The region of Sidama is in southern Ethiopia. It encompasses many individual origins, including, geographically, the area of Yirgacheffe. However, Yirgacheffe is classified as its own separate origin. In this section, we discuss Sidama as a designated coffee origin.
The name Sidama is often spelled “Sidamo,” and the two names are generally used interchangeably. Some of the confusion comes from earlier political designations that called Sidama the large federal region which stretches from the town of Shashemene in the north all the way to the Kenyan border; and which called Sidama a much smaller sub-region which contains the towns of Hawassa (Awassa), Yirga Alem, and Dila.
All the coffee origins designated as Sidama are within the larger territory of Sidama, but not all are within the smaller state of Sidama. To avoid confusion, it’s best to just consider all the central-southern Ethiopian coffees as Sidama, and then use the specific town names and micro-origins for precision.
Sidama is bordered on the East by the large regions of Arsi and Bale, and on the west by the large region of Gamogofa. Because some of the coffees grown in these regions, right along the border with Sidama share more characteristics with classic Sidama coffee than they do with areas deeper within their own regions, some Arsi and Bale coffees, and all Gamogofa coffees are grouped with Sidama.
The coffee growing regions of Sidama lie in the famous Great Rift Valley that runs through Ethiopia and Kenya. The countryside is generally lush and green. Though mostly rural, this part of Ethiopia is very densely populated nonetheless.
Several large fresh-water lakes dot the terrain, running in a long chain through the valley. Most of the coffee grows.
The biggest town in the area is Hawassa, which has been growing extraordinarily fast in recent years, with modern style hotels and restaurants. Other major hubs are Yirg Alem and Dilla, near to Awassa; and Agere Maryam further south.
Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity is the major religion here, and the dominant tribes are the Sidama and the Oromo, though there are many other tribes present as well. Amharic and Sidaminya are the most widely spoken languages, with Orominya common, and English somewhat widespread.
Sidama features an extraordinarily wide variety of coffee flavors. Many different grades of both washed and unwashed coffees are produced, and there can be striking differences from town to town.
Varying soil types, micro climates, and especially the countless heirloom coffee tree varietals make for a kaleidoscope of different flavors. It is difficult to make any single description of Sidama coffees, without immediately encountering another coffee that fits a completely different profile. The strength of Sidama lies in its variety.
One feature of excellent Sidama coffee is often a profound complexity. This derives from the many different heirloom varietals. Many different farmers and pickers, each with a very small patch of land, often with their own unique varietals, will pool their coffees at a cooperative. The resulting “blend” is a unique expression of the complexity of the horticulture in the surrounding area.
High grade unwashed Sidama coffees are known for their intense fruity characteristics/while being of somewhat lighter body than unwashed Harrar coffees, for example.
Another striking characteristic of Sidama coffees is that even the washed coffees often retain a salient fruity characteristic, while having much more clarity and brightness than their unwashed counterparts.
Excellent coffees of many different profiles can be found in all corners of Sidama.
Sidama coffees are given three tags: a grade, a geographical letter designation, and designation as washed or unwashed. Remember the letters do not represent a quality designation, only a geographical region.
All washed coffees and some unwashed coffees from Bale and Arsi are categorized, by flavor characteristics, with Sidama.
Hawassa is the main arrival center for Sidama, though some coffees are sold through the hub of Soddo.
Commercial grade washed coffees are given a grade of 3 through 9, and are divided into the following three geographical sub regions: Sidama A: Borena, Benssa, Guji, Chire, Bona Zuria, Arroressa, Arbigona, Bale, Arsi, and West Arsi. [Hawassa arrival] Sidama B: Aleta Wendo, Dale, Chiko, Dara, Shebedino, Amaro, Dilla Zuria, Wensho, and Loko Abaya. [Hawassa] Sidama C: Kembata & Timbaro, Wellayta, South Omo, and Gamogoffa. [Soddo]
Designations for specialty grade washed coffees are Ql and Q2 with the following geographical sub regions (some of which are different than they are for commercial grade coffees): Sidama A: Borena, Benssa, Guji, Chire, Bona Zuria, Arroressa, Arbigona [Hawassa] Sidama B: Aleta Wendo, Dale, Chuko, Dara, Shebedino, Wensho, Loko Abaya, Amaro, Dilla Zuria [Hawassa] Sidama C: Kembata & Timbaro, Wellayta [Soddo] Sidama D: West Arsi (Nansebo), Arsi (Chole), and Bale [Hawassa] Sidama E: South Omo, and Gamogoffa [Soddo]
Commercial grade unwashed coffees are divided into the following letter groupings: Sidama A: Borena, Benssa, Guji, Arbigona, Chire, Bona Zuria, and Arroressa [Hawassa] Sidama B: Aleta Wendo, Dale, Chiko, Dara, Shebedino, Amaro, Wensho, Loko Abaya, and Amaro [Hawassa] Sidama C: Kembata & Timbaro, Wellayta [Soddo] Sidama D: Bale, West Arsi (Nansebo), Arsi (Chole) [Hawassa] Sidama E: Debub Omo, Gamogoffa, Basketo, Derashe, Konso, Konta, Dawro [Soddo] Specialty grade washed coffees use the same letter groupings as specialty grade unwashed coffees, with the exception of the letter E grouping, which is as follows: Sidama E: South Ari, North Ari, Melo, Denba Gofa, Geze Gofa, Arbaminch Zuria, Basketo, Derashe, Konso, Konta, Gena Bosa, and Esera [Soddo]