How the coffee drink in Addis keeps the day alive

Kikwete offered a cup of coffee at ECX
Worldwide, it is reputed as the best coffee. I had always sought the chance to have a sip, yet it took me so many years to get the opportunity.

This time, in the company of President Jakaya Kikwete to the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I learnt of its strength and sweetness of the Ethiopian coffee drink.

President Kikwete was among the many visitors to the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange (ECX) recently.

He said after he was served with the traditional Ethiopian coffee as part of the savourly gesture to welcome him at ECX. “This is too strong for me.”

The President was welcomed by a young woman clad in traditional Ethiopian attire, the like of ‘kikoi’ in Tanzania which is considered as a sign of respect and friendship to be invited to a coffee ceremony.

Not even the coffee in Italy or Brazil could match this; so many tourists in Addis Ababa confirm this.

This particular traditional ceremony when coffee is served is a custom for Ethiopian women to perform the ceremony when welcoming visitors into their homes and in times of celebration.

It involves roasting coffee beans and preparing boiled coffee in a vessel akin to the kettle ‘ibriks’ (birika in Kiswahili) used to make Turkish coffee.

Firstly, the woman who serves or performs the ceremony spreads fresh, aromatic grass and/or flowers on the floor. She then burns incense, believed to ward off evil spirits, and continues to burn incense throughout the ceremony. She fills a round-bottomed, black clay coffeepot (known as jebena) with water and places it over burning coal.

On this occasion, Mr Kikwete just sipped the coffee and declared it was too strong for him.

However, he praised the coffee aroma that filled the entire conference room of the ECX. The coffee was accompanied by snacks of roasted barley, peanuts and popcorn or coffee cherries.

“There is also abundant praise for the ceremony performer and the brew she produces,” says Daudi Masoli, a Tanzanian who lives in Ethiopia. So the President’s praise for the coffee aroma suits the tradition well, which is an important aspect of the ceremony.

When the coffee is ready to be served, a tray of very small, handle-less ceramic or glass cups is arranged with the cups very close together. The lady pours coffee in a single stream from about a foot above the cups, ideally filling each cup equally without breaking the stream of coffee.

“The dregs of the coffee remain in the pot,” says Mr Masoli, adding: “This technique prevents coarse grounds from ending up in coffee cups.”

As the president was touring the ECX to get first hand information about the way the exchange trades, the coffee ceremony was a perfect gesture.

Traditionally, according to Ethiopians, guests at a ceremony may discuss topics such as politics, community and gossip while sipping coffee.

But unlike Tanzania where men are serving coffee with ‘kashata’ (the combination of groundnuts and sugar fries together) on the street, in Ethiopia coffee is served by women.

Why a woman serves the coffee The Ethiopia’s coffee ceremony is an important part of Ethiopian culture and is taken seriously three times each day, once in the morning, at noon and in the evening.

In parts of Ethiopia, the woman of the house or a younger woman in the household performs or participates in the two to three-hour coffee ceremony, because elders are served by younger ones and it is best if the coffee is served by a woman.

In some cases, according to Ethiopian culture, the youngest child in the house may serve the oldest guest the first cup of coffee.

Afterward, the performer serves everyone else. But the performer has to be a woman. After the first round of coffee, there are typically two additional servings. The three servings are known as abol, tona and baraka. Each serving is progressively weaker than the first.

The third serving is considered to be a blessing on those who drink it. According to Ethiopians, the coffee ceremony means a lot more than brewing coffee in an electric kettle and gulping down cup after cup as you tap away at the computer.

For Ethiopians, it is an ornate, yet serious, affair. Those who have been invited to a coffee ceremony must consider themselves lucky since it is the highest gesture of respect and friendship that can be extended to anyone.

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony spans the entire process of coffee-making from start to finish – beginning with the raw, unwashed coffee beans and eventually served in cups of strong coffee with a heady fragrance.

For Ethiopians, coffee ceremony, which takes place three times a day, is an important social event that brings together people of the family or community and people can be heard discussing community issues, philosophy and politics.

I was not invited in any coffee ceremony but I tried two cups of home brewed coffee at a coffee shop and I could not sleep until after midnight. Indeed the Ethiopian coffee is very strong to some. It is such a home grown African product that can always return a tourist back to this continent -- the great African coffee.
Sources: The Daily News, http://dailynews.co.tz, reported by Abduel Elinaza just back from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
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