In this issue, I felt compelled to write about “Buna” (Coffee) and the whole Buna Ceremony in Ethiopia. For many of us Ethiopians, coffee is an integral part of our life, it’s nothing out of the ordinary and even in America we find time to partake in the coffee ceremony when we gather with our loved ones and friends. But I wonder, what is it that makes Coffee so unique for us? Is it the sense of pride that brings to its people due to coffee originating in Ethiopia or is it because Ethiopia is Africa’s biggest coffee producer and is ranked 5th globally? Besides the export, it’s a nation devoted to this stimulating drink as well. Half of the coffee production is consumed within the country. The cafes, be it in the city or small towns, are always bustling with people who are either conducting business, meeting people or just relaxing. It’s very seldom that you see someone picking up coffee on their way to work. Coffee is more than that, it’s an integral part of the social and cultural life. It has its own ritual and the time for it is very much respected.
What is ironic about coffee in Ethiopia is that one can have more than one cup of coffee in a day and feel just fine. Note, the size of the cup is not the same as we imagine it here in America, but it’s a lot smaller, more like the size of a double shot glass but with a highly concentrated coffee in it. One cup of that and you feel your heart very much alive. Say you’re vacationing in Ethiopia, it’s very likely that you will be drinking Buna/ Macchiato almost 3 to 4 times a day. In the morning you may have a cup before you leave your house, at times, you may be meeting a friend or a relative at a café so you will have a cup there, in the afternoon, you may be visiting someone at their house, and the first thing they do (if it’s not lunch hour) is pull out the coffee ceremony gadgets and prepare coffee. I call them gadgets because it is the entire kitchen utensils and items needed to brew the coffee that come out.
The special coffee rug is pulled out, at times sprinkled with fresh long grass. Come on top of it, is the big “Rakebot” wooden box holding the small coffee cups, saucers, sugar and stirrers. These days, they make these Rakebots fancy with a multi layer box that has drawers to keep these items. Next to the Rakebot, is the small portable stove (electric operated or the old ways using charcoal). The roasting of the coffee is done on a flat pan on top of the stove. The woman making the coffee will wash the coffee beans and gently lay them on the flat pan, slowly stirring them with an iron rod to get rid of the husks and start roasting. The flat pan may also be substituted with a Mankeshekesha, a small thin layered pot used to roast the coffee, while constantly shaking the beans in it. Roasting is very important in determining the flavor of the coffee, it must be done slowly so the beans are roasted evenly. When the coffee beans have turned dark brown and shining with their aromatic oil, the smell of the coffee is wafted towards each guest so they can partake in the aroma. At the same time, an incense is added on a tiny charcoal set to burn on the side, blending with the coffee scent. The smell of this is what usually bring neighbors to stop by, sometimes it can be the sound of the Mukecha, grounding the coffee beans that lets them know that it’s time to visit next door, a genuine customary move. The grounded coffee is then set aside, while on the stove the black clay coffee pot also known as Jebena is set to heat up some water for the coffee. When the water is hot and ready, the grounded coffee is added in the Jebena and is back on the stove for brewing. When it’s ready, the Jebena is set to the side for a couple of minutes and is then poured out slowly into small cups. Pouring a thin golden stream of coffee into each little cup without interruption requires years of experience and finesse. Usually the youngest person in the house (be it a child or young adult) will serve the coffee to everyone. Coffee is usually served black with a lot of sugar, Popcorn or roasted barley (Kolo) is served as a snack to go with it. This coffee process may take up to 30 minutes, but it’s still not over. After your first cup, which is called Abol, comes 2nd round (Tona) and 3rd round (Bereka which means to be blessed) where with each round, water is poured in the Jebena and the coffee is brewed again, diluting it from its original strength. By this time a good hour has passed. Note, it is impolite to leave the ceremony right after the Abol. One has to partake in the entire ceremony, which means not only drinking coffee but engaging in whatever topic is being discussed around this ceremonial festivity. So as you can see, having a simple cup of coffee is more than just a quick sip, it’s a social event, an important part of life that makes one pause from the everyday busyness and force them to engage with family and friends.
As you see, Coffee holds a sacred place in Ethiopia and we hope next time you take a sip of coffee you remember of the ceremony that helps us take a break from our never ending daily activities and pause to appreciate life.
There is an Ethiopian proverb that says “A cup of coffee and love taste best when hot” so if you want to join us for some hot coffee ceremony, please visit us every 1st Saturday of the Month at the Brundo warehouse located at the American Steel Studio1960 Mandela Parkway, Oakland. We invite anyone who wants to participate in this ceremony and be part of our growing community. We also sell Jebenas, Coffee beans, or any items you need to bring the ceremony to your house. Visit us at www.brundo.com