What Is An Heirloom?

The term “heirloom” is often used concerning Ethiopian coffee varieties, it is regularly said that the Arabica coffee plant originated from the country! Since many coffees of Ethiopian origin are said to be ancient varieties, it makes sense to describe it as an “heirloom”. This has sparked interest in Ethiopian coffee research, and in the last few decades, researchers were able to categorize Ethiopian coffee varieties into two groups: the first being varieties researched and released by JARC (Jimma Agricultural Society), the second being regional landrace varieties.

Landrace Heirlooms

Kurume and Dega (the varietals found in your Phil & Sebastian coffee) both fall under the landrace category, which is defined as a coffee varietal that is originally selected from a wild coffee population and has adapted to specific agro-ecological conditions. As with many regional landraces, these coffees are often named after native trees. For centuries, farmers would source these seeds from the natural forests which covered different parts of the country and, over time, these seeds would be passed down from farmer to farmer.

Kurume and Dega are also from the West Guji Zone, the area best known for having some of the highest quality coffees in Ethiopia. These coffees are especially known for their floral and citric cup profiles (like the peach you taste in the Harsu Haro Uraga)! The regional landrace varieties that were originally selected from the forest and propagated in these areas for decades certainly have something to do with the quality and profile.

As far as getting detailed descriptions of these varieties, regional landraces are less documented than modern coffee varieties. As a result, we rely on the oral history, passed down among descendants of the communities native to the coffee variety.

A Historical Tradition

According to farmers in the West Guji Zone, hunters were the first people to discover coffee trees in the forest, and the tradition of coffee roasting is said to have been discovered by these hunters who started mixing coffee powder with butter as a source of energy.

These days it has become a tradition in the West Guji Zone for coffee to become a special offering for respected guests or visitors. A modern take on that ancient coffee butter recipe has become a signature regional delicacy. As the unofficial birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia has a longstanding tradition with coffee that is carried on with each generation.

February 10, 2021 — Lauren Scratch

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