The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

On the way to a coffee pilgrimage:


The rugged streets of the red-hued terrain of Sidamo had already cast long, slender shadows with the setting sun. A small group of joyous people, young and old, trailed a path overlaid by fragrant leaves and flowers. Velvety petals of daffodils, jasmine, and rolled dahlias cushion their feet. Anyone familiar with Ethiopian culture and their warm hospitality at this sighting may sense the soul-stirring aroma of freshly brewed coffee, which pulls the magical chords of love and familial bonds. This small group is on their way to participate in a coffee ceremony, a culturally significant part of the renowned Ethiopian hospitality.

The inclusiveness of Ethiopian culture also honors neighbors and relatives with an invitation to a coffee ceremony. The invitation is the highest accord to a guest, which says the host family is keen to nurture a loving, caring bond with them. In contrast to ceremonies like the Japanese tea ritual, where the remnants of tea patterns in the cup foretell the future or reveal the guest’s thoughts, the Ethiopian coffee ceremony is rooted in simplicity and sincerity. Here, the host only intends to deepen connections- for soulful, heartfelt relations.

The origin of an aromatic coffee culture:


The history of the coffee ceremony can be traced back to the medieval monks and their monasteries. As it goes, a tell-tale says a shepherd boy brought some red-colored, strange beans to a monastery to check for any evil element as he observed his flock of sheep springing with energy after chewing on these red berries. The monks tossed the berries into the fireplace as a first step to getting rid of the evil, only to find the dull air soaked up with a divine aroma. They took the roasted beans, ground the kernels to a fine powder, and steeped it—the first coffee brewing in recorded history. The monks made this a practice to keep them awake in their spiritual rituals. Slowly, the ritual of brewing the coffee became closely associated with friendship and fostering deep spiritual bonds with neighboring monasteries.

Cherishing relations around a warm Jabena:


Now, the coffee ceremonies have evolved to fit into the households in Ethiopia without losing their spiritual nature. The invitations are handed out wisely, sensing the appropriate moment within a hearty conversation. For this to happen, the host may have to patiently wait to hook the right occasion for an invitation. Usually, the host picks dawn, dusk, or night hours to slip in the invitation. In rural provinces like Sidamo in Ethiopia, the ceremony still takes place in open courtyards at home. Urban areas like Adis Ababa have special coffee places where family, friends, and neighbors gather for the ceremony.

The ritual: Setting the mood:


The coffee ceremony is presided over by the host’s eldest woman. The ceremony may proceed with others at the helm, but only after blessings from the matriarch. Before the guests arrive, the pathways to the courtyard and the ceremonial floor are blanketed with fragrant leaves and flowers. Oud, or frankincense, is smoked to create a spiritual ambiance. After receiving the guests, the host sits facing them and the finest Yirgacheffe Arabica coffee beans are handpicked and washed in an iron skillet. While the guests nibble on raw coffee husks and popcorn, the host prepares to roast the coffee beans. The wet coffee beans are gently roasted in an open flame, taking care to turn over the beans in sways of the skillet to make them evenly brown.

The fused aroma of the roast coffee and the incense soon fills the home. The host then reaches out to each guest to diffuse this aromatic gust of smoke toward the visitors. The kernels are separated from the husks and carefully ground to a fine powder. Though traditionally wooden mortar and pistil were used to powder the beans, new-age Ethiopians now use electric grinders for this procedure. An earthen pot with a long, slender neck and spout called Jabena is placed over simmering hot coals to boil the water. The ground beans are then carefully added to the Jabena for brewing the coffee.

The brewing ritual:


The home lives and lights up in cheerful conversations and laughter as the coffee is brewed. The Ethiopian coffee ceremony often lasts up to three rounds with the first brew the most flavourful and strong. The Abol round, or the first serving of the coffee ceremony invigorates the senses and opens up the warmthful emotions held up in relations. Coffee lovers in Ethiopia occasionally brew coffee with clarified butter and salt and never add milk as it masks the distinct flavor of the coffee beans. Those who dislike salt are free to add sugar and a herb called Tena Adam which infuses a unique inviting flavor to the brew.

The same coffee grounds are used to brew the second serving of coffee called Tona. The Tona is milder in flavor and aroma than the Abol. This second serving of coffee has a significant place in the ceremony as it symbolizes the settled, base notes and aroma of the coffee beans to the compassionate and soft human emotions that foster friendly or familial relations. The Tona is then followed by a third serving of the same coffee grounds brewed with replenished boiling water. This third round is the Bereka, the lightest and signals the ceremony is about to end. The Bereka which means blessing in Arabic, symbolises a detachment from flavors of life and accentuates the bonding between the essenses. The progression of these rounds represents the deepening of relationships and conversations among participants.

The stamp of Ethiopian hospitality: Coffee Ceremony:


The Ethiopian coffee ceremony stands as a cherished cultural cornerstone, weaving the social fabric of Ethiopian villages to the far borders of the Middle East and Africa with threads of unity and conversation. As the thick aroma of incense and brewed coffee fills the home, so does the recognition of the matriarch’s dedication to crafting a brew that warms hearts and stirs the spirit. In this shared space, every sip is a tribute to the timeless ritual that brings people closer, one cup at a time. It’s more than just a ceremony; it’s a celebration of communal bonds and warm hospitality of Ethiopians.