An Ethiopian advertising poster

Mark and I are both coffee lovers and one of the things we were looking forward to about our trip around Ethiopia was drinking lots of it, in the place where it was first discovered. We were not disappointed!  Coffee in Ethiopia is served very strong and black, espresso style, and often involves an evocative ritual which involves all the senses.  It is a process not to be hurried.  The traditional coffee ceremony takes at least 30 minutes from start to finish, but the resulting beverage is well worth waiting for!  Travelling in Ethiopia, there were ten of us in our group.  All but one of us were coffee drinkers at the start of the trip and the tenth was converted by day two, so it was one of the great pleasures of the journey to sit and watch coffee being made and then savour drinking it.

Roasting the beans

Our first experience of the coffee ceremony was with Yuhn, our guide in Addis. He took us to a local coffee house, where it was the job of one of the daughters of the house to make the coffee.  First, she selected the right number and blend of beans to roast in an iron skillet over an open fire.  As they were roasting, she wafted the hot pan under our noses to whet our appetites for what was to come. Our hostess ground the roasted beans by hand in a pestle and mortar.  The mortar was made of eucalyptus wood.  She scolded her little sister about the first ‘pestle’ she brought her as it was made of metal and would have tainted the taste of the coffee.  Once she had ground the beans to a fine powder, she began to brew the coffee by putting the grounds into a special pot, a jebena, and adding water.  The pot had a spherical base, a long neck and a pouring spout.  When the coffee boiled up through the neck, she poured it in and out of another container to cool it.  She then returned the liquid to the jebena until it boiled again and she repeated the process.  There was a filter made of horsehair in the spout to prevent the grounds from escaping.  While the coffee was boiling, our hostess burned frankincense over charcoal in a brazier which added to the whole experience.  When the coffee was ready, she poured it into small handleless cups, pouring one more cup than she needed, for luck. The coffee was absolutely delicious!!

Grinding the beans

Brewing the coffee

We had coffee made in this way many times during our stay in Ethiopia. Sometimes, the incense had a different fragrance which seemed to change the taste of the coffee.  Sometimes, we were served popcorn or peanuts to accompany the coffee.  Sometimes, the blend of beans made the coffee taste chocolatey or spicy.  But … it was always good!

Coffee ceremony in Aksum

Coffee ceremony in Lalibela
Coffee ceremony in Yemrehana Krestos

The oldest coffee shop in Ethiopia

Inside Tomoca

There were times when our coffee was made in a more conventional coffee machine.  It was still good, strong and delicious, nowhere more so than when we visited Tomoca, the original Italian coffee shop in Addis Ababa.  We could smell the beans roasting as soon as we got out of the car!  

The best thing about stopping for coffee in Ethiopia, though, was the price – usually about 30 pence a cup, but often as little as 15 pence!  It’s probably a good thing that we were only there for a few weeks – I would likely have become a caffeine addict if we’d been there much longer!  Talking of which, one of our party took 5 kg of Ethiopian coffee back to Australia in his backpack, so he’ll still be enjoying this fabulous brew as I write this.  So jealous!!

Coffee pots for sale in Gonder market

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