Paying Homage to the Ethiopian Coffee Culture

by Zelalem

Ethiopian coffee

Ethiopia is widely considered to be the birthplace of coffee with many experts being of the opinion that Ethiopia is the only country that grew coffee natively.  Today, an estimated 12 million people in Ethiopia are actively involved in the cultivation and picking of coffee. In this day and age Ethiopian coffees are ranked among the world’s most varied and distinctive, and at least one, the Yirgacheffe, ranks among the very finest. Approximately 50% of the country’s coffee production is consumed domestically with the balance being exported to all corners of the globe.

Ethiopia is where the frequently-told story is told of a goat breeder who noticed a difference in the behavior of his animals after eating the berries from a particular tree. Taking the berries to a nearby monastery the monks brewed a tea for him from it and so coffee was developed and refined from the resulting brew, spreading like wildfire across the region and the rest of the world. Coffee forms the center of a respected daily event in the country with the renowned Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony gaining popularity all across the globe.

The Cultural significance of the ceremony

The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony is a very important part of Ethiopian culture and involves roasting coffee beans and preparing boiled coffee in a vessel that is very similar to the ibriks that is used by the Turks to make coffee.  In certain parts of the country, the woman of the house performs in the 2-3 hour long coffee ceremony up to three times a day. The ceremony is said to be the most important social occasion in many villages and is performed when welcoming visitors and in times of celebration. Brewing a fragrant coffee at home is taught from a young age and forms as much part of a child’s upbringing as reading and animal herding does.

The Ceremony

The drawn-out coffee ceremony involves processing the unwashed, raw coffee beans into fragrant cups of coffee.  The process commences with the room being prepared for the ritual which includes incense being burned to ward off evil spirits. A clay coffee pot, known as a jebena, is filled with water and placed over the hot coals. The hostess then proceeds to clean a handful of green coffee beans into a wok-like pan where they are roasted until they turn a medium-brown.

The powerful aroma of the roasting coffee is considered to be a very important aspect of the ceremony.  After the beans have been roasted, the hostess will crush them into a coarse ground before adding it to the water.  The mixture is then brought to a boil and removed from the heat.  The coffee is now ready to be served and a tray of very small ceramic cups without handles are arranged very close together. The hostess pours the coffee from about a foot above the cups in a single stream, filling each cup equally. In some instances the youngest child present will serve the oldest guest the first cup of coffee. Afterwards, the hostess will serve all the guests.


In the countryside of Ethiopia, the coffee may be served with salt instead of the traditional sugar. In some regions of the country, butter and/or honey may be added to the brew. Snacks such as peanuts, roasted barley, popcorn and coffee cherries can accompany the coffee. When the roasting process starts the hostess may also choose to add cloves, cinnamon and cardamom to the mix for a different taste profile.

These coffee ceremonies are major social events and creates an opportunity to discuss topical issues of importance, resulting in a transformation of the spirit seeing that it nurtures and feeds social relationships. An ancient provide can best describe the role coffee plays in Ethiopian life, “Buna dabo naw” which means ‘Coffee is our bread”, and that is exactly of just how much importance the delectable brew is in this African Country.

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