Beyond its important economic role, coffee is part of the cultural identity of Ethiopians. Preparing and drinking a cup of coffee is not just a matter of taking a break at work or receiving the daily dose of caffeine at breakfast; it is about keeping alive a culture that they have inherited from their ancestors. In Ethiopia they take coffee seriously, they have great respect for it and they are also proud of its quality and everything it represents.
The most traditional ceremony is known as Buna and is usually linked to some special event or event that must end in a conclusion, such as a request for a hand or the resolution of a serious conflict between families or neighbors. Sharing coffee thus shares something else, quarrels are left behind and there is a moment of almost sacred intimacy in which coffee is the link between all the guests gathered around the drink.
The first step is to light a fire to toast the beans, an essential step that should always be done at the same time, thus ensuring maximum flavor. The woman in charge of hosting the ceremony, dressed for the occasion, offers the metal pot where the coffee has been roasted so that all present can appreciate the aromas and give their approval, as if it were a wine. Then you can proceed to prepare the coffee infusion, which is made in the traditional jebena, a beautiful clay coffee maker.
Three different cups, three meanings
The first cup that comes out of coffee beans is known as Abol. It is the most important, which has a stronger flavor, more aroma and a more complex body. If those present are gathered to solve a problem, this cup symbolizes conflict, reflection on it and dialogue between the parties. Everyone who drinks should give in to try to see each other's perspective, or to respect who they have next to them. It is also a cup to socialize and show respect towards the guest and the host.
The second cup, already softer, is the Tona. Water is added to the infusion but it is still a coffee full of aromas and flavor. It is time to reach a solution, a resolution to the problem presented or, simply, a conclusion to the matter of the day. Only then can you taste the third and last cup. Small salty snacks such as seeds, popcorn or dried fruits are usually served to accompany.
The end of the ceremony materializes in that third cup of coffee, much lighter, called Baraka. Being so soft symbolizes the acceptance of the other and the joy and harmony of the shared moment. It is a joyful drink that is usually invited to participate to the youngest and children who still do not participate in the full ceremony. It symbolizes the feeling of community and the common identity of the group.
The whole process of this custom unfolds in an atmosphere of common respect, with a certain solemnity reminiscent of the ancestors and the identity of the Ethiopians as a people. Rejecting an invitation to drink coffee is considered little less than an insult and a very serious offense to the family, regardless of social status. In this way, coffee in Ethiopia acquires ritual connotations that go far beyond the simple pleasure of enjoying a drink, it is a whole culture that unites in community, a social and symbolic act.
When an Ethiopian wants to enjoy his favorite coffee, a preparation is required that requires following very determined steps that acquire the category of ceremonial rite. And it is also a process that in its most complete version requires investing a negligible amount of time, between one and two hours. It is not, therefore, a matter to be taken lightly or with impatient haste.
However, the roasted seeds exhibited two miraculously redeeming qualities: a delectable aroma and, when crushed and steeped in hot water, a distinctive drink with an invigorating kick. The brew buzzed the monks' daily devotions, allowing them to continue their prayer long into the night [source: National Coffee Association]. And as coffee's popularity spread throughout Ethiopia and eventually the world, it inspired a devotion all its own. Today, an estimated 12 million Ethiopians grow and harvest coffee beans in what has become the nation's major cash crop [source: Doyle]. During the 2010/2011 fiscal year, coffee accounted for the lion's share of the country's exports, earning a record $841.6 million Ethiopia's varying terrain fosters different types of coffee plants, each producing seeds with a distinctively different flavor. For example, the coffee beans the monks used were most likely a robust Arabica strain that grew wild in the forest underbrush. Just as they did over a thousand of years ago, Ethiopians still consider the coffee ceremony a crucial tenet of friendship and respect -- so important, in fact, that they'll perform the hours-long ceremony for any visitor, no matter the time of day. It all starts with an elaborate ritual to prepare the coffee seeds.
Coffee is an everyday commodity that people all over the world enjoy. But did you know that coffee was born in Ethiopia? There you will find that coffee is more than just a cup of joe that you take to jumpstart your day or a study buddy during long hours at night. It is a significant part of Ethiopians’ lives — a livelihood, a culture, a symbol of respect and friendship. In fact, it is so important for them that they have a football team named “Ethiopian Coffee”, a contest called “Miss Ethiopian Coffee”, and even coffee-flavored condoms! The most interesting thing, though, is that they have this tradition called coffee ceremony or “jebena buna” in local Amharic tongue. It is a regular social occurrence meant to be shared with family and guests over several hours, and it is also an important opening to important events.