Ethiopian Tea

Little cups are irresistible, whether designed for tea or coffee. A yard sale find, this small handleless porcelain cup was made in Ethiopia, land of coffee drinkers.

But who’s to say it can’t be used for tea? Which made me wonder whether Ethiopians drink tea.

cup decoration 1

Ethiopian Tea, or the Tea That’s Grown in Ethiopia

Evidently Ethiopians both grow and drink tea, which isn’t all that surprising since the country is located directly north of tea-producer Kenya. The land is fertile and amenable to tea as well as coffee plants. The first seven months of the 2021–2022 fiscal year saw a more than 50% increase in money earned from coffee, spice, and tea exports, although most of that was from coffee.

I found an interesting report on the country’s tea production by Selina Wamucii, a company that “helps businesses and individuals to source, buy or import food and agricultural products from anywhere in the world.”

According to them, tea (shay in Amharic, Ethiopia’s official working language) is grown year-round on both small- and large-scale gardens that are located in the forested highlands in the country’s south and southwest regions, where the 2100-meter elevation is ideal. Around 7000 tons are produced annually, with over half of that consumed within the country. Nearly all the exported tea is black tea.

cup decoration 2

Tea plants were introduced into Ethiopia in 1927 due to its increasing popularity, although the industry has struggled over the years with quality, insufficient research, weak marketing, and other issues (Tilahun et al. 2021).

In fact, an exhaustive report by Tilahun and colleagues identified a plethera of problems that still plague the country’s tea industry. Although more land was devoted to tea in 2020, production didn’t keep up, and the authors cite these as the main production issues:

Lack of skill and knowledge for tea growers (79.3%), lack of training and extension service (90.3%), the occurrence of disease and pests (79.6%), climate variability (85.2%), lack [of] credit access (59.7%), low productivity (88%), low output price (90.6%) with high input price (68.1%). (Tilahun et al. 2021)

They follow that up with a list of additional factors such as marketing problems, insufficient processing facilities, low and fluctuating output price, and so on. Recommendations include improving education for the farmers along with providing better seed, processing facilities, market access, and government support.

Currently, tea leaves—two leaves and the bud—are hand plucked and the bud sets put into bamboo baskets that the workers (primarily women) carry on their backs. For green tea, the leaves are simply dried; for black tea, they are first oxidized. All tea is supervised by the Ethiopian government and meets Global Good Agricultural Practices, which is a start.

Ethiopian Tea, or the Tea That’s Consumed in Ethiopia

Although tea, as we’ve seen, is certainly grown in Ethiopia, “Ethiopian tea” refers to the beverage that is enjoyed by consumers in the country—and that means spiced tea.

Whole or ground cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg are commonly listed in the recipes I found online, with a sweetener optional. Unlike chai, however, milk is never added. According to the Brew Project, this spiced tea is enjoyed by the entire family (including children), and is generally served with sweet bread or buns.

I followed the recipe from The Brew Project, bringing 16 ounces of water, 14 whole cloves, 7 whole cardamom pods, and 2.5 inches of cinnamon stick to a boil in a pot on the stove. I added 2 heaping teaspoons of O’Sullivan’s Favorite, a CTC black breakfast tea from TeaHaus, covered the pot, turned off the heat, and let the mixture sit for 6 minutes.

I chose O’Sullivan’s Favorite because I don’t have any tea from Ethiopia, and this was grown and produced in Burundi, a tea-producing country also located in eastern Africa (although it’s south rather than north of the equator).


The aroma of the very dark red-brown liquor is heavily cinnamon, although the cardamom and clove do come through. Having selected a robust black tea, the tea holds its own to the spices. I like the boldness of this blend!

And my little cup? It’s a coffee cup, depicting the traditional story of Queen Sheba traveling from Ethiopia to visit King Solomon. But my tea tasted lovely in it anyway!

cropped pot with cup

Selina Wamucii, “Buy Ethiopia tea directly from exporters & suppliers,” accessed 2/21/22.
The Brew Project, “What is Ethiopia tea and how do you make it?,” accessed 2/21/22.
–Tilahun, Y., et al., “Tea out-grower production . . .,” Sarhad Journal of Agriculture 38(1):295–311. 2021.
–Xinhua News Agency, “Ethiopia’s exports of coffee, spices, tea up 52.4 percent,” CGTN, 2/19/22.


4 thoughts on “Ethiopian Tea

  1. Cute cup; interesting post. The tea served at Blue Nile (Ethiopian restaurant in Ann Arbor) is very cinnamon-y! Or at least it was, last time I was there many years ago…

    Liked by 1 person

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