by Almaz Böhm
Extract from the book: „Kein Weg zu weit – Mein Leben zwischen Afrika und Europa“ (Please note: this book is only available in German.)
Every day Ethiopian women prepare coffee the same way my grandmother used to: following an elaborate ceremony. In Ethiopia coffee is not simply drunk but celebrated.
Ethiopia is the undisputed home of coffee. However, there are varying legends as to how coffee was discovered. The most common is that humankind discovered coffee thanks to the strange behaviour of Ethiopian mountain goats: more than a thousand years ago shepherds in the Abyssinian highland of the Kaffa region are said to have observed that their goats went wild at night, and their bleating disturbed the herders’ sleep. They sought the advice of monks in the nearby monastery who discovered tree-like bushes with green, yellow and red fruits resembling cherries where the herd grazed. They tasted the fruits and they, too, were put into high spirits. No one can affirm the truth of this story but it is persistently passed down through the generations.
In any case, the most beautiful preparation of coffee was developed in Ethiopia. Coffee is the national drink, incidentally the only important export article Ethiopia has, and an integral part of everyday life – in the city as in the country, in the north, south, east and west.
The preparation is clearly woman’s business; men drink along but they just don’t have a clue about coffee ceremony. Immediately after getting up, the day is welcomed with the first coffee ceremony, giving the lady of the house an almost meditative calmness before she has to face the hardships and hassle of everyday life. If you ever walked the streets of Addis Ababa or one of the many small towns in the country at dawn, you will forever remember the delicious smell of freshly ground coffee beans.
Coffee ceremony is also an important sign of hospitality. Whenever there’s a visitor, a coffee ceremony will take place. To not offer guests coffee, or in the reverse case, decline a host’s coffee is considered impolite. Furthermore, coffee ceremony carries important social meaning, especially in the lives of women. If conflicts arise between neighbours or relatives, between friends or colleagues the disagreement is discussed and dissolved over coffee ceremony. During coffee ceremony people talk more openly than at any other time. Mostly with success because it is rare to not develop some sort of understanding while having coffee. This makes coffee ceremony not just an everyday tradition but a very important gesture of reconciliation and peace.
The raw material for the coffee ceremony is green coffee beans with their red skin removed. This is how the coffee farmer delivers them to the retailer. Raw coffee beans are first washed in water, and then dried using a soft cloth or bare hands. The clean beans are kept in a curved bowl made of tin or iron.