Author | groundwork coffee Date | January 07, 2021
It's Christmas time again! For our Ethiopian partners, that is.
Per the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar, Genna is celebrated on January 7th. And while there are a host of religious and cultural elements of the holiday we could talk about, including a 43 day "fast" lead up, elaborate church services and traditional white clothing (resources below if you'd like to learn more), we'd like to take the opportunity to share about the traditional coffee ceremony.
The coffee ceremony is a central part of Ethiopian culture, conducted on holidays and casual afternoons alike. Usually performed by the young women in a household, to be invited to a coffee ceremony is considered a sign of respect and friendship. To set the stage for the ceremony, the host will spread grass or flowers across the floor. Many families have a dedicated corner in their household for coffee ceremonies. Incense are burned through the ceremony to ward off evil.
The coffee is washed and roasted fresh at the start of the ceremony. Using a metal plate over a charcoal stove or flame, the hostess slowly roasts the beans, regularly stirring them until they are medium to dark brown while the intoxicating smell fills the room. It is customary to issue abundant praise for the performer of the ceremony, including taking larges wafts of the beans during the roasting process and complimenting the hostess' work with lauds of konjo (beautiful) and batam t'iru (very good).
Using a mortar and pestle (or electric grinder in many modern households), the freshly roasted beans are ground coarsely and added with water to the jebena, a clay pot used to boil the coffee. The water and coffee are brought to a boil on the charcoal stove or fire and then promptly removed from the heat, placed on the round trivet at a slight angle to allow the grounds to sink to the bottom of the jebena.
Finally the coffee is ready to be served into the traditional cups, small handleless cups arranged on a rekebot, a small table used for coffee ceremonies. The cups are filled with a single stream of coffee from about a foot in the air, ideally a consistent stream to ensure the grounds do not mix back into the coffee. Many Ethiopians add a heavy dose of sugar to their coffee. In some areas of the country, milk, salt or butter is added. The traditional ceremony consists of three cups. Each serving weaker than the last as the same ground coffee is used for the whole ceremony. Each cup is thought to transform the spirit, with the third cup considered to be a blessing.
The ceremony, and especially those performed over holidays, are complemented by sharable snacks of popcorn, peanuts, bread, or roasted barley. If you ever find yourself in Ethiopia, holiday or not, we encourage you to participate in a coffee ceremony and enjoy this beautiful and delicious tradition!