Inside the Ethiopian coffee ceremony

According to legend, the forest-covered mountains surrounding Choche are the birthplace of coffee. In the homes around Choche coffee is prepared and served three times a day in an intricate ceremony steeped in tradition and religious significance.

According to legend, the forest-covered mountains surrounding Choche are the birthplace of coffee. The myths are supported by the abundant genetic diversity of coffee in the region, the largest genetic pool found anywhere in the world.

Coffee is more than an industry, it is woven into the fabric of the local culture. In the homes around Choche coffee is prepared and served three times a day in an intricate ceremony steeped in tradition and religious significance.

There are variations in some parts of the ceremony, but generally the following steps are observed.

Coffee is prepared by a young woman of the family and begins with the preparation of the room – incense is burnt, aromatic grasses and flowers strewn across the floor. A round, black ceramic coffeepot called a jebena is filled with water and set to heat on hot coals.

Next the raw green coffee is cleaned and roasted. The hostess will hold a long-handled pan over coals or a small fire to lightly heat the coffee and agitate off the fine husk or silverskin clinging to the beans. This husk is discarded, along with any debris, before the coffee is roasted in the same pan.

A skilful hostess will gently swirl and shake the pan to keep the beans moving in order to achieve an even, slow roast. The aromatics released by the coffee as it is roasted are an important and enjoyable part of the traditional process and it is critical to control the temperature of the pan so the beans do not burn.

Once roasted the coffee is ground in a traditional mortar and pestle (mukecha and zenezena) by hand, pulverised to a coarse grind. By this stage, the water in the jebena should be hot and ready to brew.

The freshly roasted and ground coffee is added to the pot, where it is brought to the boil and then removed from heat. The first of three servings, called abol, is ready to pour.

The cups are small with no handles and arranged closely on a serving tray. The coffee is poured in a continuous stream from a foot above the tray until all cups are filled.

This technique prevents excess grind from being poured into the cups along with the coffee. In some homes it is traditional for the youngest child to serve the oldest guest the first cup of coffee.

Everyone present then engages themselves in bunna tetu, literally “drink coffee”.

There is sugar, but no milk and sometimes snacks of popcorn, peanuts or roasted barley.

Conversation is lively and includes praise for the skill of the hostess and compliments on the quality of the coffee. and will be offered two more cups called tona and baraka. Baraka, the third brew, is considered a blessing for those who drink it and marks the close of the ceremony.

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