Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

I love Ethiopian know, the kind you get at the local coffee shop that says ETHIOPIA in big bold letters.  I was intrigued to hear there was a special coffee ceremony.  I might also add that lots of people don't drink coffee in Africa overall.  They are tea drinkers, probably due to the European influences of the countries that dominated them before they gained their independence.  I asked an Ethiopian why he didn't drink coffee and he said because it makes you all crazy.  Hmmm...interesting perspective on things.

So what is the coffee ceremony all about?  You can find them everywhere: at fancy hotels, roadside stands, in neighborhoods, coffee houses, and in the marketplace.  The first one we saw was at Axum, the city where the Ark of the Covenant is supposedly stored.  It involves roasting beans over a charcoal fire, grinding and brewing the beans with boiling water and making it into a thick dark coffee, served in small cups.  If you are welcomed into someone's home, it's customary to be offered some coffee this way and it can go on for 2-3 hours.  There's a religious connotation to the ceremony too.  There are 3 rounds of coffee and coffee is considered to have spiritual properties.

First the woman doing the ceremony lays aromatic grass or flowers on the ground.  She burns incense to ward off evil spirits, and continues to burn incense throughout the ceremony.  She will fill a round-bottomed, black clay coffeepot, called a jebena, with water and places it over hot coals.

Then the hostess takes a handful of green coffee beans and carefully cleans them in a heated, long handled, wok like pan.  Holding the pan over hot coals or a small fire, she stirs and shakes the husks and debris out of the beans until they are clean.  Once the beans are clean, she slowly roasts them in the pan she used to clean them.  During the roasting, she keeps the roast as even as possible by shaking the beans or stirring them constantly.  Once the beans are medium brown, they are ready, though they can be roasted much darker until they are blackened and shimmering with essential oils.  The aroma is an important aspect.

She grinds the beans with a metal cylinder in a heavy wooden bowl until they are crushed into a coarse ground.  By the time the beans are ground, the jebena is usually ready for coffee.  The coffee is added to the water in the jebena and brought to a boil, then removed from the heat.  During this time, she's usually setting out the small handleless cups on a tray.

The coffee is poured from almost a foot above the cups, filling all the cups without breaking the stream. The dregs remain in the bottom of the pot.  Sugar is offered but not milk.  Though we only stayed for one cup (for 23 cents), it is typical to have two more cups, each are weaker than the first.  The third cup is supposed to be the blessing.  It was really delicious, though I can't say it was much like what I've had at Starbucks.  We sat underneath a shade tree and enjoyed it.


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