Counter Culture Releases Book on Ethiopian Coffee Varieties

A Reference Guide to Ethiopian Coffee Varieties, released by Counter Culture Coffeeaims to broaden coffee professionals’ knowledge of varieties from the historic producing country.


Photos courtesy of Counter Culture Coffee

When Tim Hill—head coffee buyer for North Carolina-based roaster Counter Culture Coffee—started traveling to Ethiopia to source coffee in 2009, he quickly became curious about the country’s coffee varieties, and talking to farmers gave him more questions than answers.

Many farmers had their own names for the varieties they grew, and others rattled off numbers corresponding to their trees that he didn’t understand. “So that got me thinking,” Tim says now. “What is the truth? Are they all old ‘heirloom’ like the coffee industry is saying? What do the names and numbers the farmers know for coffee trees actually correspond to?”

These questions led him on a long journey of researching Ethiopian coffee; the result of these efforts is the new book A Reference Guide to Ethiopian Coffee Varieties, written by Getu Bekele and Tim, which aims to bridge the knowledge gap that exists on Ethiopian coffee varieties in the industry. The book includes a history of Ethiopian coffee varieties and an exhaustive reference guide on varieties from throughout the country.

Tim says that while the Jimma Agricultural Research Center (JARC)—Ethiopia’s national coffee research institute that leads variety development—has been developing improved coffee varieties for the last few decades, “little about these varieties is actually known in the coffee industry. Our hope is that this guide becomes a go-to reference for farmers and industry professionals alike.”

The book will be available for sale online this spring; additionally, Counter Culture will launch an online resource later this month that will present the information in the book and the reference map of Ethiopian coffee varieties in an interactive, digital format.

The book will be available digitally, or you can pick up a copy at the book-release event at Counter Culture’s new Seattle Training Center on April 21.

A Reference Guide to Ethiopian Coffee Varieties took more than two years to complete and was worked on by numerous Counter Culture employees. Tim says one of the biggest challenges of doing a book on such a big topic was writing it with a colleague on the other side of the world. Getu Bekele is Counter Culture’s East Africa supply chain manager, and Tim says his deep knowledge of Ethiopian varieties brought the book to life. “He knows the topic so much better than I do—and is just as passionate on it,” says Tim. “Co-authoring a book is not easy in the first place, but add two passionate individuals with big ideas, one living in Ethiopia and the other in the U.S., and that takes it to a whole new level.”

Tim says that another challenge in doing the book was distilling complicated technical information about coffee varieties into digestible text that would be valuable in a reference book. “The biggest issue in my mind was trying to take hardcore research documents and turn them into somewhat coherent ideas that would resonate with your average coffee professional,” he says. “Some of the documents I was reading were so far over my head, I had to read a paper to understand how to read a different paper.”

Through their hard work, Tim and Getu put together a reference book they hope will be immediately put into use by coffee professionals—particularly coffee farmers. “The guide will act as a tool that empowers farmers in their decision-making processes when choosing varieties for research, development, or investment,” Getu said in a press release from Counter Culture. “The idea is that the right varieties in the right environments will ultimately improve productivity and quality on farms. We believe that the long-term effect of this reference guide on the specialty-coffee industry will be significant.”

To celebrate the release of the book, Counter Culture will host a book-release event from 11:30 a.m to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 21, at the open house for Counter Culture’s new Seattle Training Center. Getu and Tim will present a talk about the book at 11:30, followed by a talk from author Jeff Koehler, whose book Where the Wild Coffee Grows helped inform Counter Culture’s reference guide.

Stay tuned to Counter Culture’s website for news on when the book is available for online purchase. And for more on Ethiopian coffee varieties, check out this video of Getu Bekele delving into the topic.

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