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Ethiopian Coffee History

According to Ethiopian legend, coffee was discovered by Kaldi, an Abyssinian goat herder in 850 AD.  The story goes that Kaldi discovered coffee after observing the energy boost his goats gained from consuming mysterious berries, which we now know to be coffee beans.  After sampling them himself, Kaldi gathered up the berries and brought them to his village's head monk who claimed they were “the devils work” and threw them into the fire.  The roasting coffee beans filled the monastery with a powerful aroma and the head monk ordered the other monks to rake the coffee beans out of the fire and place them in hot water for consumption.

While this is a fun story, there is little evidence that this is how the Ethiopians discovered coffee. In fact, the first iteration of this tale does not appear until the 1400s.  There is also evidence that it was customary to chew on coffee beans in Ethiopia prior to brewing coffee.  Although there are some doubts as to the legitimacy of this legend, there is written evidence of Ethiopian coffee brewing as early as 900 AD.

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony 

Ethiopia’s coffee history has created a rich coffee tradition that still occupies a place in Ethiopian culture.  The Ethiopian coffee ceremony plays a major role in Ethiopian culture and everyday life.  The coffee ceremony is a very important social and spiritual event that takes place for two to three hours three times a day.  It is customary for the women of the household to perform the ceremony in the morning, afternoon, and evening, or when welcoming guests into their homes or in times of celebration.  The ceremony involves the women of the household to process the raw, unwashed coffee beans into finished cups of coffee.

The coffee ceremony is a multi-step process that last two to three hours:

    • First, the hostess and her daughters spread freshly cut grasses and flowers across the kitchen floor and burn incense to ward off any evil spirits. 
    • She then fills the Jebena, a clay coffee pot with a round bottomed with water and puts it over hot coals.
    • Next, the hostess holds a special pan over hot coals to clean the green coffee beans and shakes it until the beans are cleaned.
    • The hostess then uses a mortar and pestle to grind the beans into a course ground.
    • Next the hostess adds the freshly ground coffee beans into the Jebena and the mixture is brought to a boil and removed from the heat.
    • Once the coffee is brewed, the hostess pours the coffee into a tray of small handleless cups, pouring the coffee from about one foot above the cup.
    • The youngest child serves the oldest guest the  first cup of coffee, then hostess serves everyone else.
    • Guests may add sugar to their coffee and are supposed to praise the hostess for her coffee brewing skills and the coffees taste.
    • Although milk is often added to coffee, during the Ethiopian coffee ceremony it is not typically offered.
    • After the first round is finished, there are typically two additional servings, each progressively weaker than the last. These three servings are referred to as Abol, Tona, and Baraka.  
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