The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is one of the most recognizable parts of Ethiopian and Erterian culture. Coffee is offered when visiting friends, during festivities, or as a daily staple of life. If coffee is politely declined then most likely tea (shai) will be served.
The coffee is brewed by first roasting the green coffee beans over hot coals in a brazier. Once the beans are roasted each participant is given an opportunity to sample the aromatic smoke by wafting it towards them. This is followed by the grinding of the beans, traditionally in a wooden mortar and pestle. The coffee grounds are then put into a special vessel and boiled. The boiling pot (jebena) is usually made of pottery and has a spherical base, a neck and pouring spout and a handle where the neck connects with the base. When the coffee boils up through the neck it is poured in and out of another container to cool it, and then is put back into the boiling pot until it happens again. To pour the coffee from the boiling pot, a filter made from horsehair or other material is placed in the spout of the boiling pot to prevent the grounds from escaping.
The host pours the coffee for all participants by moving the tilted boiling pot over a tray with small, handleless cups without stop until each cup is full. Some of the coffee will inevitably miss the cup but this is done to prevent the coffee grounds from contaminating the brew. One extra cup is poured each time. The grounds are brewed three times: the first round of coffee is called awel in Tigrinya, the second kale'i and the third bereka ('to be blessed'). The coffee ceremony may also include burning of various traditional incense such as frankincense or gum arabic.
Ethiopian Coffee History
More than 1,000 years ago, a goatherd in Ethiopia’s southwestern highlands plucked a few red berries from some young green trees growing there in the forest and tasted them. He liked the flavor and the feel-good effect that followed. Today those self-same berries, dried, roasted and ground, have become the world’s second most popular non-alcoholic beverage after tea. And, as David Beatty discovers in words and pictures, the Ethiopian province where they first blossomed Kaffa gave its name to coffee.
The story of coffee has its beginnings in Ethiopia, the original home of the coffee plant, coffee Arabica, which still grows wild in the forest of the highlands. While nobody is sure exactly how coffee was originally discovered as a beverage, it is believed that its cultivation and use began as early as the 9th century. Some authorities claim that it was cultivated in the Yemen earlier, around AD 575. The only thing that seems certain is that it originated in Ethiopia, from where it traveled to the Yemen about 600 years ago, and from Arabia it began its journey around the world.
Among the many legends that have developed concerning the origin of coffee, one of the most popular account is that of Kaldi, an Abyssinian goatherd, who lived around AD 850. One day he observed his goats behaving in an abnormally exuberant manner, skipping, rearing on their hindlegs and bleating loudly. He noticed they were eating the bright red berries that grew on the green bushes nearby.Kaldi tried a few himself, ad soon felt a novel sense of elation. He filled his pockets with the berries and ran home to announce his discovery to his wife. They are heaven-sent, she declared. You must take them to the Monks in the monastery.
Kaldi presented the chief Monk with a handful of berries and related his discovery of their miraculous effect. Devil’s work! exclaimed the monk, and hurled the berries in the fire. bWithin minutes the monastery filled with the heavenly aroma of roasting beans, and the other monks gathered to investigate. The beans were raked from the fire and crushed to extinguish the embers. The Monk ordered the grains to be placed in the ewer and covered with hot water to preserve their goodness. That night the monks sat up drinking the rich and fragrant brew, and from that day vowed they would drink it daily to keep them awake during their long, nocturnal devotions.
While the legends attempt to condense the discovery of coffee and its development as a beverage into one story, it is believed that the monks of Ethiopia, may have chewed on the berries as a stimulant for centuries before it was brewed as a hot drink.