Life in Jeddah

The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

Catching a cool breeze at the park is one of my favorite ways to de-stress. Watching my daughter laugh and play with other children brings me solace as she’s an only child and sometimes the loneliness gets her down. Once in a while a neighbor will invite me to sit with her and her companions for coffee, tea, light desserts and small talk. Every now and again the women will get together for a smorgageborg comprising of Ethiopian, Somali and Sudanese delicacies. Recently there were about 30 women and numerous children sitting in a huge circle sharing a meal well into the late-night hours.  It was a beautiful sight to see, Tabaarakallaah.

Last Thursday, while sipping on some of the strongest coffee I’ve ever tasted in my life, a girl fell and cut her hand. Her mother and “aunties” doctored her up with none other than Ethiopian Coffee grounds. To my surprise the coffee did not cause the girl any discomfort, in fact, the girl howled when her mother cleaned her wound with water, yet was as quite as a mouse when she applied the coffee grounds. I was intrigued and could not help but to ask about its medicinal benefits. Apparently coffee grounds can be used as a styptic preparation.

Interesting Web Site: Coffee Science – Medicinal Facts, Recipes, etc…

I stumbled upon some info regarding the “Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony” while researching the benefits of coffee in general. I now understand the strange reaction I got after politely refusing the third cup. Ethiopians see the third round as “barakah.” I felt a migraine coming on and just couldn’t bear another cup. I said to the ladies, “I won’t be able to sleep tonight.” Their reply was, “Don’t worry about it. You don’t need to sleep, tomorrow is Yawmul Jumu’ah!” I said to myself, “Yes, tomorrow is Yawmul Jumu’ah, but I’d like a little rest before then.” Lol. I was then offered a soothing cup of Mint Tea and practically inhaled it.

*I did not fall asleep until after 8:00 AM the next morning!*
qahwah habashiyyah1

Qahwah Habashiyyah roasting in a "Jebena."

The host allowed me to snap a photo of her “Jebena.” This was not an official ceremony but it was indeed fun. Here’s some more info…  

 Epicurean com states: “Ethiopia’s coffee ceremony is an integral part of their social and cultural life. An invitation to attend a coffee ceremony is considered a mark of friendship or respect and is an excellent example of Ethiopian hospitality. Performing the ceremony is almost obligatory in the presence of a visitor, whatever the time of day. Don’t be in a hurry though – this special ceremony can take a few hours. So sit back and enjoy because it is most definitely not instant.”

“Ethiopian homage to coffee is sometimes ornate, and always beautifully ceremonial. The ceremony is usually conducted by one young woman, dressed in the traditional Ethiopian costume of a white dress with coloured woven borders. The long involved process starts with the ceremonial apparatus being arranged upon a bed of long scented grasses. The roasting of the coffee beans is done in a flat pan over a tiny charcoal stove, the pungent smell mingling with the heady scent of incense that is always burned during the ceremony. ”

“The lady who is conducting the ceremony gently washes a handful of coffee beans on the heated pan, then stirs and shakes the husks away. When the coffee beans have turned black and shining and the aromatic oil is coaxed out of them, they are ground by a pestle and a long handled mortar. The ground coffee is slowly stirred into the black clay coffee pot locally known as ‘jebena’, which is round at the bottom with a straw lid. Due to the archaic method used by Ethiopians, the ground result can be called anything but even, so the coffee is strained through a fine sieve several times. ”

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony - Photo by Epicurean.com
Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony Photo by Epicurean.com

 “The youngest child is then sent out to announce when it is to be served and stands ready to bring a cup of coffee first to the eldest in the room and then to the others, connecting all the generations. The lady finally serves the coffee in tiny china cups to her family, friends and neighbours who have waited and watched the procedure for the past half-hour. Gracefully pouring a thin golden stream of coffee into each little cup from a height of one foot without an interruption requires years of practice.” 

“Coffee is taken with plenty of sugar (or in the countryside, salt) but no milk and is generally accompanied by lavish praise for its flavour and skilful preparation. Often it is complemented by a traditional snack food, such as popcorn, peanuts or cooked barley. In most parts of Ethiopia, the coffee ceremony takes place three times a day – in the morning, at noon and in the evening. It is the main social event within the village and a time to discuss the community, politics, life and about who did what with whom.”

“If invited into a home to take part, remember – it is impolite to retire until you have consumed at least three cups. Abol’ (the first round), ‘Tona’ (second round) and ‘Baraka’ (third round).”  

“The coffee Arabica strain is Ethiopia’s original bean and the only one still grown and drunk there today. The composition of its delicate and strong flavour can be lost if it is high roasted. According to national folklore, the origin of coffee is firmly rooted in Ethiopia’s history. Their most popular legend concerns the goat herder from Kaffa, where the plants still grow wild in the forest hills. The best Ethiopian coffee may be compared with the finest coffee in the world, and premium washed Arabica beans fetch some of the highest prices on the world market. In a world where time has long become a commodity, the Ethiopian coffee ceremony takes us back to a time when value was given to conversation and human relations. Perhaps an ancient proverb best describes the place of coffee in Ethiopian life, “Buna dabo naw”, which when translated means “Coffee is our bread!”

4 thoughts on “The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

  1. wow I live here in Kuwait and have never heard of the custom, nor are the people communal in this manner. Mashaa Allaah

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