Dating back to the 15th century, coffee arguably originated from Ethiopia. With some notable myths tracing its discovery and consumption to the Horn of Africa nation, one can confidently say its cultivation as well as its brewing is intertwined with some centuries-old African customs and traditions.
Popular legend has it that an Ethiopian goat herder called Kaldi found the coffee plant after noticing that the behavior of his flock had changed when they ate coffee cherries.
A curious Kaldi then took the berries to the monastery and burnt them in a bid to get rid of the cause of the jumpy behavior of the goats and exorcise the fruit he and others including the monks believed to be evil.
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The smell of the berries roasting was what it took for the monks to change their minds about the fruits. The first attempt to consume coffee was not as we know it now. The monks prepared the berries with water and ate them before drinking the liquid.
Arab traders sent some of the berries on their exploits because coffee as we know it now was first brewed in Turkey. It later spread to Europe and now there are so many coffee lovers the world over.
According to the International Coffee Organisation, Ethiopia stands out among other African countries for having a strong domestic coffee consumption culture because other coffee-producing countries are not as big on the consumption as Ethiopians.
The jebena buna or traditional coffee drinking ritual is not for anyone in a rush. It can take about an hour because the coffee undergoes certain processes that form part of the communal bonding time.
The traditional coffee-making ceremony or buna is a community-oriented ritual. It is performed by women usually clothed in traditional garb who first wash the coffee beans before roasting them over hot coals until they are burnt and black.
Mind you, while this is going on, there is another ritual of burning frankincense or sandalwood and the smell pleasantly fuses with the aroma from the coffee beans.
Next, the charred beans are manually grounded in a mortar and pestle and then mixed with water in an earthen black jebena or jar. The jebena is then placed over the fire to brew till steam gushes out of the jebena’s spout.
The dark, bitter coffee, is poured in small glasses mostly with no handles to the brim, not enough to spill over but pipping hot. The coffee can be drunk raw, but some locals heap them with sugar, salt, or butter. Some also add t’ena adam, a local herb rue that lends a citrus flavor to the coffee. Popcorn is served as a side.
Nothing beats the communal congregation and strong culture behind jebena buna. Visitors are always treated to it because it is a sign of hospitality. It is a conversation starter among friends and family and a great way for them to catch up or reconnect.
Traditionally, according to Habesha culture, elders present at the ceremony are always served first and the coffee is drunk three times. By the third cup, all pending discussions and conversations would have been made.
The first cup referred to as Arbol is the strongest brew. Tona is a milder brew and the final cup, berekha or blessing, is the most important of the three because of the meaning ascribed to it.
It is not uncommon to find tents or cafes on street corners with the buna set up, however, the authentic experiences are mostly from the ones done at home.
Ethiopia is the largest producer of coffee in sub-Saharan Africa and is the fifth-largest coffee producing country in the world largely thanks to its high-altitude growing condition. Coffee recently accounted for some 60 percent of Ethiopia’s foreign exchange revenue.
There are no big coffee franchises in Ethiopia like in the West but their style of coffee shops is gradually gaining popularity among millennials, with macchiato seeping into the Ethiopian coffee culture.