Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
Source: by NAOMI TOMKY
The first half hour of an Ethiopian coffee ceremony is an exercise in patience. Someone, usually a woman, washes and roasts the beans. They jingle in the pan, crackling as they take on color, the smell wafting upward with wisps of smoke, joining the nearby incense in perfuming the air. The barista, as it were, focuses on roasting the beans to medium, just enough to let the bright flavor, perhaps of blueberry, jump out from the cup. But not yet. First, the anticipation. Popcorn, dry-roasted barley, peanuts, or sunflower seeds make the rounds. Settle in, the snacks suggest—you’re not going anywhere for a while.
The ceremony takes about two hours from start to finish, beginning with the roasting in a flat pan over coals. Or, in the case of Martha Ayele, at her restaurant, named Jebena for the clay pot in which coffee is brewed, over a small gas stove. She uses a long, hooked tool to push the beans around in the pan, patiently waiting for the right sounds, smells, and appearance to indicate it’s time to remove them from the heat. Ayele does the ceremony at least once a day here, when business is slow. She sits down with her mother, who still scolds her if she tries to rush the roasting, asking “where do you want to go?” and they talk about “the past, the present, and the future.”
Much of the ceremony—for all its heavenly scented incense, flowing cloths, and clay pots—is all about just that: talking about your day, hearing the latest gossip, catching up with friends. At the end of the roasting process, Ayele adds a little bit of cardamom and clove. The ceremony, she says, “is about sharing our love, our lives.” The scent of hot coffee and spices joins the aroma of frankincense and myrrh, blossoming as the beans are ground, traditionally by mortar and pestle, before the hefty pile of coffee is dumped in the Jebena.