Drinking coffee in Ethiopia involves a special ritual and it generally serves as a pretext for a moment of conviviality. From the preparation of an area of ground to the final sip, every action and every step are codified with precision.
In today’s Ethiopia, coffee ceremonies are performed on festive occasions or as a mark of hospitality. Yet, even though the coffee plant originated in this country, drinking coffee was not always customary practice there. For several centuries, drinking coffee was customary specifically in Muslim and pagan societies. It was only in the early 20th century, when the new State was created, that coffee was embraced by everyone throughout Ethiopia, perhaps as a bond between the various populations. It goes without saying that the Ethiopian coffee ritual is particularly conducive to conviviality and sharing.
The ceremony lasts for about an hour and the various steps are highly codified. Before laying out the utensils and the brazier, the ground is covered with leaves and incense is burnt in a cup. The coffee beans are roasted on-site, the guests can inhale the aroma, then they are ground with a pestle and mortar. The coffee is then mixed with water and boiled for a few minutes in an earthenware pot, called a jäbäna, then left to infuse. It is served sweetened and sometimes spices are added such as cardamom, ginger, chilli peppers or cinnamon. The coffee is served three times and more water is added after each serving, so that it gradually becomes lighter. Guests bless the coffee according to their religion before drinking it.
The Bedouin ceremony
The Bedouins in North Africa, Arabia and Palestine conduct a ceremony similar to the Ethiopian ritual, with the same stages of preparation and three services. Grinding the beans in the mortar is, however, particularly important. Various sounds and rhythms are produced by tapping on the bottom and sides of the mortar. This music also serves as an invitation for friends and neighbours to join in.
STELLA, Alain, 1996. Le livre du café. Paris : Flammarion.
BLANC, Jean-Pierre, 2013. Voyages aux pays du café. Paris : Éditions Eric Bonnier.
FICQUET, Eloi, 2004. Le rituel du café, contribution musulmane à l’identité nationale éthiopienne. O Islâo na Africa Subsariana [en ligne]. 2004. pp.159-165. Porto : Édition Gonçalves. [Consulté le 08 octobre 2015]. Disponible à l’adresse : http://ler.letras.up.pt
Coffee first arrived in Europe from the Muslim world during the 17th century. It was amazing and it amazed, with an exoticness that charmed Europeans, its stimulating effect and the fact that it made a welcome change from traditional alcoholic beverages. Establishments serving coffee began to open, providing an environment for wonderful social, cultural and political exchange and, within a century, coffee had become part of everyday life.
Coffee has become one of the most widely-consumed drinks in the world. With the arrival of take-away coffee, there was a danger that its flavour would become standardised. Yet, if anything, the opposite is true. Coffee has had to adapt to the traditions, tastes and age groups of consumers. Whether coffee is consumed inside or outside the home, it is constantly being reinvented with new flavours.
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