What is a Ritual Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony?


A coffee ceremony was offered to us while staying at the Yemreha Hotel in Lalibela. When we entered the dining area one night for dinner and saw the freshly-cut grass on the floor by our table, we knew that tonight was the night. A coffee ceremony is a sign of friendship and respect. (Really didn’t think they were performing this because of friendship, we’d only be there for two days…) But we prepared to enjoy it.

The ceremony usually doesn’t begin until after dinner but our usual waitperson, dressed in Ethiopian traditional dress, started before we had finished. Good thing, because it is very time-consuming. She had a little table set up with a charcoal brazier for roasting the coffee beans, an incense burner, mortar and pestle for grinding the coffee beans and a tray of popcorn! I’d love to know how popcorn got involved in a coffee ceremony..

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dinner at the Yemreha Hotel, Lalibela, Ethiopia


She roasted the coffee beans, ground them up and then mixed with water in a traditional coffee pot. Brewed for a while with the delicious aroma of coffee floating through the air. I was a little concerned because I never drink coffee at night. Gives me the “heebie-jeebies” and guests are expected to drink three small cups of coffee otherwise we’d be rude. It’s similar to slugging down three cups of expresso. Very, very strong.

Traditionally, the coffee is also served with at least three spoonfuls of sugar. Oh…gag… When we heard that, asked to drop the sugar from the coffee since we’re black coffee drinkers. Forget tradition…

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making coffee in Ethiopia

In the meantime, the rest of the staff sat around watching including this sweet 17-year old who waited tables. (Probably waiting to see if we’d manage to drink three cups of that high-octane coffee.)

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she had the sweetest smile and greatest hairstyle, Ethiopia

The hostess only brewed small amounts at a time, and served the tiny cups to us with popcorn. Hopefully, the popcorn absorbed some of the acid and fortunately, each potful of coffee was a little weaker than the previous one. Finally, the third cup which is considered a blessing. We drank all three cups and, surprisingly, I wasn’t awake all night. Fun and interesting to attend, but it’s a lot easier stopping at your local Starbucks or using instant coffee than ever having to go through what our hostess did…

If you have a chance to pay for a coffee ceremony or are invited, do participate in this unique experience and…eat the popcorn…it helps…

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ex-Marine on his third cup of coffee at the Ethiopian coffee ceremony
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