Ethiopia | The Birthplace of Coffee

Ethiopia is a landlocked country within the eastern region of the African continent called the “Horn of Africa”. It is one of the oldest countries in existence and boasts a rich history, full of significant historical moments- including the discovery of coffee. 

The Birthplace of Coffee

Abyssenia, now modern day Ethiopia, is considered the place where coffee originated. Based on ancient Ethiopian history, the story goes something like this…

Around the year 850, there was a goatherd by the name of Kaldi. It is said that he is the one responsible for discovering the now infamous plant and introducing it to Abyssenian culture.

At his wife’s behest, Kaldi took the berries to some Monks in a monastery near Lake Tana.

Upon his arrival at the monastery, the goatherd presented the coffee berries to the head Monk as he ecstatically exclaimed the effect that these berries had; he’d never felt so elated in thought and body after trying one! The Monk grabbed the berries from Kaldi’s outstretched hand and threw them into the fire, deeming them the “Devil’s work”. You can guess what happened next…

Within moments, the chamber was filled with the smell of roasting coffee. This brought other Monks out to investigate what was making the indelible aroma.

Intrigued, the curious Monks raked the coffee beans from the fire and crushed them in order to put out the molten embers. The head Monk ordered hot water be poured over the now powdered coffee and…the rest is history, as they say. The Monks stayed up all night drinking this new concoction, vowing to always drink it in order to stay awake for their nocturnal devotions. News of this event spread, and soon coffee was consumed throughout the country.

Coffee was introduced to the trade world in 1454 when the Mufti of Aden visited Ethiopia and sampled the beverage. Claiming that the drink had cured him of some affliction, his approval carried so much weight amongst his men that soon word of mouth spread like wildfire- with these men introducing coffee to ports in Yemen and Mecca- and coffee was soon on the menu everywhere.

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

No visit to Ethiopia, is complete without experiencing the elaborate coffee ceremony that is Ethiopia’s traditional form of hospitality. Coffee ceremony is an integral part of the social life. The ceremony is typically conducted by a young woman in the traditional Ethiopian white dress with colored woven borders. The process starts with the arranging of the ceremonial apparatus on a bed of long scented grasses.

The lady bring out the washed green coffee beans, proceeds to roast them in a flat pan over a charcoal brazier, shaking the roasting pan back and forth so the beans will not burn. Once the coffee beans begin to pop, the rich aroma of coffee mingle with the heady smell of incense that is always burned during the ceremony. To further heighten this sensory experience, after the coffee beans have turned black and shining and the aromatic oil is coaxed out of them, the lady takes the roasted coffee and walks around the room so that the smell of freshly roasted coffee fills the air. She returns to her seat to grind the beans with a pestle and mortar. The ground coffee is then brewed in a black pot with a narrow spout, known as jebena, filling the room with aroma.

The brewed coffee is strained through a fine sieve several times before it is served to family, friends and neighbors who have waited and watched the procedure. The lady gracefully and expertly pours a golden stream of coffee into little cups called ‘cini’ (si-ni) from a height of one foot or more without spilling the beverage. The coffee is taken with plenty of sugar, complemented by a traditional snack food, such as popcorn, peanuts or cooked barley. It is common to wait for a second and third cup of coffee. The second and third servings are important enough that each serving has a name; the first serving is called “Abol”; second serving is “Huletegna”(second) and third serving is “Bereka.” The coffee is not ground for the second and third serving, a portion of ground coffee is usually saved for these two occasions.

Coffee ceremonies are major social events. They create a time to discuss topical issues and politics, resulting in the transformation of the spirit, given that it feeds and nurtures social relations. An ancient proverb best describes the place of coffee in Ethiopian life, “Buna dabo naw”, means “Coffee is our bread!

Coffee production in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is the largest coffee producer in Africa and the fifth largest producer in the world and accounts for 4.2% of the global coffee production. … Almost 50% of the country’s coffee production is consumed domestically. Ethiopian Arabica coffee exports account for 25-30% of the region’s total export revenue.

Coffee production in Ethiopia is a longstanding tradition which dates back dozens of centuries. Ethiopia is where Coffea arabica, the coffee plant, originates. The plant is now grown in various parts of the world; Ethiopia itself accounts for around 3% of the global coffee market. Coffee is important to the economy of Ethiopia; around 60% of foreign income comes from coffee, with an estimated 15 million of the population relying on some aspect of coffee production for their livelihood. In 2006, coffee exports brought in $350 million, equivalent to 34% of that year’s total exports.

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