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Category: Africa

UNVEILING THE ETHIOPIAN COFFEE CEREMONY: Experiencing a Perfect Cultural Delight (2024 Updated)

Ethiopia’s Coffee Ceremony is Deeply Rooted in Tradition and Social Significance.   Journey to the birthplace of coffee itself – Ethiopia – where coffee isn’t just a drink but a…

Ethiopia’s Coffee Ceremony is Deeply Rooted in Tradition and Social Significance.

 

Journey to the birthplace of coffee itself – Ethiopia – where coffee isn’t just a drink but a ritual steeped in tradition and social significance. This is the Ethiopian coffee ceremony, where time stands still to honour hospitality and respect, strengthen bonds, and foster conversations.

This post illustrates this timeless ritual, from the meticulous preparation of the coffee to the communal enjoyment that follows. Get ready to be immersed into the heart and soul of Ethiopian culture through its world-renowned coffee ceremony. It is a truly wonderful and unique experience!

 

I love coffee. I have drunk it in many countries with varying degrees of appreciation. Well, now I have found coffee heaven. It’s in Ethiopia, and there is a whole ceremony surrounding its making and drinking.

Ethiopia is the home of coffee. The coffee plant originated in Ethiopia, with the beans first brewed in the 11th century. So, Ethiopians have had a lot of practice doing stuff with coffee, to the point where a whole ceremony developed around brewing and drinking coffee. The coffee ceremony is an integral part of Ethiopian culture and hospitality. It is a significant social occasion.

Ethiopians have a delightful story around the discovery of the benefits of coffee. A goat herder noticed his goats acting excitedly and ‘dancing’ on their hind legs after eating the bright red berries from a particular tree. When he tried the berries himself, he felt energised. He grabbed some berries and rushed home to tell his wife, who told him he must share these “heaven-sent” berries with the monks in the nearby monastery. The monks did not share the goat herder’s elation, believing the berries to be sinful and the work of the Devil. They tossed the coffee berries into the fire. However, the smell of the roasting coffee beans made the monks rethink their view of this sinful drug, and they removed the coffee beans from the fire. They crushed the coffee beans to extinguish the glowing embers and covered them with hot water to preserve them. The aroma of the coffee made all the monks want to try it. After this, they vowed to drink coffee every day because they found the coffee’s uplifting effects helped keep them awake during their holy devotions. And so, Ethiopia’s coffee tradition and culture were created.

I loved the ceremony as much as the coffee itself. Unlike Italy, where coffee is drunk quickly whilst standing, preparing and drinking coffee in Ethiopia is not to be rushed as the hostess must not miss any step.

Wherever I travelled in Ethiopia, the coffee ceremony was always the same. There was something reassuring in this familiarity of freshly roasting coffee beans and the smell of fresh-cut grasses that were invariably laid on the ground. The laying of cut grasses on the floor sets the scene for the coffee ceremony.

When ordering coffee in a Western-style restaurant in Ethiopia, the coffee is brewed following the established ritual in a reserved area of the restaurant and served on a tray lined with fresh-cut grasses.

A tray sprinkled with green grasses and laid with coffee, a coffee pot, a sugar bowl, and hot coals.

Coffee is served on a tray with fresh-cut grasses.

 

Ethiopian coffee ceremony: the traditional steps

A tree branch with green coffee berries growing on it.

Coffee berries growing on the tree.

 

First, the raw coffee beans are rubbed together in water in a pan to remove the skins on the beans. Then, they are roasted over a charcoal brazier, releasing the aromatic oils from the beans. The hostess – I never saw this ceremony conducted by a man – brings the pan of smoking, roasted beans around for you to waft the smoke towards you, to draw in the aroma of the roasted beans.

A woman in a white dress pours water from a pot over coffee beans to remove the shells.

Washing the raw coffee beans.

 

Once roasted, the beans are ground with a mortar and pestle. Traditionally, the mortar and pestle are made of wood.

A woman in a white dress uses a pestle and mortar to grind coffee beans in and Ethiopian coffee ceremony.

Grinding the roasted coffee beans.

 

While grinding the beans, the hostess is boiling water in a terracotta “jebena” over an open fire. A jebena is a traditional Ethiopian clay coffee pot with a bulbous, round bottom, a long, narrow neck topped with a wooden or straw stopper, and a handle.

A traditional Ethiopian coffee pot with its round body and long neck.

The jebena I bought in a local market in Bahir Dar.

 

Once the coffee beans are ground, the resultant powder is added to the boiling water in the jebena. The combined water and ground beans are boiled for a couple of minutes and then rested to allow the coffee powder to sink to the bottom of the pot.

By this stage, if you are a coffee lover like me, the smell of freshly brewed coffee will have your mouth watering in anticipation of what will come.

Finally, the coffee is poured into small, handleless porcelain cups (similar to Chinese tea cups). The pouring is done from as high as possible above the cups – about a foot above the cups. The hostess will usually serve coffee with popcorn or peanuts.

Ethiopian coffee ceremony: a social event

Coffee isn’t just a drink in Ethiopia. It is an essential component of Ethiopian culture and society. Being invited to coffee in Ethiopia is considered a sign of friendship and respect. It is a time to extend the hand of hospitality, promote social relations, and catch up on neighbourhood news.

Ethiopian coffee is drunk sweet, and black. In fact, very sweet – 2 to 3 teaspoons of sugar. Mind you, the teaspoons are minuscule. I learnt to enjoy black coffee. However, by the time I left Ethiopia, I was drinking my coffee with a lot less sugar.

When drinking coffee in Ethiopia, etiquette requires you to have three cups of coffee. The first cup is to welcome you, the second is about friendship, and the third is to say goodbye. Denying coffee at any of the three servings is considered rude. Remember, these are tiny cups, so having three is less in quantity than a mug of coffee.

Ethiopian coffee is the best I have ever tasted. The two women I was travelling through Ethiopia with told me I said, “Oh, that’s good coffee”, every time I had a cup of coffee. This must have driven them mad because we had lots (and I mean lots) of cups of coffee. Finally, one of my travel companions told our diver-guide that Ethiopia needs to change its tourism slogan from “13 Months of Sunshine” to “Oh, That’s Good Coffee”. He just laughed.

So, if you ever find yourself in Ethiopia, immerse yourself in the magical and captivating experience of the coffee ceremony. You won’t be disappointed!

To learn about Ethiopia’s coffee ceremony’s cultural and social history, visit the Institute of Ethiopian Studies Ethnological Museum in Addis Ababa. This well-organised, delightful museum on Addis Ababa University’s main campus is dedicated to preserving, studying, and presenting Ethiopia’s rich cultural heritage.

The Ethnological Museum is open daily, excluding public holidays, with entrance fees charged at different rates for adults, students, and those wanting to take photographs. Engage one of the available guides who provide valuable information and insights about the museum’s collections.

A panel of text telling the story of Ethiopian coffee culture.

The Coffee Story, Ethnological Museum.

 

From the first crackle of roasting beans to the three rounds of shared cups, the Ethiopian coffee ceremony is more than a mere caffeine fix. It is a ritual filled with tradition, hospitality, shared moments, and a deep appreciation for the humble coffee bean. 

The ceremony unfolds in deliberate steps: roasting beans over coals, grinding them by hand, and brewing them in a traditional pot. Each step contributes to the welcoming atmosphere and deep-rooted traditions that define the Ethiopian coffee ceremony. 

Whether you have experienced it firsthand or are curious about it from afar, the Ethiopian coffee ceremony stands as a testament to the beauty of cultural rituals and the power of a shared cup of coffee to bring people together, wherever they may be.

 

Editor’s Note: I originally published this blog post in March 2019 and have updated it for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2024.

 

Where have you had the best cup of coffee? What made it so great?

I love hearing from you. Join the conversation and leave a comment below.

 

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A woman washing coffee beans with water from a jug and green coffee berries growing on a branch.

A poster with text telling the story of Ethiopian coffee culture and a woman using a mortar and pestle.

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and follow government advice.

 

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Stone huts with thatched roofs in a mountainous landscape.
LOST IN TRANSLATION IN ETHIOPIA – Is that the heater?

International travel will inevitably lead to translation challenges. Read about my communication issue in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains, which I can laugh about now but, at the time, impacted my physical comfort.

 

 

3 Comments on UNVEILING THE ETHIOPIAN COFFEE CEREMONY: Experiencing a Perfect Cultural Delight (2024 Updated)

OUIDAH VOODOO FESTIVAL IN BENIN – a joyous celebration with 13 photos to inspire [2021 UPDATED]

An Annual Celebration Not to Be Missed is Benin’s Voodoo Festival in Ouidah   Picture colour, music, singing, dancing, and a joyous party attracting national and international visitors. This is…

An Annual Celebration Not to Be Missed is Benin’s Voodoo Festival in Ouidah

 

Picture colour, music, singing, dancing, and a joyous party attracting national and international visitors. This is not Carnival in Rio de Janeiro or Venice. Add religion and culture, and you have Benin’s Voodoo Festival in Ouidah. With 13 photos to inspire your curiosity, wanderlust, and travel plans, join me in my experience of Benin’s Voodoo Day national celebration.

 

Voodoo Day in Benin falls on January 10 each year. It is a national holiday celebrating the country’s heritage of the West African religion of Voodoo.

Benin (officially the Republic of Benin) is a sliver of a nation in West Africa on the Atlantic Ocean. It borders Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east, and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. Ouidah is a city on Benin’s narrow strip of coastline and was the ancient port of the slave trade.

An image of a map of West Africa

Map of West Africa

 

Attending Benin’s Voodoo Festival in Ouidah was my primary reason for travelling to West Africa.

Voodoo is one of Benin’s official religions, while Ouidah is considered the birthplace of Voodoo. It is probably one of the most misunderstood religions in the world. West African Voodoo is a complex religion rooted in healing and doing good to others. It is not the stuff of Hollywood – of witchcraft and black magic or sticking pins in dolls.

I must admit it was curiosity that fed my travel plans to include the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah. I wanted to witness this annual celebration of Benin’s heritage and traditional culture and to experience a unique festival.

My participation at the Voodoo Festival commenced with a visit to Ouidah’s Temple of Pythons – one of Voodoo’s most revered places and home to some 60 pythons. The pythons are a significant symbol for followers of Voodoo. They are not feared but are revered and worshipped. These pythons were said to be docile, which was just as well because they roamed freely. It was here, through a break in the trampling crowd, that I momentarily sighted the Voodoo Pope who had come to pay homage at the Temple of Pythons.

a group of women dressed in multi-coloured clothing and each wearing many bead necklaces.

Female Voodoo devotees at the Temple of Pythons

 

From the Temple of Pythons, the Voodoo Pope led a procession along the historical, 3-kilometre Slave Road to the ‘Door of No Return’ (of slave trade infamy) on Ouidah’s beach on the Atlantic coast. It was on this stretch of sand that the celebrations of the Voodoo Festival truly got underway.

And what a celebration!

With the dignitaries’ speeches over (this took over an hour), it was party time. But first, the spirits and Voodoo gods needed to be appeased with the sacrifice of a goat. The Voodoo Pope carried out this ritual behind a circular wall of blue plastic away from public view. Animal sacrifice is a fundamental element in Voodoo. No Voodoo ceremony is worth its salt without an animal sacrifice in exchange for favours from the spirits.

Immediately following the sacrifice, the Voodoo Pope made his way to his throne in the shadow of the Door of No Return. I say ‘throne’ because the festival hosts referred to him as “His Majesty the Pope”.

A seated group of men and women dressed in multi-coloured clothing.

The Voodoo Pope (in blue robes) on his throne

 

With the Voodoo Pope seated, the atmosphere changed. The speeches gave way to vibrant displays of dancing and the throbbing of drums. I witnessed ‘exorcisms’ in which a seemingly possessed person would run away from a group of people, only to be caught, dragged to the ground, and sprinkled with powder. The crowd became particularly excited when coloured haystacks appeared, spinning around the grounds. I learned these ‘haystacks’ are Voodoo spirits known as Zangbeto and are the traditional Voodoo guardians of the night – the Nightwatchmen. They are the unofficial police force and dispensers of justice. I did not envy the human police who battled to keep the crowds from encroaching on dancers and Voodoo spirits.

With so much going on around me, I wandered around aimlessly. I didn’t know which group to stay and watch or where to go next. But I was intent on seeing it all. I moved around the festival for a couple of hours until I decided it was time to sit down and people watch.

Overall, the celebration at the Voodoo Festival in Ouidah was a hive of activity in which people would swarm from one dance display to another. A kaleidoscope of colour from the attire worn by attendees and a cacophony of noise from the frantic pounding of drums dominated the festival. The crowd was buzzing.

But perhaps, the best way to describe the Voodoo Festival and my experience is to share some of my photos with you.

 

Ouidah’s Voodoo Festival was a never to be forgotten experience.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright © of Just Me Travel 2021.

 

Which festival have you attended that has been a ‘never to be forgotten experience’ for you? Tell us about it. Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

 

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For more posts on Africa, visit Just Me Travel: https://justme.travel/category/destinations/africa/

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip, and always follow government advice.

 

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THE SMOKE THAT THUNDERS FROM MY CAMERA’S PERSPECTIVE

Mosi-oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders” is an apt name given to Victoria Falls by the Kalolo-Lozi people. The spray that rises above Victoria Falls truly does look like smoke. And…

Mosi-oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders” is an apt name given to Victoria Falls by the Kalolo-Lozi people.

The spray that rises above Victoria Falls truly does look like smoke. And this ‘smoke’ can be seen from some distance. I had a clear view of the ‘smoke’ rising from the Falls from my hotel in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, one kilometre away.

Mist rising from Victoria Falls, the smoke that thunders

The ‘smoke’ from Victoria Falls rises above the skyline

 

Walking around the escarpment on the Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls, the roar the Falls produce from the volume of water crashing over the edge of the gorge makes it difficult to hear conversations.

Victoria Falls is located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. I travelled to the Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls in November 2016. It was the end of the dry season; with November being ‘low water’ for the Zambezi River. When the Zambezi River is in full flood (usually February or March), Victoria Falls forms the largest curtain of water in the world. At my time of visit, Victoria Falls was at 40% capacity. And yet, it did not disappoint.

I will be writing a detailed itinerary blog post on my visit to Victoria Falls in the near future. But for now, I just want to showcase the majesty of “the smoke that thunders” from my camera’s perspective – to let my camera do the talking.

My camera’s perspective of the smoke that thunders: a walking tour

My camera’s perspective of the smoke that thunders: a helicopter tour

Due to Victoria Falls’ reduced volume of water cascading over the edge of the gorge, I wasn’t going to take a helicopter flight over the Falls. At the last minute I changed my mind – one of my better decisions. My camera’s perspective gained a unique angle of the smoke that thunders.

Which camera perspective do you prefer?

A note on protecting your camera

Walking along the escarpment, you and your camera are going to get wet from the spray spewed up by the sheer volume of water crashing down the cliff face to the floor below.

Whether or not you keep yourself dry is up to you. But it is important to keep your camera dry if you want it to continue working.

I have a DSLR camera and have tried two different professional ‘raincoats’ for my camera. Each time, I revert back to my tried and tested method of a plastic bag. I attach the lens hood as this provides some protection for the lens glass and filters. Then, using a wide plastic bag that is longer than my camera body and extended lens (300mm), I make a hole in the bottom of the bag. I slip the lens through the hole and secure the plastic bag to the lens with a rubber band. Pulling the plastic bag up over the camera, the camera is kept dry, I have good access to all the camera’s dials, I can clearly see through the viewfinder and see the back of the camera, and I have plenty of room for my hands. And the lens can still be extended and retracted.

My experience of professional camera raincoats is so opposite to that of my plastic bag. I found them restrictive, providing poor visibility through their plastic window, and having limited space for my hands.

I also carry a microfibre cloth so I can wipe the water droplets off the lens glass.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

 

For more on waterfalls worldwide, read the post below and check out the photos.

A photo of a wide waterfall dropping over two rock ledges onto rthe rocks below.

 

9 BEAUTIFUL BLUE MOUNTAINS WATERFALLS

 

 

 

Photo of a waterfall with a rainbow reflected on the rock cliff face.

 

SEE 3 OF THE BEST WATERFALLS IN THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS, NEW SOUTH WALES

 

 

 

© Just Me Travel 2018-2022. All rights reserved.

 

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LOST IN TRANSLATION IN ETHIOPIA – Is that the heater?

Dear Pip, Having travelled as much as I have, I should no longer be surprised by how easily things can get lost in translation. But on this occasion, my physical…

Simien Lodge at sunset

Simien Lodge – sunset in the Simien Mountains

Dear Pip,

Having travelled as much as I have, I should no longer be surprised by how easily things can get lost in translation. But on this occasion, my physical comfort, or more precisely, my physical discomfort enabled me to create my own meaning to communication.

Yesterday I arrived at the Simien Lodge in the Simien Mountains National Park and had to haul my jacket out from the bottom of my bag. This was the first time I needed my jacket since arriving in Ethiopia. It could have something to do with the Simien Lodge being at an altitude of 3,260 metres above sea level – the highest lodge in Africa.

The rooms in the Simien Lodge are spacious, with a good-sized bathroom; including a shower that I was actually able to turn around in (an issue in Ethiopian hotels). But the room was cold, and, after a very thorough search, I couldn’t see any means for heating the room.

Due to my arrival at the Simien Lodge after a very long drive (getting anywhere in Ethiopia involves a long drive), I decided to have a rest and worry about the heating when I went down for dinner. Given the altitude and my hut being on top of a hill, I wasn’t going to walk up and down unless I absolutely had to.

Piling the blankets and quilts from the spare bed onto mine, I climbed into bed thinking that at least I would be warm for my rest. How wrong could I be! Even with an extra layer of clothes and my jacket on, I was still cold. Needless to say, I went down for dinner as soon as the restaurant opened.

My first stop was at Reception where I asked if there was any way of heating my room. I was advised that after dinner I would be provided with “a plastic card for the bed”. I assumed this would be like a hotel room key card that you slot in to activate the room lights; that I would slot this card in somewhere in the room that I hadn’t as yet located, and it would activate an electric blanket. An electric blanket would be most suitable. That it would be an electric blanket I hadn’t seen yet did not register. I should have known, don’t ever assume! The ‘plastic card for the bed’ turned out to be a hot water bottle. To say that I was disheartened by this method of heating my room, is an understatement. How was I going to be warm? However, the hot water bottle worked a treat. I was snug in bed all night and had a great night’s sleep. That the room itself was cold mattered not one bit.

Tomorrow we leave for Gondar where, I am assured, it will be warmer.

Love,

Joanna

Simien Mountains

Simien Mountains National Park

 

Editor’s Note: I originally published this blog post in April 2019 and have updated it for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

 

Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.

© Just Me Travel 2018-2024. All rights reserved.

 

Please share your ‘lost in translation’ experience in the comments below. I love hearing from you and look forward to reading and responding to your comments.

 

Like this post? Save it for later!

A round stone hut with a straw thatched roof set in the mountains.

Several round accommodation huts set in a dip in the hill.

 

Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and follow government advice.

 

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A panel of text telling the story of Ethiopian coffee culture and a woman's hands using a pestle and mortar.UNVEILING THE ETHIOPIAN COFFEE CEREMONY: Experiencing a Perfect Cultural Delight (2024 Updated)

Journey to the birthplace of coffee – Ethiopia – where coffee isn’t just a drink but a ritual steeped in tradition and social significance. Learn the ritual steps of Ethiopia’s coffee ceremony.

 

1 Comment on LOST IN TRANSLATION IN ETHIOPIA – Is that the heater?

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