Coffee plays a vital part in the lives of Ethiopians. The coffee industry employs more than 12 million Ethiopians in the growing and processing of beans, which accounts for over 60% of the country's export revenue and is the primary source of income for thousands of farmers. It is no surprise then that the Ethiopian coffee ceremony is an integral part of their social and cultural lives.
It is a privilege to be invited to attend a coffee ceremony as it is a sign of friendship and hospitality. Indeed, it is customary to perform the coffee ceremony for friends and visitors.
The ceremony is performed by women wearing the traditional Ethiopian white dress. The process starts with the preparation of the ceremonial area by laying a bed of grass on the mud ground or placing an green grass mat on the floor. The ceremonial apparatus consists of a roasting pan, a small charcoal stove, a long-handled roasting pan, a grinder, a black clay coffee pot and tiny porcelain cups.
The process follows a long yet unhurried pace, starting with the lighting of the charcoal brazier (it has become more common practice to use gas-burners). Incense, such as Frankincense, is sometimes used to perfume the smoke. The lady will gently shake a handful of washed beans on a flat roasting pan over the brazier. When she is satisfied that the beans are perfectly roasted and the aromatic oil has been coaxed out, she will grin them using a mukecha which is a heavy wooden mortar and a long-handled zenezena pestle (although electric grinders are commonly used these days).
The ground coffee is boiled gently in a black clay pot called a jebena. The pot has a round base and the lid is made from horse hair or straw. Each guest is served three rounds of coffee with each round given a significant name. The first round of coffee is called abol, the second huletunya and the third, most important round, is bereka ('to be blessed'). The coffee is poured from a height of approximately one foot into the tiny porcelain cups.
The coffee may be sweetened with sugar, or spiced with ground ginger or clarified butter. The coffee, which may be flavoured with sugar, ground ginger or clarified butter, is usually accompanied by a damper-like bread that is baked into a large glossy disc and placed in a woven basket. Often, a platter is placed before the guests, with popcorn and caramel sweets.
Your sense are completely assailed by sight and sound - starting with the rattling of the beans as they tumble about on the roasting pan, the pungent incense smoke, the heady aroma of the roasting beans and finally to the most remarkable taste of the coffee that has been prepared with the lavish attention of a centuries old tradition.