Ethiopian Yirgacheffe vs. Ethiopian Harrar (And the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony!)

Yirgacheffe vs. Harrar: At a Glance

ProcessingWet / washedDry / Natural
ConsistencyTea-like (bright, clean)Jam-like (strong fruit flavor)
FlavorFragrant, spicy, floral, Sweet tasteLight to Medium bodyCitrus, tangerine, tart lemon, mild chocolate/nutty flavors

Sometimes toasted coconut, wine and berry notes

Blueberry or blackberryBold aftertasteHeavy bodySpice tones (cardamom, cinnamon), apricot, smoke, compote, dark chocolate, blackberries

Slightly fermentedHints of jasmine
RegionSouthern EthiopiaEastern Ethiopia
AromaClean, pleasant, and sweet. Heady, pungent, and rich.

Yirgacheffe vs. Harrar Coffee: The Short Answer

Yirgacheffe and Harrar are two regions of Ethiopia that process their coffee beans differently. This process leads to completely different, though equally enjoyable, flavor profiles and textures in the coffee they brew.

Coffee processing africa

Yirgacheffe vs. Harrar Coffee: The Long Answer

Yirgacheffe and Harrar coffee, though both from Ethiopia, produce wildly different cups of coffee.

Processing Methods of Ethiopian Coffee

The biggest difference between Yirgacheffe and Harrar coffee in Ethiopia is how they are processed. Processing coffee beans refers to the method producers use to turn coffee “cherries” into dry coffee beans ready to sell. When coffee is harvested, the beans most people are familiar with are seeds encased in a cherry-like fruit. We will discuss two popular methods for processing this fruit into a coffee bean.

Coffee fruit

Dry Processing

Also known as natural or sundried processing, this coffee processing method entails leaving the coffee fruit out to fully dry in the sun before removing the seeds. Most Harrar coffee is processed this way. A dry processing usually leads to a stronger fruit flavor with heavy notes. Many people describe these coffees as so fruity they are comparable to the flavor of jam.

coffee jam

Wet Processing

Also known as washed processing, producers who utilize this method remove the seeds from the fruit before drying them. Yirgacheffe coffee beans are processed this way, creating a brighter, cleaner, tea-like consistency with floral and citrus flavors.

citrus coffee

Yirgacheffe Ethiopian Coffee

Hailing from southern Ethiopia, Yirgacheffe coffee is grown at 6,600 feet above sea level and produced with the washed process. This minimalist coffee is typically known for a medium body with a spicy, floral, sweet taste. This is often paired with citrus flavors such as tangerine or lemon. Notes of toasted coconut, berry, or chocolate are common. Even the coffee’s aroma is clean, pleasant, and sweet, far from overpowering. 

floral coffee

Harrar Ethiopian Coffee

Originating in eastern Ethiopia, Harrar coffee is grown on small farms in the Oromia region, 6,300 feet above sea level. The Oromia region was formerly known as Harrar. The natural, or dry, roasting of these coffee beans leads to a much more developed and complex flavor profile than the cleaner Yirgacheffe coffee. The heavy body, bold aftertaste, and strong fruit flavor of Harrar coffee is typical of the dry processing method. Those enjoying a cup of Harrar coffee can expect strong blueberry or blackberry flavors with notes of spice tones like cardamom or cinnamon, as well as apricot, smoke, or even dark chocolate. A slightly fermented taste and hints of jasmine are common as well. Even the aroma emanating from a cup of Harrar coffee is bold, pungent, and rich. Harrar is an Arabica bean commonly used is espresso blends.

spices harrar

The Discovery of Coffee in Ethiopia

Most historians agree that the first humans to consume coffee were most likely in the mountains of Ethiopia. The story is told that a goat-herder named Kaldi noticed his herd become very energized after consuming mysterious red berries. He tried the fruit for himself and discovered the stimulating effects the berries had.

Local monks then used these berries to meditate and pray for longer periods of time. The use of the coffee berries spread to other monasteries and subsequently the fruit’s popularity spread across the planet. Coffee plants in this area of the world are considered the only true indigenous coffee trees.

The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

Ethiopia coffee

Knowing that coffee likely originated in Ethiopia, it comes as no surprise that coffee is an important part of Ethiopian culture. The importance of coffee is exhibited in what is called the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony.

Roasting the Buna

The ceremony begins with roasting the coffee beans, or buna, in a flat-iron roasting plate called the baret metad. The beans are roasted over a charcoal stove, continuously moved to ensure even roasting, until they start crackling and producing a strong aroma.

Presenting the Roasted Beans

Once roasted, the beans are placed on a straw mat, called a margegabia, or a clay plate known as a wacheff. The roasted beans are then walked through the gathered guests so that they may appreciate the beans’ aroma, often using their hands to waft the scent towards themselves.

Grinding and Brewing

A mortar (mukecha) and pestle (zenezena) are then used to ground the local coffee beans finely before they are placed into a clay coffee pot, called a jibuna. Once boiling water is added, those conducting the ceremony may add cinnamon, cloves, cardamom or other spices.

Allowing the Coffee To Settle

The jibuna is taken off of the heat and set into a holder made of woven straw called a matot. The finely ground coffee particles are allowed to settle to the bottom of the jibuna. 

Once the coffee is deemed ready, it is typically served with copious amounts of sugar but no milk. Residents of more rural areas have been known to add salt.

Ethiopian coffee cups are tiny, handless, and porcelain, called sini. Sini are placed on a low wooden table called a kobot, which is set atop a ceremonial carpet on the floor.

Serving During the Ethiopian Coffee Ritual

As per tradition, the oldest male is typically served first as a sign of respect for elders. Three rounds of coffee are typically served by the youngest child in attendance, which symbolizes the connection between the generations. The first round is called Abol, and is the strongest. The second round is called Hueletanya and is produced by adding more hot water to the grounds. The third and final round is called Sostanya.

Ethiopia has some of the world’s best coffee varieties and a rich tradition of coffee culture, potentially including the first human consumption of coffee.  Grab some Ethiopian Single Origin today and enjoy the one-of-a-kind fruity and floral notes that are the signature of Ethiopian coffee!

Jay Arr

Jay Arr is passionate about everything coffee. What began as a simple interest in the history, production, and brewing of coffee led him to a job as a barista at a national coffee chain. That’s not where Jay’s story with coffee ends, however. Roasting and brewing day in and out, he continued to gather knowledge about all things coffee.

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