Thursday, August 14, 2014

Making Coffee, Ethiopian Style

Coffee is a big part of Ethiopian culture. It is a way for people to get together and share a drink and usually a snack like popcorn, bread, or roasted nuts and barley while chatting about life, gossip, or TV dramas. Coffee is most popular on the weekends, when people have time to have a leisurely cup (or three) with family and friends. Some families drink coffee every night after dinner but our family drinks it every day after lunch.

Last Sunday, we had the chance to help our family prepare the coffee beans. Our host mom, Etagu, doesn't want us to work hard at home so when I first asked her if I could help make the coffee, she said a flat out “no”. It wasn't a mean thing, she wanted me to relax! But I just stuck around and helped and she didn't shoo me away.

The first thing you do is wash the raw beans. I didn't see that part, so I don't have any pictures of it, but what you do is put the beans in a small amount of water and rub the beans in your hands. You do this as many times as it takes for the water to not become dirty, usually two to three times.

Next, you roast the beans. We roasted them on a metal disc on an electric stove stop. Jemilla did most of the work, but Spencer and I helped. You have to constantly be moving the beans around so they don't burn. While we roasted, Jemilla taught us some Amharic words and asked us if there are electric stove tops in America.

roasting the beans on the electric stovetop
When they are mostly all roasted, you take them off the heat and pick out the lightest beans. They didn't get roasted all the way, and so they won't taste good. We took them out and our host mom said they will roast them again later.

After we picked out all the unroasted beans, Jemilla put them in a hollowed out piece of wood to pound them into grounds. Again, Jemilla did most of the work. She is stong for a girl of 14! Spencer and I helped as much as Jemilla would allow us. After it was all smashed up, we put in in a plastic container and we were done preparing the beans for the week!

When you actually make the coffee, first you put water in the coffee pot (jebena jay-ben-uh in Amharic) and heat is up until the water boils. Then you add the coffee grounds into the pot, let it brew, and then pour it. Etagu hasn't let me make the coffee yet, so I that's all I know for now. Hopefully, I'll be able to do everything start o finish one day.

me and my host mom, Etagu 
The traditional coffee ceremony involves all these steps, plus burning incense (usually frankincense) and making popcorn (fundish in Amharic). Also, the coffee grounds in the pot are used three times with each pot becoming weaker. The first one is the strongest and so guests and elders generally get first dibs on it. The second or third pot could be given to younger adults or children. Or everyone could get a cup from each of the three rounds; it just depends on where you are and who's around.


  1. Good read Maggie, I always find it interesting how others manage the small things that most of us take for granted every day. Great to see some pictures of you both and what you're up to. I hope your time in Wonderland has properly equipped you both for your teaching stint!! ;-)

  2. Love seeing a milk can in the corner of the picture. Coffee grinding for us is so easy. It looks like fun.