Traditional Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

We were fortunate enough to be invited by one of our customers to experience a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. And what an amazing and enlightening experience it was.

Today we are looking at the traditional buna ‘coffee’ ceremony that is prevalent all through out Ethiopia.

It is more than just a cup of coffee. It is a cultural celebration of an Ethiopian staple.

Ethiopia’s coffee ceremony is an integral part of the social and cultural life in the country.

An invitation to attend a coffee ceremony is considered a mark of friendship or respect and is an excellent example of Ethiopian hospitality.

Coffee isn’t just Ethiopia’s national drink. It is had throughout the day but never consumed alone.

Unlike in cities like New York, London and LA where ‘coffee-to-go’ is almost a norm these days, in Ethiopia every meeting includes coffee and coffee always requires company.

Ethiopia is the largest coffee producer in Africa and the fifth largest producer in the world and accounts for 4.2% of the global coffee production. The coffee industry in Ethiopia contributes up to 10 percent of Ethiopia’s GDP and provides livelihood for approximately fifteen million Ethiopian farmers all over the country.

But coffee isn’t just a part of the economics of Ethiopia. It is one of the largest producers of coffee in Africa and only exports about 50 percent of the coffee that is grown. In comparison other coffee growing countries around the world like Kenya consumes only 3 percent of its coffee crop where as Colombia consumers 14 percent.

It is very clear that coffee is extremely important to Ethiopians in Ethiopia.

Buna tetu’ which translates to ‘come drink coffee’ is a famous communal tradition in Ethiopia. Families will send children to knock on their neighbors homes to invite them to come share some coffee. This bonding nature of Ethiopians is a key thread in the fabric of its society.

Traditional way of drinking buna

The coffee brewing tradition in Ethiopia has many special elements. The ceremony involves processing the raw, unwashed coffee beans into finished cups of brewed coffee. Before this event, the dining room undergoes some preparatory rites for the ritual. Firstly, the coffee cups are all arranged on a table along with snacks. Freshly cut grass is displayed on both the floor and the table. And sweet incense is burnt as a way to clarify the space.

Preparing a traditional cup of coffee or buna can take more than an hour and actually drinking it can be longer, especially during festivities and celebrations. Drinking coffee is sensory experience in Ethiopia unlike any other.

The process begins with washing and roasting the beans on a iron pan called mitad. The person preparing the beans is typically dressed in the traditional Ethiopian clothes called habesaha semis. When the coffee beans are roasted, the mitad is taken to the guests so that they can inhale and smells the roasting beans. This is a huge part of the Ethiopian Coffee sensory experience.

The coffee beans are then brewed in a traditional mortar before putting them in a jebena in which the water has already been set to boil. Jebena which is a traditional clay pot made specifically for preparing coffee comes in various shapes and sizes and hold essential value in every Ethiopian households. Jebena’s have one, two or three spouts depending on the region where they are made and used. Once coffee beans have been added to the simmering water, it is left to steep in the jebena. When the coffee foam discharges from the top hole of the jebena, it is removed from the heat and left to allow all the solid coffee particles to settle at the bottom of the pot. Once all the coffee cups are gathered on the rekebot – the coffee platter – coffee is poured into the first cup. This first cup is culturally not for consumption but to confirm the murky liquid is free of all coffee grind. The drinking ceremony can finally begin and coffee is offered with multiple seasoning options including sugar, salt, or rue.

Traditional cup of Ethiopian coffee served with aromatic incense, usually frankincense and myrrh. The incense is ignited by a hot coal to produce smoke that is said to carry away any bad spirits. Conversations starts flowing freely as sweet incense dissipates in the room. From abol – the first cup of coffee, to tona – the second cup and finally to bereka – the last cup of coffee, the jebena is refilled until the settles coffee bits squeeze out their very last taste and guests are finally satisfied. It is considered impolite to leave the ceremony without consuming at least three cups. Ethiopians believe that your spirit transforms when you complete all three rounds. Of course, you are free to take as many cups as you wish afterward.

It is clear that the coffee culture in Ethiopia is as much of a ritual as it is about drinking that cup of coffee – a great way to slow down and engage with your friends and neighbors.

Thank you once again Jerry and family for the invitation and your hospitality…

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