Posted in Kafevend Blog

Drinking coffee with ceremony

How long does it take you to make a cup of coffee? As long as it takes to boil the kettle and open a jar of instant, or do you prefer to spend time grinding your own beans and brewing your drink exactly as you like it? However you get to the finished result, it's unlikely it will have taken as long, or been carried out with such care and expertise as befits the Ethiopian coffee ceremony. As promised last week, when we took a look at the place where the coffee bean first put in an appearance, it's time to get to grips with Ethiopian coffee culture by way of the long established coffee ceremony.

Home grown coffee

Coffee in Ethiopia is cultivated in one of four ways: plantation grown, forest or semi-forest grown and finally, garden grown. This last is a handy indicator of the prevalence of coffee farming on a small scale. So for starters, there are many people who drink their own home grown coffee. It's typically processed via the dry method, which basically involves leaving the beans to dry in the sun. Once dried, they're ready for hulling and roasting, but it's not quite as simple as it sounds; the traditional coffee ceremony is a long drawn out occasion with plenty of time to savour the taste and catch up on family life. When circumstance permits it's held three times a day and is elevated to an art form just like the Japanese tea ceremony.

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony

Long aromatic grass is spread on the floor, incense burnt and equipment set out. The ceremony is usually performed by the woman of the house who roasts the beans on a stove, sometimes adding spices too, before using a mukecha and zenezena to grind them. These are then tipped into the jebena, a round-bottomed coffee pot with a long neck, handle and spout, where they're brought to the boil. The coffee is then poured into another container to cool before being tipped into the jebena for a second and then a third go. A filter is wedged into the spout so that no one ends up with a mouthful of coffee grounds and the coffee is poured into small china cups from a height.

The first cup of coffee is presented to the oldest person present by the youngest child. Then, the hostess hands out coffee to everyone else. This is only the first cup though; in all, tradition dictates that three cups be drunk by each person, in order to transform the spirit. These three rounds are named abol, tona and baraka, with the third round, baraka, meaning blessing. The coffee is drunk black and sugar is usually stirred in, although in some regions salt is added instead.

This is truly coffee made from scratch and with this much effort going into its preparation, it would be churlish to rush the drinking itself. Unsurprisingly then, the coffee ceremony, which is part of Eritrean culture as well, easily stretches out to an hour and often well beyond. It really is the antithesis to the rapidly gulped espresso, the antidote to the relentless rush of the modern world.

The ceremony
Performing the ceremony

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