The Praxis Ethiopia Foundation

Community-driven, Sustainable Development to End Extreme Poverty

Ethiopia

Coffee Ceremony

by David A. Blankinship

The coffee service trayLearning something new is one of life’s greatest pleasures. When I began working with the people of Ethiopia, I learned Ethiopia is the “birthplace” of coffee and coffee is one of Ethiopia’s most important exports. Coffee is a main thread in the fabric of Ethiopian culture and it is best appreciated in the coffee ceremony. The ceremony begins with scattering green grass on the floor of the area where the coffee will be roasted. The scattering of grass reminds us of the dove returning to Noah’s ark with the green stalks that assured everyone that the flood waters had receded. The picture above shows this scattered grass on the floor beneath the coffee service tray and the incense.

raw coffee beans Raw or green coffee appears green/grey in color, only vaguely resembling the coffee beans most people encounter in their day to day lives. The picture to the right shows green coffee beans that are ready to be roasted.

roasting the coffee A small fire is built in an elevated pit, something like a hibachi cooker. Frankincense is lit and fills the home with a sweet fragrance as the raw coffee beans are heated in a small container over the fire’s embers.

The beans begin as a light green/grey color and start the savory transformation to very light brown, and then darker brown as they emit just audible cracking sounds—somewhat like popcorn, only quieter. The beans are stirred constantly and with great attentive care as they begin to move on to the second crack; a time when they sound like rice crispy cereal covered in milk. At this point, smoke begins to billow from the beans as they transition to a full, dark roast and their aroma fills the area.

As a visitor, you may be honored with the opportunity to inhale a little of the smoke rising from the roasting beans. If so, lean in toward the roasting container and use your hands to wave a little of the smoke toward your face. The beans are typically roasted past the second crack into the espresso range (roasting aficionados will know this roast as an Agtron 25). The beans are cooled, ground up in a mortar and pestle, and brewed in a gebena, or Ethiopian coffee pot.

roasted coffee beans The coffee is served in small cups (about 3 to 4 ounces) and it is customary to eat popcorn while waiting for the coffee to roast and brew. Three cups of coffee is a typical serving. As always, good coffee is made better when you share it with friends.

David A. BlankinshipIf you enjoy coffee--for pleasure or as a passion--I strongly recommend that you venture into the world of home roasting. The rewards of roasting are immediate and immense. With a little experimentation, you will discover extraordinary variety in the aroma and taste of coffee that is fresh-roasted to your exacting standards.

And as you might expect, you will find the best coffee in the world is grown in Ethiopia. You will quickly develop a taste for Yergacheffe in a full-city roast, Harrar in a French or even espresso roast, or perhaps a Sidamo in a cinnamon roast.

I will close emphasizing coffee is both a central part of Ethiopian culture and it is Ethiopia's most important commodity. Support Ethiopia and support coffee workers everywhere by purchasing Fair Trade coffees; it is a win-win situation.

Enjoy your coffee and drop me a line if you get into home roasting coffee.

Take care,
Dave
David A. Blankinship, ceo
The Praxis Ethiopia Foundation

The Praxis Ethiopia Foundation is an independent, US-based, 501(c)(3) publicly-supported charity created to help end extreme poverty in Ethiopia and sub-Sahara Africa