If there is one place in the world you should think of when you think of coffee, it should be Ethiopia. A little refresher from Coffee 101… Ethiopia is said to be the birthplace of coffee, discovered by “dancing goats.” Legend has it that in the 9th century, an Ethiopian shepherd by the name of Kaldi noticed his goats extremely active and unable to sleep after consuming coffee cherries. Ethiopians are very proud of this history and proud of where it has brought them. They are Africa’s top producer of coffee, seventh worldwide, with an estimated 15 million people relying on coffee production for their livelihood. However, if they’re not part of the production process, they are most certainly part of the consuming process.
Drinking coffee is a way of life in Ethiopia. It is part of their culture. If you were to visit one’s home, you will most likely be treated to a coffee ceremony, no matter the time of day. A coffee ceremony not only honors the crop itself, but promotes community. Being extended the invitation to a coffee ceremony is a sign of hospitality, respect, and friendship.
Learning how to conduct the ritual of an Ethiopian coffee ceremony is often a tradition passed down from generation to generation. It is conducted by a young woman in a traditional Ethiopian dress of white cotton with colored borders. Being chosen to perform the ceremony is of high honor. To begin the process, green coffee beans are washed to remove husks and then placed over a tiny stove. The young woman shakes the beans consistently, almost in a hypnotizing manner, allowing the beans to crackle and the aroma to fill the room without them burning. Sometimes during roasting, incense will be burned to either ward off spirits or bring health to those who breathe it in. Once the beans are roasted, typically to medium, they are ground using a mortar and pestle. Roasting and grinding the beans immediately before brewing them brings out the strongest, freshest flavors. The grounds are then poured into a clay coffee pot called a jebena (seen above the sign at Sidamo) that has a round base, thin spout, and straw lid. The coffee is brewed (traditionally three separate times) and sieved before being carefully poured into tiny ornate cups called cini. The young woman pours the coffee from a foot high, not stopping until each cup on the tray is full. This is said to take much skill and practice. The coffee is served black, most often with some type of snack, though it is acceptable to add sugar. However, it is offensive to refuse the coffee as the ceremony is not just about the beverage itself, but friendship. It typically takes at least half an hour from the washing and roasting of the beans to the first pour, but the time in between is the perfect time to socialize, catch up on one another’s lives and what is going on in the community.
There are two places in DC where you can participate in free Ethiopian coffee ceremonies- Sidamo on H Street and Harrar in Park View. Sidamo holds ceremonies every Sunday at 2pm while Harrar’s, which take place Saturdays at 2pm, are a little less frequent (sign up for their email list to be in the know). Attending a coffee ceremony is like being transported to a different world, even if just for a short while. So take a break from your fast-paced DC life and immerse yourself in an experience of the senses!