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Ethiopian Coffee Culture

Ethiopians treasure their coffee. Coffee is not a quick pick-me-up, not a cup of something to grab on the run. Its ceremonious drinking is a time to exchange news and well-wishing with friends and relatives, to express respect to elders, and to appreciate the blessings of life.

Coffee Roasting

In the village, morning coffee is a ritual, usually taking place in a different home in the neighborhood each day. On workdays, the women drink together. On Sundays and many Ethiopian feast days, the men join them.

Guests arrive and incense is set to burn near the door to “chase the devil.” Then one of the young girls of the family starts washing the green coffee beans. She rubs them with her hands to scrape off the thin outer skin, changing the cold washing water two or three times. She then stoops near the cooking fire and heats a flat round clay pan. When the pan is hot, she throws the on the wet green coffee and turns it slowly with a metal hook until it turns a cinnamon brown. At this point, she may add some cloves, ginger or other spices. Then she places the roasted coffee in a wooden mortar and uses a pestle to grind the coffee into a fine powder.

Even though sophisticated grinding equipment may be available, the only concession to technology in this home is in using a metal mortar instead of a wooden one. Pounding coffee in wood is said to be important to flavor.

Brewing Coffee In a Jabena

Meanwhile, water has been put to boil in a black clay coffee pot (jebenah) on a charcoal fire. The girl funnels the coffee powder into the Jebena and allows it to boil for five minutes. She then sets the pot on a straw ring for a short  time so that the grounds will settle to the bottom of the brew.

Coffee Serving

The coffee is served in small demitasse cups that have no handles. The young girl serves the eldest first, then the others according to their age and status.  This first cup of coffee is called the “abol”.  When everyone has been served, the girl will add more water to the jabena and put it back on the fire to boil again. From this boiling comes the “huletenya” or second cup. The process is repeated once more for a “sostenya” or third cup. In some areas, where coffee is plentiful, men and women  drink ten or more  cups in a day.

Ethiopian coffee is never served alone. The hostess always offers either injera, spongy Ethiopian flat bread, or qita, a dry pancake-style bread. Side items can include butter, hot red pepper, toasted wheat, barley or maize. In some areas, nutmeg, small amounts of cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, fennel, cloves or black pepper are added to the jabena during brewing.