Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
During the Ethiopian coffee ceremony, an integral part of the daily life of most Ethiopians, the roasting of the coffee beans, or buna, is done in a flat iron pan called a baret metad (roasting plate), which is placed over a small charcoal stove.
The freshly roasted beans are then placed either onto a wacheff (clay plate) or a margegabia (straw mat) and then carried around so the guests may enjoy the fragrance, using their hands to waft the vapors towards themselves and savor the aromas.
Crushing the Beans
The next step is to crush the beans into small particles—this is done on a stone block or using a mukecha (mortar) and zenezena (pestle). The coffee beans are then placed into the jibuna—an earthen (clay) coffee pot—with boiling water, and at this time a slight amount of spices may be added including cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon.
While a coffee ceremony in Ethiopia may use local beans, this is not always the case outside of the country. Within the country, people from Ghimbi may use their own beans, same with those from Yirgacheffe, Harrar, Sidamo, Lekempti, etc. but migrants to North America or Europe or Australia may source from their new locality.
The pot is then removed from the heat and placed into a matot (woven straw holder) where the suspended particles in the liquid are allowed to settle.
Ethiopian Coffee Cups
This produces a strong coffee that is served in very small cups with no milk but lots of sugar. Some people in countryside areas like to add salt.
The tiny, handleless porcelain cups, called sini, are put on a wooden tray called a kobot or rekobot (low table), which is set on the floor atop a ceremonial carpet.
Equipment & Serving the Coffee
Incense (e.g., frankincense) may be taken from a moodai (incense container) and put onto the girgira (incense burner) where it is ignited by a hot coal so that its smoke will carry away with it any bad spirits that are present.
Frankincense is used in other religious ceremonies in Ethiopia, and the use of it in the coffee ceremony invokes memories of these events and confers a sacred quality upon the coffee ceremony.
The person performing the ceremony sits upon a small stool. Goosgwaze—long and fresh green grass—is sprinkled around the area to denote the sacred space being used for the ritual. On special occasions the area is also adorned with fragrant flowers.
Ethiopian Coffee Ritual
According to Ethiopian coffee ceremony tradition, the oldest male is served first as a sign of respect. A total of three rounds of the heavy elixir are served—the first round, called Abol, is the strongest.
According to tradition it is okay to drink only one cup or three, but not two. The second round, or Hueletanya, is completed after adding more hot water to the grounds in the jibuna. The third round is called Sostanya.
The youngest child does the serving, symbolizing a connection between all of the generations, though an expert completes the actual pouring of the coffee from a height of about one foot.
The Art of the Pour
Proper pouring is a skill mastered after many years of practice in an effort to display poise and grace while elevating the pot to deliver an uninterrupted thin stream that “rings overjoyed” in the tiny heated cups that are held with great finger dexterity by the recipients.
The Yebuna Kourse
Kolo, a mixture of freshly roasted barley along with peanuts and seeds, or yebuna kourse, a snack of bread or popcorn, is ordinarily served with the coffee. This food may be presented to the guests on a mesopwerk (small straw table).
The ceremony is a relaxed time when people are able to share stories and feelings and bond with one another or simply sit quietly, though in both cases it is expected that a transformation of the spirit occurs.
As much religious symbolism as historical tradition, the Ethiopian coffee ceremony may take one to two hours to complete. To be invited to an Ethiopian coffee ceremony denotes respect and friendship.