The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

Just as they have tea ceremonies in Japan they have coffee ceremonies in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is the 7th largest producer of coffee in the world and half of all the coffee produced is used by the Ethiopians themselves! However, Ethiopians only consume, on average, 1.3kg of coffee per capita per year, whereas in Finland, who tops the world charts, that number is 12kg!

A coffee ceremony is done in the home and is a tradition that gives an opportunity for people to gather together and talk. Normally Ethiopians perform the ceremony three times a day – morning midday and evening. It’s seen as a sign of friendship and respect if you get invited to a coffee ceremony.

The ceremony is performed by a woman in the household, who wears the traditional Ethiopian white dress with embroidered hems. She will spread some grass and/or flowers on the floor, light incense to ward off evil spirits and serve a light snack, usually popcorn.

First the green beans are roasted in a brazier over hot coal, or a fire, until they turn brown, sometimes adding cardamom, cinnamon and/or cloves. Then they are ground in a mortar. After this the ground beans are placed in a jebena, the traditional round bottomed coffee pot and boiled with water until the coffee boils up through the neck. When this happens it’s poured in and out of another container for cooling purposes and then put back to boil once more in some traditions. Others simply serve the coffee.

When the coffee is ready to be served it’s poured one feet above the cups, in an artful display of skill that also prevents the grounds from falling into the cups. Sometimes the youngest child serves the oldest adult first and then the hostess serves the other guests.

Ethiopian coffee is sometimes served with sugar, salt, honey, or butter. The taste of the coffee greatly differs from western coffee and usually has a burnt taste to it.

Three rounds of coffee are always served as a spiritual tradition of cleansing. This means that once the first round is poured more water is added to the pot for a second round and so on.

Although some westerners may object to the taste of the coffee served during these kind of ceremonies, it’s a beautiful social event and it’s an honor to be invited to a ceremony. It also makes you reflect upon the use of coffee and tea as drinks that have brought people together for centuries. Even in today’s hectic world people still go to coffee shops to sit down and read the news on their iPads, or to meet a friend for a chat.