Ethiopian coffee

Ethiopian coffee:
exploring the regional coffee tastes

Ethiopian coffee doesn’t have one descriptor. But if you start describing the Ethiopian coffee taste on a regional level, you discover patterns. Our Q Graders, who slurp mountains of coffee samples, began to gather data to find the typical Ethiopian coffee profiles within the regions we specialize in. With a spoon in hand and Excel running over time, they’ve distilled the data and created profiles for washed and natural coffees from Yirgacheffe, Guji, Sidamo, and Limu.

Taste the regions

Dig into the data and grasp the true essence of each regional flavor profile, starting with the profile that sparks your interest. Curious how we crunched the data? Read more below. If you want to download all posters at once (plus a handy flavor, acidity, and mouthfeel chart), then click here.

Why explore the profiles of Ethiopian coffee by region?

The purpose of the Ethiopian coffee flavor project is to give you a sneak peek into our cupping labs, and provide a lingua franca of Trabocca’s sensory library. Each regional profile you can download is a tool you can use to home in on specific flavors and cup attributes while sourcing Ethiopian coffee. But besides exploring our regional flavor profiles, always let your taste buds do the talking when sourcing coffee. This brings us to the subjectivity of taste.

The nuances of coffee tasting

Cupping is a human art flowing from a personal sensory experience, translated by our taste buds. Although calibrated cuppers can agree on general tendencies and sensory characteristics of a coffee, tasting remains personal. And taste will vary from one person to another. Let alone from one company to the next.

Ok. After acknowledging our subjective views on taste, let’s dive into the data.

The data behind the cup.

To define the regional flavor profiles of Ethiopian coffee, we’ve drawn all cupping data from the past three crop years. That is, the samples we cupped in Minneapolis and Amsterdam by our Q Graders. We started filtering the raw data based on grade, region, process, and a minimum SCA cup score of 85. Only top-grade entries were analyzed.

With a monumental heap of 1748 Ethiopian coffee samples, we estimated it would be most representative to focus on flavor profile, acidity, and mouthfeel. And to keep it as straightforward as possible, we’ve listed the textual references of character, intensity, and descriptors in different categories to respect the specificities of each attribute.

What does this mean for flavor?

We used the outermost circles of the flavor wheel, which we split up into two categories: secondary and specific. To gather combinations of secondary attributes as well as combinations of secondary and specific characterizing flavor markers, we’ve created drop-down lists that reflect how Trabocca cuppers describe flavor within these categories. This enabled us to repeat the exercise without having too much noise in the data, and have a realistic picture of what we tend to find in coffees per region and process.

How did we treat acidity?

Acidity is based on the same principle of categorizing descriptors. The intensity of acidity and the descriptors were essential to crafting the profiles. Acidity type, like citric, malic, phosphoric, became an optional dimension. This is because acidity type is not often used in acidity vocabulary when we talk to customers. Nonetheless, we’ve included acidity type to give more depth to each profile.

That gives us three dimensions for acidity:

  • Intensity: high, medium, and low.
  • Character: sparkling, complex, vibrant, fresh, tart, tangy, clean, crisp, juicy, sweet, round, bright, mineral, zesty, zingy, pleasant, sharp, dull, thin, intense, and sour.
  • Type: citric, malic, phosphoric, acetic, lactic, tartaric, quinic, and formic.


And body?

Like flavor and acidity, we based the body on the same principle. However, we’ve referred to “type” to intensity/mouthfeel/weight of the body, and “character” would combine the notions of texture and related characterizing descriptors.

  • Type: what’s on the tongue, how it feels on the palate.
  • Character: how you would describe the overall mouthfeel.

Creating flavor profiles for Ethiopian coffee

Compiling these sets of attributes shows us a complete picture and enabled us to view the spread of specific descriptors and their rate of occurrence in percentages. The latter created the opportunity for us to communicate accurately. For instance, we could say, we have 46% “citrus fruit” in a particular regional flavor profile. In other words, citrus fruit is very likely to pop up in the cup of roasters who order a sample of this type. The same applies to acidity and body, a.k.a. mouthfeel.

Once we combined the data, we could paint a comprehensive picture of each specific coffee. For example, we conclude the following;

  • Flavor: Secondary flavors – Citrus fruit (%), Stonefruit (%). Prone to show specific flavors: lemon (%), peach (%). This remains a statistical tendency though, and should not be considered as being a hard truth determined by rigid parameters.
  • Acidity: Intensity – Medium (%). Character – Tart (%), Bright (%). And Type – Citric (%), malic (%), and citric-malic (%)
  • Mouthfeel: Type – Thin (%). Character – Tea-like (%), silky (%).

Download all regional flavor posters here