The Ethiopians are a traditional coffee ceremony obsessed people. Due to this fact, they don’t satisfy with the coffee made by the most high-tech brewing methods in coffee shops. What satisfies them is to see the typical traditional ceremony rather than the coffee drinks. Though the Ethiopian traditional coffee ceremonies vary from place to place and people to people and everybody has their own narratives. But here is what I know about the Ethiopian coffee ceremonies briefly describing: what, when, how, and other purposes of coffee ceremonies in the Ethiopian tradition ways.
The actual birthplace of Ethiopian coffee is Kaffa one of the coffee growing provinces of Ethiopia. The coffee proliferation all over America is well-represented by many independent Ethiopian Restaurants and Convenience stores in the US cities to exhibit the hard evident of the Ethiopians love affair with coffee ceremonies.
Ethiopia’s coffee drinking culture, like its citizenry, is diverse. As anywhere else, people drinks coffee is part of culture, to get relaxation of a moment, to have chats with friends and neighbors, and some people drink coffee for health reason: Doctor’s recommendation. From the Ethiopian contexts, however, Ethiopian drinking coffee habit is part of culture and has ability to help people connected each other and it is a traditional tool to solve their community social problems.
In some Ethiopian country side, for instance, where arranged marriage is practiced, the coffee ceremony is sometimes used as a way of choosing marriage mates and means of proofing their son’s fiancée or a future daughter-in-law if she makes a real good coffee, if she is a well trained traditional food maker, if she is a responsible person to take care of her husband and her entire families is a strong indication of being a good wife.
Coffee drinking with friends and neighbors gathering moment has also the under stated purposes: It is used as a communication forum to share local news, gossip, social affairs, neighborhood concerns, solidarity, counseling and mediations over the coffee steaming.
Drinking coffee with neighbors is a traditional hospitality for Ethiopian societies. Therefore, when one family makes coffee, neighbors’ or friends’ are expected to come to drink coffee is considered a mark of friendship or mutual respect and is an important example of Ethiopian cultural hospitality that’s been passed from generation to generation.
When one make coffee, they send their male child messenger to go and knock on their neighbor’s door to invite them ”Nu Buna Tetoo” come join us for coffee drinks, is an invitation common verbal neighbor-to-neighbor communication slogan and the invitee will reciprocate later that day. It’s a tradition steeped in a community.
When they make coffee during Holidays, they make it in living room. Traditionally it performed by the lady of a household as a mark of honor and of great social importance among Ethiopians in front of the invited guests as a welcome gesture wearing their beautiful traditional handmade cotton dress and jewelers.
At the Ethiopian owned Restaurants and connivance stores in US cities where many Ethiopians are resided, for instance, an authentic Ethiopian coffee ceremony is visible during Holidays, where the basic preparation needs such as floors covered with fresh cut grasses, fresh beans, coffee cups, hand grass woven round table, and clay pot (Jebena) are set in the middle of each stores accompanied by traditional holiday music.
Even though the basic of making coffee procedure described below is common across Ethiopia, methods of coffee Preparations vary from person to person and place to place. Here are the most common ones:
Prior to coffee beans roasted, the household lady or the maid who is conducting the ceremony gently washes the coffee beans in a deep pan. Once the beans are clean, she slowly roasts them in the pan on electric burner/charcoal fire. During the roasting, she keeps the roast as even as possible by shaking the beans or stirring them constantly. The roasting may be stopped once the beans are a medium brown, or it may be continued until they are blackened. The aroma of the roasted coffee is powerful and is considered to be an important of the ceremony. Traditionally coffee making which is done three times a day: morning, afternoon, and before dinner, when people return home from work. But here in the U.S, Ethiopians mostly do it on Sundays or during their day off from their work, by arrangement or for special occasions –high Holidays.
As the beans begin to pop up and turned black and shining, the smell and smoke of the roast envelop to the guest or to their husband and children, when it is done she brings the pan over in front of the people’s nose for a better sniff/whiff to satisfy them with the coffee smell aroma. While the guest chats, the coffee maker gently dumps the beans into a little woven Ethiopian basket to pour into electric grinder machine or into a pestle with no spilling.
By the time the roasted beans are grind, the boiled water in the clay made coffee pot (jebena) is typically ready for the coffee. The performer removes a straw lid from the coffee pot and adds the grinded coffee into Jebena mixing with favored flavor spices. The ground coffee is brewed on the stove or on charcoal stove for nearly 10-15 minutes, until steam begins to spout/ waft heavily accompanied by heavy-fragranced incense (Etan). Before the clay pot is removed from the heat, the coffee maker lady gives a test to check whether it is thick enough or not. If she satisfied with the test, she then removed the coffee kittle/pot and put it on a brightly colored metal/grass woven coaster to let the boiled coffee settled.
At this point, the coffee is ready to be served. A tray of very small, handle-less ceramic or glass cups is arranged with the cups very close together. When the lady pours the semi-thick coffee into small cups without handles called Sini (similar to Indian/Chinese teacups), she poured the coffee at a foot distance, to show the roaming foams on top of the coffee cups which is a sign of well done and thick enough coffee. Although the coffee is typically unfiltered, some coffee makers may use a paper filter. Coffee is served first to the eldest in the room and then to the others. The cups are refilled as the drinker sips and pass complimentary comments. Depending on where you attend the coffee ceremony, in some Ethiopian country sides, for example, coffee may be served with salt instead of sugar, with milk or with bread butter. Some people prefer to drink black and bitter tasting sip to satisfy their coffee trusts.
When coffee is ready to drink, the preparer lady brings snacks of a plate of freshly and slightly sweetened popcorn, (Buna Kurse), roasted barley, peanuts, roasted wheat, barley, and peas, may accompany the coffee to crunch/ to bite with the coffee is a typical tradition. Sometimes the coffee snack could be homemade bread called Dabbo/Ambasha is presented in the smaller round shape decorated with grass-made common meal table locally called little Mesob. This table usually used if the family has visiting guests or during holidays. If the snack is homemade bread or Ambash, and if there is a guest, the house lady will pick up the bigger piece of bread and give by hand to honor the guest. And she passes the table to the rest of the coffee drinker members/neighbors.
Similarly, bigger traditional table is used as a dining table for family members. When they eat, Gursha – the giving of food from the one hand directly to the mouth of another respectively is the real sign of intimacy among family members or circle of close friends is also shows of a direct mutual association or a sign of love affairs among a couple – It is just like feeding each other with forks in restaurants to intimate friends.
The coffee itself is lovely—enhanced ever so slightly by species, very balanced, and not at all bitter. If one wait for until the third round of making and drinks it, one fully caffeinated somehow that results a sleepless night. However, people used to it and drinks cup after cup of it until the discussion topics exhausted. Knowing this, few of the invited people reluctantly leave by blessing the house. If one leaves before the entire ceremony concludes, he/she truly stepping out of history scenery.
Since the Ethiopian Diasporas are adapted to the American cultures, they are not any more interested to see or believe in their ancestors’ and parents’ coffee ceremonial traditions. They see it when one of their parents comes to visit them, at the Ethiopian restaurants and stores during holidays or when they go to older folk houses here in the USA. Other than that, Starbucks is their coffee ceremony place.
Presently, fresh Coffee is prepared in a traditional way in front of guests as a welcome complimentary. Such coffee tradition ceremonial became one of the tourist and customers attraction tools in big hotels where traditional meal is served.
Besides this, traditional coffee making ceremony is not anymore considered as domestic affairs. It is now promoted to be visible in every big cities’ main street where heavy traffic and pedestrians are visible-in big commercial buildings and mall lobbies. It became a small scale business venture for local people to generate income to their own living using “Nu Buna Tetoo”- a traditional coffee selling promotional calling. The real Coffee drinker people prefer to drink in this non-coffee machine small coffee shops is because a) the price is relatively cheap b) none caffeinated, c) organic, and d) to get the ceremonial satisfaction.
Kebede is an author many books and numerous articles and essays.