebuild itself.

As the government tried to redesign and grow, farmers returned to their farms to grow, amongst other things, coffee. Coffee remains at the top of Ethiopia's exports, often making up for as much as 2/3's of the country's exports.

The Changing Face of Export Markets

According to, an informative website devoted to tracking the cultural and economic standing of African nations, Ethiopia's export market has seen some changes over the last few years. In 1999, Ethiopia's export performance rose above expert's predictions due to a short-lived rise in coffee prices.

The following year, the government estimated that the external account deficit, mainly balanced against export performance, would remain steady at 8-8.5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, due to low prospects for coffee prices. The result was impressive.

In 1997/1998, the government estimate of $360 million dollars (US$) in coffee exports faltered under the actual $410 million dollars, which was 2/3's of the country's total exports. In 1998, coffee exports dropped, as expected, to $358 million, down to $335 million in 1999/2000 and finally down to $332 million in 2000/2001.

What Went Wrong?

Ethiopia began to see that it's singular greatest export was losing value, with serious effects to both farmers and people living in these agricultural areas. This reflection of dwindling coffee prices shows just how damaging depleting coffee prices can be.

Although low coffee prices have negatively affected the Ethiopian GDP regarding exports, the non-coffee exports, such as corn, textiles and other small exports, have risen significantly. Of the 2000/2001 $636 million in exports, an astounding $304 million dollars were non-coffee products.

Like any social organism, economies are subject to wax and wane with the times. Sensitive countries, such as Ethiopia, see the greatest effects in market drops, with an unfortunate immediate effect on the people.

Keep on Keeping On

Farmers are still producing coffee and will probably continue to do so until Ethiopia's coffee market suffers as much as other coffee producing countries like Mexico and Indonesia. In the meantime, Ethiopia remains one of the finer producers of coffee, with the greatest portion of their exports being high quality Arabica beans for affordable prices.

With that under our belts, let's look at what we can create from these high quality beans when blended with exotic flavors popularly used in countries such as Turkey.

Recipe: Turkish Cardamom Coffee



Combine coffee and orange slices in a large saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat. Crush the cardamom seeds with a mortar and pestle or with the back of a heavy pot.

Before the mixture boils, add the cardamom seeds. Cover saucepan and reduce heat. Simmer brew for 5 minutes. Strain and serve in warmed mugs.

Serves 6-8