The region known as Harrar also spelled Harar with single ‘r’ — comprises the easternmost of the coffee-growing regions of Ethiopia. It is subdivided into four smaller regions: East Harrar, West Harrar, Bale, and Arsi.
The government territory known as Harrar (or Hararge) is very large and extends through huge deserts out to the frontier, with Somalia in the east.
Coffee is grown only in the highlands that cluster in a gently descending arc from the cities of Dire Dawa and Harrar, south and west toward Sidama.
Likewise the administrative territories of Bale and Arsi are larger than just the coffee-growing regions that concern us. Remember that for the purposes of coffee classification, Bale and Arsi fall under the general heading of “Harrar,” along with East Harrar and West Harrar.
The climate in Harrar, Arsi, and Bale is dryer and warmer than in western or southern Ethiopia. To the east, north, and south of the coffee growing regions of Harrar lie large, dry deserts.
The city of Dire Dawa (Dee-ree Dow-ah) is the major trade and transportation hub for all of eastern Ethiopia, and it is the second largest city in the country. it is in Dire Dawa that the rail link from Addis Ababa heads north to the port of Djibouti. Because Ethiopia is landlocked, this makes Dire Dawa a vital city for Ethiopian trade and business. The Harraar coffee business is cantered in Dire Dawa as well. All the major exporters have their offices here as well as warehouses and export mills.
The City of Harrar, not to be confused with the larger region, is a much older and smaller city whereas Dire Dawa is a modern, commercial city Harrar is ancient and cultural, While it is possible to buy and sell coffee in small amounts at the charming local markets of Harrar city, this town does not play an important role in the modern coffee trade.
The roads in the coffee regions of eastern Ethiopia tends to follow the ridges of the mountain ranges, at a higher elevation than coffee will grow at. Typically, one must descend the slopes of the mountains to get to the coffee farms.
Practically all coffee from Harrar is sun- dried natural.
There several heirloom varietals that grows specifically in this region that interacts well with the altitude, climate and soil type to produce a very unique flavor profiles.
Quality Harrar coffees are notable for a fruity characteristics and creamy body. The finest Harrar Coffees have a distinct note of blueberry, through many other fruity and fruit- like aromatic flavors can occur.
One kind of differentiated coffee that comes out of the Harrar area is the ‘‘amber bean’ or ‘‘golden bean coffee. ’’ The reference here is to the appearance of the milled unroasted coffee, which is yellowish/amber in color. However, it is important to realize that this color can come result from more than one process, and there is more than one flavor profile associated with amber bean coffee.
One type of amber coffee is apparently the result of a certain varietal growing in a certain soil type in East Harrar. This is “naturally occurring” amber bean coffee, and often has an excellent, vibrant and rich blueberry flavor.
Because of the premium that amber bean Harrar coffee has demanded in the past, some producers have begun selecting out yellowish beans from larger lots of “regular” coffee, and using these hand-selected beans to create smaller “amber bean” lots. However, amber lots created this way do not necessarily have a superior flavor, and can even have an inferior flavor. In fact, one of the ways amber lots are created is using past-crop coffee that has turned yellow from age. Nevertheless, this coffee can still fetch a premium because some foreign buyers simply see “amber coffee from Harrar.” The best way to avoid this kind of confusion, as always, is to obtain a sample and cup it for flavor.
East Harrar coffees tend to have the most distinct blueberry flavors, for which the region is famous. However, in blind cupping, West Harrar coffees and even Bale and Arsi coffees can outscore East Harrar lots. Often West Harrar coffees have a thicker, smoother body, and a milder fruit flavor.
It is important to note that some growing areas that are geographically located in the West Harrar region are nevertheless classified as East Harrar coffees. This is because the coffees grown there have the distinct East Harrar profile. This phenomenon is limited to the southeastern most communities of West Harrar, the ones that border along East Harrar, as one would expect.
Harrar coffee is exported all over the world, but there is a particular demand for it in Saudi Arabia. This constant demand tends to keep the price for commercial grade Harrar coffee slightly higher than most other Ethiopian coffee regions.
Harrar coffee — all of which is unwashed — is available in specialty grade and commercial grade.
Commercial grade coffees are given a grade between 3 and 9, and are designated geographically by the letters A. B, C, and D. Remember, the letters do not represent grades, only geographical categories. The purchasing center for all Harrar coffees is the city of Dire Dawa
Harrar A: East Harrar, plus the geographically western locations of Hirna, Gemechisa, Debesso, Messela, Gerawa, Gewgew, and Dire Dawa Zuria.
Harrar B: West Harrar, excluding the locations designated under Harrar A.
Harrar C: Arsi and Golelecha
Harrar D: Bale, West Arsi (Nansebo), and the location of Chole.
Specialty grade Harrar coffees are given a grade of Ql or Q2. They are also given the same letter designations, A, B, C, and D. There is also a fifth letter designation, E, in Harrar that applies only to coffees from Hirna and Messela, which are grouped with Harrar A in commercial coffee. Harrar E: Hirna and Messela (specialty grade only).