Ethiopia: why I love visiting coffee plantations

Ethiopia is renowned for its several famous coffee regions, including Yirgacheffe, Sidamo, Jimma/Kaffa, Harrar, Djimmah or Limu. I consider myself fortunate to have visited several of these regions. As I mentioned in this article, Ethiopians have a great love for coffee, known as buna, and consume it throughout the day. Coffee export used the be the best business for most people, as coffee plants grow in their backyard. Oh, how I wish I could pick fresh coffee beans from my own garden!

Now, let’s take a closer look at three of the regions and the coffee plantations in Ethiopia I visited during my trip.


While gathering information about coffee regions and plantations in Ethiopia, I discovered that Bebeka in the Jimma region was the most popular among tour agencies. Thus, the very first stop of my trip was Jimma. When I booked my accommodation, I asked them if they could recommend a local guide. I always prefer a local guide to a tour agency as they take me to different places and adapt the plan according to my need.

While talking to the hotel staff during my check-in, he told me he would be my guide for the rest of my stay. He proposed to skip Bebeka as it is too touristy. Instead, he recommended going to Bonga, which is popular among locals. You can also read about Bonga in this article from CNN.

Bonga Coffee plantation

In the morning, I met with two individuals; one was a guide, and the other was his friend who owned a car. During the one-hour drive to Bonga, I learned that cars can be quite expensive, making them unaffordable for many.

Driving in Ethiopia can be extremely dangerous due to the majority of roads being dirt instead of tarmac. Despite this, locals still tend to drive recklessly and race with other drivers. Often, I saw donkey carts racing on the road. I assume that the “security” checks by the police in some villages were there to prevent locals from racing. The police officers stretched a rope over the road to stop the cars. Each car had to stop, and once the police officers determined that they were safe, they would lower the rope and allow the cars to pass.

At one of these police checks, my guide pointed out Kafa Biosphere, a coffee museum. However, we didn’t have time to stop there as I preferred going to an actual coffee plantation rather than a museum.

Ministry of Agriculture

Our first stop was Southern Agriculture Research Centre Bonga, where they tested the coffee seed quality. From there, we stopped somewhere in Bonga to pick up another guy who knew someone from the Ministry of Agriculture. We needed special permission to enter the plantation as it is state-owned. After a few minutes, we got the approval, and the tour de plantation could start.

The process from picking to drying coffee

The day begins early in the morning when workers pick up their baskets and head to the plantation to harvest coffee fruit, also known as coffee cherries. Each fruit is hand-picked as no machinery is involved in the process. The workers aim to finish the picking before the sun rises and the weather gets too hot.

Bonga coffee plantation

This plantation produces two types of coffee: washed and sun-dried. Each worker spreads all the picked coffee cherries on the ground and manually sorts them one by one based on their size and ripeness. The larger cherries are selected for washing, while the smaller, green, or overripe ones are for sun-drying, along with their skins.

The process of extracting beans from the cherries is the only one involving a machinery. The chosen coffee fruit goes into the device that removes the skin and pulls the beans. After removing the skin, all coffee beans must pass through a net. These smaller beans that fall through the net are for export, while the bigger ones are for the employees and local market.

Once the beans finish the spa treatment, the workers spread them over African beds and let them dry in the sun for at least 30 days. Throughout the drying process, the workers regularly inspect the beans and remove any damaged ones.

Coffee nursery

The coffee plantation was massive. Having walked for 20 minutes, we reached the nursery, where they planted the seeds in the large beds. I could see plants of different sizes ranging from less than 5cm to 50 cm. Once the plant reaches maturity, the workers plant it in its designated spot on the plantation. It takes 3-4 years for the coffee tree to bear fruit.


Awassa, also known as Hawassa, is located in the Yirgacheffe region and is easily accessible by plane from Addis Ababa. Coffee plantations in this area operate differently from those in Jimma. There was one big state-owned plantation in Jimma that employed local people. However, in the Yirgacheffe region, many people have a small parcel of land behind their houses with coffee trees. Imagine waking up in the morning, going to your garden, and picking some coffee fruit – how awesome would that be?

My guides in Awassa

Everyone can decide whether to keep the coffee for personal use or sell it to the company. Crops from all farmers and private coffee plantation are combined and processed together.

The plantation I visited near Awassa produces over a million kilos of coffee annually. The process is the same: workers pick the coffee cherry and manually sort them based on their size. The machine removes the skin, and the workers wash the beans in the spa. Afterwards, the workers put the coffee beans on the African beds, where they stay for at least 30 days. The workers regularly check the beans and remove any damaged ones. They finish four rows of African beds with coffee beans in one day.

Everything is organic and bio. The skin from coffee fruit is stored in a giant pit where it ferments.


Harrar region is known for its great coffee but in recent years people have been replacing their coffee trees with khat. The reason is that coffee can be harvested only twice a year, while khat can be harvested at any time throughout the year. Compared to selling coffee, they get more money from selling khat.
As we drove to Harrar, I saw many people holding and chewing some plant leaves, khat. Some of them were just lying on the pavement, staring into nothingness. Unfortunately, there are also many people addicted to khat in Harrar region.

I was unable to visit a coffee plantation in this region, as I had only one day allocated for Harrar, which happened to be on a Sunday, when all the coffee plantations are closed. However, I was fortunate enough to have a guide who knew someone (as local guides often do) who could sell me some coffee. Before we began our tour, he placed my order. While we walked around the city, my coffee beans were being roasted. By the time we finished the tour around the city, my beans were ready and were waiting for me. That was the best coffee I brought back from Ethiopia.

Visiting these coffee plantations in Ethiopia was an excellent experience, and it was entirely different from visiting a Central American plantation. I look forward to exploring other countries and learning more about their coffee production processes.

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