One of my must do’s whilst in Ethiopia was to participate in a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Although we encountered many places where this could happen, Eskedar, our guide, arranged a rather special one for us whilst staying in Lalibela.
We stopped at a private house belonging to a colleague where the ceremony took place in a colourful, neat secluded garden with great views. The garden had been well designed with a ledge all the way around for seating, so we didn’t have to perch on low stools as is generally the case.
The colleague’s wife hosted the ceremony dressed beautifully in a long white robe, embroidered with different colours. All the necessary items for the coffee ceremony were equally beautifully laid out on the grass.
First of all the coffee beans were laid out on a small plate and washed a number of times in hot and cold water using her hands. The beans were then transferred to another hot plate on top of a charcoal burner for roasting: it took around 5 minutes to turn them dark. She kept them moving using a piece of twisted metal and it looked a very soothing and therapeutic process – a little like ladling when making risotto.
The roasted beans were presented to us and the smell wafted under our note. They were then transferred into a metal cylindrical tube and crushed with another piece of metal. It was surprising how fine the beans were ground.
Whilst the grinding was taking place, a traditional black coloured clay coffee pot had been put on the charcoal to heat water. The coffee powder was added and the coffee boiled for two to three minutes before being left to rest for another three minutes to let the powder settle.
Eskedar explained that ceremonies have three pourings called abol, tona and baraka meaning health, wealth and good fortune. Each pouring gets weaker as no further coffee is are added and it is considered impolite to leave before the third pouring. Ceremonies can take up to two hours as people chat and pass the time of day.
Whilst all this was happening another burner with frankincense was lit.
On the grass was a huge circular basket containing a large, flat wheat, slightly sweet, bread. As it’s traditional for the man of the house to break this, Roy managed to do this having had a lesson from Eskedar. In addition to the bread, we were invited to sample a 50% proof Arak (not for the feint hearted).
Finally, the small handless cups were warmed by rinsing with hot water, the coffee was poured into the small round cups and we enjoyed what was a fabulous cup of coffee.
It was a lovely event and very relaxing as all the processes are calm and elegant. It certainly beats rushing round with a take-away from Starbucks in hand.