If you think Americans love coffee, you should visit Ethiopia and experience the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony. We have nothing on them when it comes to our morning rituals. In fact, coffee in Ethiopia isn’t just about drinking a strong cup of Joe to get the day going, but brewing and serving coffee, in fact, considered an honored task for the women of the household.
What Exactly is the Coffee Ceremony?
The Ethiopian Coffee ceremony is practiced both by those from Ethiopia and those from Eritrea. Eritrea was once a part of Ethiopia, and has since left the nation of Ethiopia and formed its own union, culture and traditions.
The Coffee Ceremony is the ritual of making and serving drinking coffee. Usually, this ceremony will take place in honor of guests coming to visit. The ceremony is also performed on a regular basis as a normal part of daily life, inviting family and friends over for regular company. These ceremonies of daily life happen up to three times per day, at each meal time, and involve about three hours worth of time per ceremony.
The Significance of Coffee in Ethiopia and Eritrea
This ritual of making and serving coffee has a heavy cultural significance for Ethiopians and Eritreans alike, and in some villages, is actually considered the most important social occasion of all.
The significance for Ethiopians does not end with social gathering. The Coffee Ceremony has spiritual significance as well. There are spiritual legends surrounding the coffee culture of Ethiopia, which help to explain the spiritual significance of this hot drink.
One legend involves a man noticing his goats eating coffee cherries near a monastery and introducing the hot drink to the monks by accident. The legend goes on to depict the monks drinking the coffee, and vowing that it would be used for spiritual devotion, as it aided them in staying awake.
The other legend involves a spiritual Muslim man named Sheikh Omar discovering the coffee cherries while living reclusively in Mocha, Yemen.
How is the Coffee Ceremony Performed?
The Coffee Ceremony is typically performed by the women of the household, and involves both the brewing and the serving of the coffee.
Before the hostess performing the ceremony begins brewing her coffee, she sets the stage for her ceremony by decorating with flowers and grass, which are spread onto the floor. From there, she begins burning incense of some kind.
Roasting the Beans
After the stage has been set with fragrances and visual stimulation, the hostess preparing the coffee will take a long-handled pan and roast the beans over an open fire. The raw beans gradually become dark and oily, and an invitation is extended to guests to come closer for inhales of the aroma of the rich coffee beans.
Brewing the Coffee
Once the coffee has been roasted, the hostess will take her mortar and pestle, and grind her beans until the desired fineness is reached. She will then add the grounds to her jebena, or Ethiopian coffee pot, which contains boiling water.
Serving the Coffee
After the hostess is satisfied that her coffee has boiled the proper amount of time, she will make a show of pouring her coffee from high in the air, into her serving cups. While this seems strictly ceremonial, this method actually helps to trap most of the coffee grounds in the coffeepot, rather than pouring out into the cups with the coffee.
Of course, this aspect of the ceremony takes skill and a bit of grace. Without it, there would be coffee everywhere, and burnt visitors.
Additions to the Coffee
The coffee is served with sugar, or salt in some regions, and is often accompanied by snack foods like popcorn, or peanuts. The hostess may also choose to serve the coffee with some variations, like adding cinnamon, cardamom, or cloves.
On the Part of the Guests
Also accompanying every ceremony is praise from the guests to their hostess, and her fine coffee making skills, and, of course, the coffee itself. Without this component, the coffee ceremony is incomplete.
Can You Experience an Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony?
If you’re able to visit Ethiopia or Eritrea, the likelihood of experiencing this elaborate coffee making tradition is strong. Coffee shops and cafés often host these traditional ceremonies and welcome non-residents to enjoy and participate.
In the United States, you may also be able to experience this ceremony if you find an Ethiopian or Eritrean restaurant. They often host the ceremonies on special occasions, and welcome non-Ethiopians to participate in and appreciate this culturally significant event.
Linger and Enjoy
If you are able to attend one of these ceremonies, prepare to linger afterward for conversation and social interaction. Drink the ceremony coffee, praise your hostess, and linger a while. The purpose of these events is to do exactly that.