What Ever Happened to Ethiopian Harar Coffee?

The coffee from Eastern Harar used to be everywhere. What changed?

Harar coffee is still produced, exported and available … but not like it was 20 years ago, in the early days of Sweet Maria’s. Harar is not found very often on roaster’s menus, or importers trading sheets.

In this slideshow from my old trips to Harar, I try to answer some of the questions we receive lately about Harar coffee. Why does it seem hard to find? What changed? (Actually Harar lots have been on our cupping table … but we just have not found lots that are good enough to offer.)

The short answer is a. lack of water in a region with a growing population, b. the production of the stimulant shrub called Khat, or Ch’at, c. limited coffee production area.

I am sure there are other forces at play too, and I am no expert on Harar or Ethiopia … but I wanted to narrate some photos, share what experience I have, and reminisce about Harar coffee of the 2000s!

A Slideshow Video: What Ever Happened to Ethiopian Harar Coffee?

8 Responses

  1. Agree completely! A harar was what made me initially fall in love with coffee 15+ years ago. It tasted like blueberry juice. I’ve been chasing that high ever since. I always try harar when I see it on a menu and am always massively disappointed!

    1. I know! We had found one several years ago that I hoped would pan out, from a small farmer group truly in East Harar, not West. But the confirmation pss sample was not the same coffee at all and had to pass on it. The main ones still imported, as Queen City and Mesela seem to have mostly a flavor like cheap chocolate and none of the dried berry etc. Luckily there are so many amazing dry processed coffees from other parts of Ethiopia but I still miss Harar anyway…

  2. I suspect part of what happened is the same as happened to Jamaican Blue Mountain and Hawaiian Kona, a lot of lower quality coffee was sold as Harar which alienated a thriving customer base. I do really miss them. I have fond memories of those coffees. They were often described as drinking an African market of dried fruits, nuts and spices. An accurate description.

    1. Agreed! IDK maybe they were more about reputation than actual cup quality (?) Coffees from everywhere else have improved so greatly but certain places could rest on the laurels, perhaps. Jamaica could sell on reputation alone without actually having to be that great in the cup … this is more opinion than anything of course, but I would be willing to bet money that a Jamaica in a blind cupping with some solid, basic Central America coffees wouldn’t have a chance.

  3. I have been wanting to ask this question (What happened to Harar), for so long. I miss being beaten about the head and shoulders by a blueberry bush during my morning coffee.

  4. I so wish I was into specialty coffee when Harar was so highly sought after. Based on everyone’s description I can bet it would have been a favorite of mine. I’ve only been home roasting for a few months now and one of my favorite offerings was Buno Dambi Uddo. It smelled like chocolate covered blueberries and the blueberry notes were definitely there. Too bad that one is no longer available. I should have grabbed more when it was available again. I’m curious what made the blueberry aspect of Harar coffee so prominent?

    1. Hey Todd, thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for why Harar coffee is so closely associated with a “blueberry” note. I do think it’s a real thing, but also believe that nostalgia is at play to a certain degree. There have been so many improvements to how dry process coffee is managed since the days of regular Harar representation on our list. To be honest, I wonder how some of our favorite Harar’s from way back would compare to today’s Grade 1 naturals. For one, coffee used to ship without barrier bags, so most coffee had a haze of age by default. And they didn’t receive anywhere near the attention they do now in terms of hand sorting, and attention on the drying tables. “Grade 1” naturals just didn’t exist. Just some food for thought.

      I agree with you on Dambi Uddo! If you enjoyed that coffee, try Goro before it sells out. It’s from the same group.

      Thanks again Todd.

      -Dan

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