The Ethiopian coffee ceremony

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We don’t know exactly when and how coffee was discovered but at least we know where coffee comes from. Also, there are so many legends about its origin and the most famous is the one I’m telling you now.

Today we are going to talk about the Ethiopian coffee ceremony but first, I want to tell you a little bit about the history of this country and why it’s so famous.

So, an Ethiopian legend has it that coffee is said to have originated in the Ethiopian forests, where the shepherd Kaldi first discovered the coffee shrubs.

More precisely, he discovered that his flock of sheep were full of energy just after they ate from a certain bush of red berries. He noticed that the sheep couldn’t sleep during the night so he took some berries in a monastery and made a drink from these berries.

He found the same reactions from his sheep and soon after that, the existence of coffee was spread and exported over the world.

Anyway, the Ethiopian country is not only famous for that, but also for the Ethiopian coffee ceremony which has a long history. I think it’s nice to know what’s going on in the Ethiopian coffee ceremony as most of the people have only heard about it. I’m one of the luckiest as I took part in this fantastic ritual when I was on a road trip to Guji, an Ethiopian region which is located on the south of the country.

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony history

Coffee plays a big part in Ethiopia not only because it produces more than two-thirds of the country’s earnings. Ethiopian coffee ceremony has got quite a story to tell: It’s something that goes well beyond sipping a good quality cup of coffee. It has been passed down through the generations and it has to be considered as a true and proper ritual moment of friendship and respect.

What is the Ethiopian coffee ceremony

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is usually led by a young woman in front of the guests and everyone is then welcomed (forming a circle) with a gift such as incense or sugar.

The tradition wants that who leads the ceremony wears an embroidered, long white cotton dress.

Also, the first coffee that comes out is usually served to the oldest person as a sign of respect for the older generations; the coffee is served black but quite often people tend to add lots of sugar in it as the coffee is quite strong on its own.

The guests invited has to drink every cup offered and lavish praise during the ceremony: It’s not mandatory but recommended as a sign of respect for the hospitality.

coffee ceremony ethiopiaThe Ethiopian coffee ceremony step by step

  • The coffee ceremony always starts from the green beans: they are first washed to remove their husks;
  • The beans are roasted on a shallow pan called “menkeshkesh” (a long-handled pan that helps to prevent the beans from burning as it’s easier to shake it);
  • When turning into dark brown and becoming “oily” the coffee beans are then removed from the small fire (usually a stovetop) and let them cool down;
  • Roasted beans are grounded by hand using a bowl called  “mukecha” and a pestle called “zenezena”;
  • While grinding the coffee, water is heated up into a pot called “jebena” which is made by clay;
  • Coffee grounds are then added into the boiling pot and let it steep for a couple of minutes until the grounds reached the bottom;
  • At this stage the brewed coffee is called “bunna” and it’s ready to be served. It’s typically served on tiny cup called “cini”.

Do not hurry, there are three rounds of coffee servings:

  1. The first round is called “Abol” and is known to be the strongest one (I first try to not put sugar but I have to admit that I had to add it on the first round cause it was too strong for me).
  2. The second one is called “Tona” and coffee is still strong (I managed to drink it black), despite water is added.
  3. The last one is called ”Baraka” and it’s the weakest: this round is considered a blessing and is known as the “one for the road”.

ethiopia coffee ceremonyDo not worry about drinking all the coffee: the cups are really small and drinking three times is equivalent to drink a long filter coffee.

Some facts

Here are some facts that add even more interest:

  • people are distributed in a circle over a bed of scented grass and flowers;
  • incense is usually burned during the ceremony: that’s not only made to perfume the space but also to drive away the spirits;
  • coffee is served alongside with popcorn, peanuts or bread;
  • the young lady who leads the ceremony wears a typical white, Ethiopian long dress with woven borders;
  • a filter, which is typically made of horsehair, is used to separate the grounds while pouring the coffee from the jebena to the small cups;
  • If the ritual is made at home, salt is usually served with the coffee instead of sugar.

At this point, you may have realised that the ritual is something more than making and drinking coffee (we are not talking about specialty coffee): the Ethiopian coffee ceremony is more about sharing a moment together with relatives, neighbours or guests.

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is usually held three times a day and can last for a few hours and opens to several debates such as local politics, gossip and so on.

Just bear in mind that it’s considered impolite to refuse coffee or to not offer coffee to the guests: the coffee ceremony is the way for the Ethiopian to gather visitors so enjoy every single moment of the ritual.

So, sit back, relax and enjoy an excellent example of great hospitality!

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