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Coffee in Ethiopia

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.
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© Getty Images / UIG / Bildagentur-online - Preparing for the coffee ceremony, Ethiopia, 2014

A moment of conviviality

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 ritual

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.