Before Drinking Ethiopian Coffee, Inhale Its Complex Aromas

Person pouring coffee from a jebena
Person pouring coffee from a jebena - Suburbanium/Shutterstock

If you're going to be drinking coffee in Ethiopia, it isn't a "let's grab a cold brew on the way" affair. Prepare to set aside at least an hour for a proper tasting -- although it can last as long as three hours, and leave sippers loaded on a whopping nine cups of coffee every single day. But, the practice isn't about slammin' bevys. When it comes to complex, layered Ethiopian coffee, it's as much about the aroma as it is about the flavor.

To begin the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony (buna tetu), the room is filled with fragrant burning incense, commonly frankincense and myrrh, and a round-bottomed black clay coffee pot called a jebena is filled with water and placed over hot coals to boil. Then, raw, green coffee beans are cleaned and roasted in a menkeshkesh clay tray. As the beans roast, the aroma fills the room alongside the incense smoke for a sensory smorgasbord.

From there, the roasted beans are ground by hand using a mukecha wooden bowl and a zenezena, a blunt metal stick. The freshly-ground coffee is added to the boiling water in the jebena, similar to the ibriks of Turkish coffee (another beverage to be enjoyed slowly with good company). Ethiopian coffee is served straight from the jebena in which it was brewed, and the grounds don't get strained out. The coffee is brought to the nose for a deep inhale on every slow sip from the small sini cups.

Read more: 26 Coffee Hacks You Need To Know For A Better Cup

Turn On Your Nose And Turn Off Your Wristwatch

Person holding a tray of Ethiopian coffee and popcorn
Person holding a tray of Ethiopian coffee and popcorn - Natalie Maro/Getty Images

Ethiopia is considered the global birthplace of the coffee bean, with folks cultivating coffee in the Kaffa region as early as the ninth century. The country's coffee industry currently employs an estimated 12 million people. Buna tetu is observed to welcome guests into the home or on any holidays or celebrations, as well as three times throughout the day, particularly in rural areas. It's a cultural custom that's all about honoring heritage and ritual, respect and friendship, and discussing personal lives, politics, and gossip. Coffee hour is the communal social deep-dive.

Ethiopian coffee tasting is served in three rounds: awol, tona, and baraka. In addition to sheer appreciation for high-quality coffee and more time to connect socially, these three stages also signify a spiritual transformation believed to move through the sippers as they ingest their coffee and the connections between them deepen as they converse. The coffee in each round is brewed progressively weaker.

To further strengthen the intimate atmosphere, buna tetu is enjoyed around a low table called a rekbot with guests seated on floor cushions or low stools. Cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and sugar are common coffee additions, but milk is not, and the coffee is often served with popcorn, honey dabo (a type of bread), or sweet spiced himbasha. (Pro tip: Bunna Cafe in Brooklyn, New York brews a killer cup of spiced Ethiopian coffee -- and, to learn more, the restaurant hosts a proper coffee ceremony on weekends at 5 p.m.)

Read the original article on Tasting Table.