If there is one global truth about coffee – it is that there is no one true way to consume coffee. Throughout the world, regional coffee customs vary from country to country, infused with the culture and the flavors of the locale in question.
In Ethiopia, for example – the fifth-largest coffee producer in the world (and the largest in Africa) – coffee is the focus of an ages-old ceremony that has as much to do with community and spirituality as it does with the beverage, itself.
As one of the most significant coffee producers in the world, Ethiopia consumes about half of the product it creates. Here, spices are important – with cardamom adding a sweet and spicy aroma and flavor, and coffee is first and foremost a way for friends, both new and old, to bond.
Invitation to the coffee – or buna – ceremony is viewed as a tremendous sign of respect and/or friendship.
The ceremony – which is customary when welcoming visitors to one’s home or during celebrations – surrounds three separate cups of coffee, each with its unique preparation and purpose. Coffee beans are roasted and then boiled in a special ceremonial vessel.
The ceremony is hosted by the woman of the house, who prepares the site by spreading aromatic grasses and flowers, before burning incense. The incense, meant to ward off evil spirits, continues to burn throughout the ceremony.
Coffee cups are exquisitely displayed for guests, along with an assortment of foods. After everyone has gathered, the hostess – garbed in traditional attire – washes and roasts green coffee beans on a mitad, or long-handled iron pan or griddle.
A round, clay coffeepot, or jebena, is filled and placed over hot coals, while the mitad is similarly shaken above the coals until completely free of debris.
Roasting continues in the pan until the beans are sufficiently browned, and then passed from guest to guest so that they can enjoy the rich aroma.
Using a mortar and pestle, the hostess grinds the beans coarsely, and then adds the coffee to the now boiling jebena. The coffee is brought to a boil and removed from the heat. Grounds are left to settle in the bottom of the pot.
Without breaking the stream, the hostess pours the coffee into each of the arranged cups from a foot above, filling each equally.
Sugar, and sometimes salt, are offered to season the beverages. Milk, by and large, is absent. The elder male is served first, often by the youngest in attendance.
As guests begin to drink, participants in this regional coffee custom sincerely praise the hostess for her graceful expertise.
As mentioned, three cups of coffee are served – known as abol, tona, and bereka – each progressively milder than that before it, and each with its distinct intent. The first cup is simply to be enjoyed and savored. Current affairs, politics, and social issues are discussed during the second cup. The third is considered a blessing for the guests.
Today, immigrants and their families in America continue to enjoy the Ethiopian coffee ceremony in their homes, while many restaurants have begun to introduce such regional coffee customs to their patrons.
Orinoco Coffee & Tea offers its own Ethiopia Yirgacheffe coffee, which boasts a slight body blended with high acidity for a well-balanced brew you won’t soon forget. If time does not allow for a full Ethiopian coffee ceremony, this example of a regional coffee favorite may suffice.
Even better, invite some friends over for a cup – or three, and let them know they’re valued friends with good conversation and a great reason to bond.