Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
In the world characterized with the fourth wave coffee, the Ethiopian coffee ceremony is an increasing ceremony. The ceremony goes beyond sipping a good cup of coffee; it’s an essential cultural ritual that involves roasted coffee beans and water boiled in a vessel. It is an excellent way to express hospitality. The ceremony is special and thus, lasts for a hour or so.
Cultural Implication of the Ceremony
The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is considered an essential tenet of respect and friendship as visitors are invited to participate in it. Thus, the invitation takes on familial overtones. Though it is attended by everyone, the ceremony usually falls on a young woman who is dressed in a traditional, ankle-length white cotton outfit with colorful woven borders.
The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is sometimes carried out multiple times a day which each phase lasting for about a hour or so. At the ceremony, guests may discuss topics involving politics, life, the community, and even discussion about who did what and with whom. Not only that, but abundant praise is also showered on the Ethiopian coffee ceremony’s performer as well as the brews she produces. In the end, the hostess is presented with a simple gift, like sugar or incense, as a sign of appreciation.
Irrespective of the time of the occasion and the number of guests invited, the Ethiopian coffee ceremony always follows a variety of formats.
Apart from the socialization role, the Ethiopian coffee ceremony is also believed to play a spiritual role. It is said that the three rounds of the coffee ceremony (known as abol, tona, and baraka respectively) lead to the transformation of the spirit. The reason is not farfetched from the longstanding association between Islam and coffee.
The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony Process
The Ethiopian coffee ceremony, usually lengthy, starts with the preparation of the room where the ritual will be performed. Fresh, aromatic flowers and grasses are spread across the floor by the young woman performing the ceremony. This gives the room long scent and a sweet-smelling fragrance. She then burns incense in the room and also throughout the ceremony to ward off evil spirits. She fills a jebena with water and places it on hot coals. The jebena is a traditional Ethiopian pot which is handmade from clay. It has a rounded flat bottom, handle, an extended narrow neck, and straw lid.
The hostess takes a handful of raw green coffee beans and washes them to remove their husks and any other debris. This is done by placing the seeds in a long-handled pan and holding it over a small fire as well as stirring and shaking the husks and debris away. Once they are clean, she then roasts the beans in the pan while also shaking it rhythmically such that it makes a popping sound. The heat of the fire makes the beans black. At this stage, the roasting may be stopped, and the beans shimmered with essential oils. At this point, the aroma of the roasted coffee is considered an integral part of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
She then takes the roasted coffee beans and crushes them by hand with the use of mukecha bowl and a zenezena stick into a coarse ground. They are substitutes for mortar and pestle. She transfers the ground coffee to a jebena which has a straw lid. The jebena must have been filled with water and put on the fire with the contents brought to boil. The ground beans and jebena water mixture is boiled and removed from heat.
The brewed coffee, known as bunna, is then poured from the jebena into a vessel and cooled. Then, it is poured into the jebena again and boiled three times. After that, a filter – usually made of horsehair – is placed in the spout of the jebena to separate the grounds as the coffee is poured. The hostess holds the jebena at a foot height above the neatly arranged rows of delicate china cups (cini) and streams the hot coffee with skill. Pouring a thin stream of coffee in the little cups with such a height and without interruption requires long years of practice. Though the cups may overflow or a few drops may clash, it’s still considered a part of the ritual.
The cups are set on a tray over a bed of scented grass which symbolises abundance. Such an attitude of plenty matters little to either spare a few drops (that splash which the cups are filled) or a few hours drinking coffee with friends. This is one of the things that make the Ethiopian coffee ceremony an interesting one.
The dregs of the coffee are left in the pot as the technique used in the preparation prevents coarse grounds from getting in the coffee cups. In some instances, the youngest child serves the first cup of coffee to the oldest guest. Then, the performer serves everyone else present. It is important to note that the guests must not refuse to drink the coffee when offered. Guests may choose to add sugar, but milk is not usually provided. After adding sugar, guests drink coffee (a process known as bunna tetu) and then appreciate the hostess for the skills involved in the coffee-making process as well as the coffee taste.
There are three servings of the coffee (which have been already identified). Each serving gets progressively weaker than the first. It has been said that each cup transforms the spirit and the third serving offers a great blessing to those who partake in its drinking.
Though the procedure described above is typical across a majority of Ethiopian coffee ceremonies, there are some variations. Some of them include: the addition of cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon to the coffee mix as it crackles when roasted; some restaurants (particularly western ones) have commercialized it (a feature of the fourth wave coffee) and as such may use an electric grinder for a faster grinding process; though the coffee is usually unfiltered, some hostesses may decide to filter it by using a fine-mesh sieve to remove the grounds; coffee may be served with salt in the countryside rather than sugar; some regions may include honey and butter to the brew; while some others may accompany the coffee with snacks of roasted barley, popcorn, peanuts, or coffee cherries. The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is indeed a long-standing tradition.