Ethiopia,  The Bean

Farewell Coffee Ceremony

The Coffee Ceremony is so deeply woven into the cultural fabric of Ethiopian life that it unites the country, even more than football does. In Ethiopia, coffee is the ‘great leveller’. It binds the many different ethnic groups together like glue; Christian or Muslim, rich or poor. More than a coffee break, the event can last for hours as an opportunity for people to come together and share news in a relaxed setting. The traditional custom is an expression of respect to elders or guests, and a holiday or special occasion is never complete without one. An elaborate extension to Ethiopia’s warm sense of hospitality, the coffee ceremony is a daily social ritual to honour the importance of the bean, and strengthen human bonds.

‘Bunafi naga hinabina’

(May you not lack coffee and peace)
– Oromo saying

Strong bonds: Demesse and his five year-old grandson, 'Little Lule'

It was a moment that I had been looking forward to ever since I had arrived in Ethiopia, but had yet to experience without Birr crossing palms. That is, until my last day at the Bulbulo wet mill Station. With the Sherpa packed and ready to go, we all sat down to an emotional farewell yeu buna a-falafal (coffee ceremony). Buzio first prepared the coffee by washing the beans and roasting them over the fire until they were a deep brown, coated with a smooth sheen as the bean’s complex elixir of oils oozed to the surface. After receiving a resolute pounding using a wooden zezana (mortar) and mogatcha (pestle), the ground beans were then transferred to be brewed in a jebana (clay coffee pot). Demesse’s son, Solomon, went out collecting blades of grass. In a symbolic gesture to invite the freshness of nature into the room, he scattered them over the floor. To one side, billows of smoke from the etan (incense) rose from the yekasal mandeja (small charcoal burner), scenting the room with a sweet, spicy smell.

As the coffee settled in the steaming jebana, the host of the ceremony, Buzio, (the host is always the woman of the house) passed the fendisha (popcorn) around in a large colourful round woven basket. Just as the Ottoman’s made an art out of the preparation and drinking of coffee, the Ethiopian coffee ceremony is an aromatic delight to the senses. Sitting on a three-legged berchuma (stool) wearing traditional clothes, Buzio poured the coffee expertly from a height. The third cup is of special importance and bestows a berekha (blessing). I didn’t want it to finish.

A final round of reluctant farewells and I was waved off wearing an ‘I Love Ethiopia’ headscarf, a gift from the cooperative’s quick-witted accountant, Bilay. My pannier was carrying a generous kilo of fine organic coffee Arabica beans and a bag of sweet Choche honey. A present from those at the mill to keep me sustained on the road ahead, with the message ‘don’t forget us.’ (I never will). A bunch of flowers colourfully adorned the handlebars. Overwhelmed by the moment and sad to leave, the reluctant 50km pedal back to Jimma was perfumed all the way with the fresh fragrance of Choche wild meadow flowers.

‘Akka dama mia, akka buna urga’

(As sweet as honey, as savoury as coffee)
– Oromo saying


  • Patrick Murtaugh

    I’m currently on a cycle tour in South East Asia. Although coffee is grown in almost every region I’ve cycled, it is extremely difficult to get a great cup of coffee. Unfortunately Fresh Roast is not a priority in the majority of the world where coffee is grown. Here in Vietnam the coffee is quite nice but they seem to grow robusta everywhere. What a great idea for a coffee addict!
    I would love to hear more.

    • beanonabike

      Hope your tour of SE Asia is going well Patrick and that you are managing to enjoy a fresh brew every now and again. Would be interested to hear more about your observations of Coffea Robusta production in your neck of the woods, particularly Vietnam. In a world where coffee demand is outstripping supply, do you have any insights on the value/supply chain in terms of organic farming practices in the country? Interested also to hear how the Fairtrade mechanism is working and if it is benefiting smallholder producers… Or is coffee production in Vietnam geared towards more large scale plantations? Keep those wheels turning 🙂 and hope to hear more about your coffee-fueled adventures. Regards, Antony

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