The Tradition of Ethiopian Coffee

To tell the story of coffee is to go back to 600 AC, when a pastor named Kaldi who lived in Gimma, province of Kaffa in Ethiopia, went with his goats to the mountain. The mountains were leafy, rich in pastures and full of color that gave a huge variety of plants. Kaldi woke up from his nap because his goats started to behave strangely: they were nervous, they kept jumping and waving. He then started to observe the animals and found out that it all started when they ate some appetizing red berries that grew in clusters, in a bush.

He cut a branch of those cherries and took it to a wise priest from a convent in the valley. The priest, after listening to the story that Kaldi told him, decided to cook those fleshy fruits. The result was so bitter that he destroyed the branches with fire. But at that moment, the pleasant smell that the seeds gave off while being toasted, made them think that the animals could not be wrong after all when they returned again and again to eat in the red fruit bushes.

Thus, it was a shepherd and the wise abunna (priest) that discovered that roasting the seeds could make a rich and stimulating infusion, which they called “Bunna” (Coffee). The first use that the priests gave to this new infusion was to transcribe the Bible, since they did it handwritten. From Bunna to Jebena Bunna.

Coffee in Ethiopia over the years was transformed into a beautiful ceremony performed by women in each home in moments of welcoming visitors or celebration, with symbolism and aromas of incense to make it a magical and ancestral moment. An Ethiopian coffee ceremony, or “Jebena Bunna” as it is known in the Amharic language of Ethiopia, is not designed for someone in a hurry since preparation takes time, just like the Japanese ceremony of tea, Ethiopians are very serious when it comes to Jebena Bunna.

The women, usually dressed in traditional costumes, wash the green coffee beans before toasting them on the coals. Afterward, the black carbon grains are grounded by hand in a mortar. The coffee and water are mixed together in the black clay jar called “Jebena”, which is located directly on the embers until steam comes out of the Jebena dispenser.

The resulting coffee is dark, bitter and, in general, sweetened with stacked teaspoons of sugar. Popcorn is almost always served to accompany it. If done well, the Jebena Bunna is delicious. However, cups with extremely hot handles and full beyond the limit, are difficult to handle without burning yourself. “Tree”, the first cup, is said to be the strongest and the best. The coffee is light but full, earthy and greasy at the same time. The second cup, “Tona”, is made with the same coffee beans reused so it is weaker and the third, “Bereka”, is known as the “road”.

Coffee is today a matter of State in Ethiopia, the way of life of a majority agrarian population and the basis of its foreign trade. The coffee has its origin in Ethiopia, in the region of Kaffa, in a land of aromas where today the most appreciated varieties in the world are produced: Sidamo, Yirgacheffe and Harar. Interestingly they are called Arabic.