As he tended to his goats one afternoon in the Ethiopian highlands some 12 centuries ago, a herder named Kaldi noticed that his bleating charges seemed energized after chewing mysterious red berries.
Intrigued by the strange reaction, Kaldi took the berries to a local monastery, where the monks promptly threw them in the fire disapproving of their apparently magical attributes.
As the berries were roasted by the heat, a heavenly aroma spread, and they were used to make the first coffee.
Or so the legend of coffee goes. What is more certain is that Ethiopia, widely regarded as the cradle of coffee, is a nation devoted to the stimulating beverage. The country is Africa’s biggest producer and ranks fifth globally. Last year it exported 190,000 tonnes of coffee beans, earning around $700 million, and in 2016 Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa will host the 4th World Coffee Conference, a high-level gathering of global experts.
Far from being just coffee exporters, Ethiopians are also major coffee lovers. Cafes densely line the streets of the capital Addis Ababa, and in 2013/14 3.6 million bags were consumed in the country, representing 71.6% of the total domestic consumption of Africa and 8% of all exporting countries.
TO.MO.CA, with six branches in Ethiopia’s capital, is one of the most recognizable cafe brands. It has been owned by three generations of the same family for over 60 years, and now the company is opening its first international outpost in Tokyo, Japan, this May.
“Ethiopians are coffee drinkers with a history of drinking and enjoying coffee for over 1,000 years,” says Wondwossen Meshesha, the 28-year-old grandson of TO.MO.CA’s founder and the company’s current chief operations officer.
“Here, it’s not just about getting a coffee on your way to work,” he continues. “Ethiopians socialize and meet their business partners in coffee shops.”
Meshesha says that only 20% of the coffee in the country is commercially farmed, with the rest coming from small holder farmers, who harvest coffee mainly in forest. “The specialty of Ethiopian coffee comes from the emphasis of consistency in production of quality coffee rather than volume of coffee production,” the young businessman adds.