More than just an industry
Ethiopia is Africa’s largest producer of coffee, and the fifth largest worldwide. The country grows an impressive 450,000 tons annually, and almost 50% of that is consumed domestically.
Ethiopia is acknowledged as the birthplace of coffee. The variety of Arabica coffee cultivars that grow here include wild forest coffee, which grows in the shade of large indigenous forests and is harvested by the local population.
The coffee industry employs an estimated 15 million Ethiopians, making coffee a major income earner from the crop to the cup.
But coffee is far more than a beverage or source of income in Ethiopia. It is a celebration of community and togetherness.
The Coffee Ceremony: Jebena Buna
Locals, although they enjoy a good macchiato, still favour drinking buna (coffee) the traditional way. In Ethiopia, there is no such thing as instant coffee!
Coffee ceremonies are a daily event in Ethiopia, and it's not uncommon for this ceremony to take place up to three times a day in an Ethiopian household, especially over the weekends.
Performed by a young woman in cultural dress, the coffee ceremony is practical, yet spellbinding and elegant.
Green coffee beans are toasted in a pan over a little charcoal stove. The sizzling hot pan is shaken over the stove, so that the beans are tossed back and forth rhythmically until they are brown and aromatic.
During a coffee ceremony, the pan will be shaken in front of each guest, allowing you to take in the amazing aromas of the fragrant smoke.
The odd bean that doesn’t make the grade (or gets a little over-roasted in the pan) gets tossed out.
Once the beans are toasted to the hostess’s satisfaction, they are poured into a grinder. A few noisy blitzes and they are ready to be poured into the jebena (traditional clay coffee pot).
The ground coffee is then topped with boiling water from a kettle, and slowly brewed over hot coals.
Every household in Ethiopia has a little portable coal stove for making coffee. Incense is piled onto the coals of a little burner, the fragrance mixing with that of the coffee.
Seated behind a low table, the hostess will rinse and set out rows of sini (little cups, without handles). Once the coffee has brewed to her satisfaction, she will pour the brew into the sini, before serving her guests a cup, or two, or three.
Coffee is enjoyed black, but usually with liberal helpings of sugar – Ethiopians have a notoriously sweet tooth.
Sometimes a little soft twig of rue is added for good measure, its oils releasing into the brew. Referred to in Amharic as Tena ‘Adam, which means ‘The health of Adam’, rue is an ancient medicinal herb that grows wild in most parts of Ethiopia. Jebena buna is also often served with freshly-popped popcorn.
The aroma of coffee, popcorn and incense add to the heady sensory experience of the coffee ceremony. The jebena is a symbol of community in Ethiopia, and buna is never drunk alone!
From Traditional to Trendy
Aside from forming an integral part of Ethiopian culture, coffee is big business both for its export value and domestic consumption.
In cities, such as the capital of Addis Ababa, coffee shops range from traditional roadside buna betes to fashionable coffee houses frequented by the glitzy and glam.
There is no such thing as a quick coffee in Ethiopian culture and if you ask for a coffee-on-the-go you'll encounter some raised eyebrows.
Modern coffee shops in the city produce phenomenal macchiato, with fasting versions (made with almond milk) that cater to the 200-odd fasting days in the year, during which no animal products are consumed.
Baristas are equipped with top-notch equipment, so you can expect all the frothing, tapping and grinding sounds you’d expect in any cosmopolitan coffee shop.
Glass deli fridges display a range of layered and dry cakes, pastries and breads that are pointless resisting.
If you are not a coffee lover already, you may just become one in Ethiopia.
In Partnership With
This story was written in collaboration with Galia and the team at Kibran Tours. We've been working with Kibran for years, and have always loved their infectious passion for Ethiopia.
Galia's favourite spots for coffee in Addis are Tomoca and Kaldis.
Locals all agree that Tomoca coffee is betam tafach (Amharic for ‘very delicious’)! There are a number of outlets in Addis Ababa. The décor is unique and modern. Stand at high tables and counters – there are no chairs. If you walk past Tomoca and peep in through the door you will always see little groups of businessmen and women sipping macchiato and chatting or reading the local paper.
Galia Operations Manager