We Melbournians pride ourselves of our coffee obsession in all forms: from flat white, cold drip to rainbow lattes. Yet, in the birthplace of the coffee beans where it is norm for Ethiopians to drink 3 cups of coffee a day, perhaps we still have some way to go with our coffee affairs?!
There is a common Ethiopian saying known as “buna dabo naw” which translates to “coffee is our bread”. This Amharic expression clearly shows Ethiopians’ great passion for coffee in their culture. Different from other coffee exporting nations, not only is coffee a source of their foreign income, coffee is also where Ethiopians’ pride, tradition and identity lay. Ethiopia is both Africa’s top coffee producer and leader in domestic consumption – more than half of their coffee produced are consumed by locals. “Drinking coffee is part of a daily routine and also an opportunity to socialize.We gather over coffee for all kinds of conversations” my Ethiopian friend tells me.
Coffee culture in Ethiopia dates back centuries and according to its popular legend, the origin of coffee started with the famous goat herder named Kaldi from Kaffa. The story goes: as Kaldi was herding his goats through the Ethiopian highlands, he noticed that they started dancing in an excited manner after consuming some bright red berries. Curiosity took hold and he tried the berries for himself. Like his goats, Kaldi felt the energizing effects of the “heaven sent” coffee cherries. His exhilaration prompted him to bring the berries to nearby monastery, but the monks disapproved of their use and threw them into a fire, from which an enticing aroma billowed. The aroma of the roasting beans made the monks give this novelty a second chance. The roasted beans were preserved by the monks by dissolving in hot water, yielding the world’s first cup of coffee.
Since then, Ethiopians has religiously practiced the coffee ceremony – a ritualized form of making and drinking coffee. The ceremony is typically performed by the woman of the household (dressed in the traditional clothing) and is considered a sign of friendship to be invited to a coffee ceremony. The coffee is brewed by roasting the green coffee beans over an open flame in a pan, followed by grinding of the beans and finally it is boiled in the traditional boiling pot, jebena and served. Transformation of the spirit is said to take place during the coffee ceremony through the completion three rounds of drinking, in particular the third round is considered to bestow a blessing. Traditional snack food like popcorn, peanuts or cooked barley is typically served with coffee. The coffee ceremony generally takes place three times a day – in the morning, at noon and in the evening. No doubt, Ethiopians lives up to their coffee proverb of “coffee is our bread”!