May 27, 2011

The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

If you are a coffee lover, this is one of the most enjoyable events you can attend, be it at someones home, or in an Ethiopian Restaurant. I was fortunate enough to participate in the ceremony in one of my favorite restaurants, Mesob, in Montclair, NJ. The coffee is taken through its full life cycle of preparation in front of you in a ceremonial manner. Coffee is called 'Bunna' (boo-na) by the Ethiopians.

The ceremony starts with the woman, first bringing out the washed coffee beans and roasting them in a coffee roasting pan on small open fire/coal furnace. The pan is similar to an old fashioned popcorn roasting pan and it has a very long handle to keep the hand away from the heat. At this time most of your senses are being involved in the ceremony, the woman shakes the roasting pan back and forth so the beans won't burn (this sounds like shaking coins in a tin can and reminded me of making jiffy pop popcorn as a child), the coffee beans start to pop (also just like popcorn.) When finished roasting,  the preparer takes the roasted coffee and walks it around the room so the smell of freshly roasted coffee fills the air.

The roasted coffee is placed in a small household tool called 'Mukecha' (moo-ke-ch-a) for the grinding. Most restaurants at this time incorporate modern coffee grinders into the process, but some still use the traditional method. That method is to use a mukecha, a heavy wooden bowl into which the beans are placed. A wooden/metal stick called 'zenezena' is then used to crush the beans in a rhythmic up & down manner. (Think pestle and mortar.)

The crushed powder is then put into a traditional pot made out of clay called 'jebena' (J-be-na) with water and is boiled in the small open fire/coal furnace. Again the boiling coffee aroma fills the room,and the coffee is served in small cups called 'cini' (si-ni). Most usually these are the small Chinese tea cups found in most Chinese tea sets.

As you sip your first cup of coffee, you've gone through the full ceremonial process of the washing, the roasting, the grinding, and the brewing culminating with service and consumption. By now, the process is finished, but traditionally, Ethiopians will partake of at least a second serving and sometimes a third.

The second and third serving are important enough that each serving has a name, first serving is called "Abol;" second serving is "Huletegna"and third serving is "Bereka." The coffee is not ground for the second and third serving, a portion of coffee powder is left on purpose for these two ceremonies.

Ethiopian Coffee

Beans from Sumatra have always been highly prized not only because of their full flavor, but also because of their distinct appearance. Sumatran coffee beans, when green, are often asymmetrical in shape and have a deep aquamarine tint. Beginning in the 18th Century when the popularity of Sumatran coffee rose significantly, the unique shape and hue helped European merchants recognize authentic Sumatran coffee beans.

However, Sumatran coffee's distinct appearance isn't the only factor contributing to the coffee's uniqueness. The unusual drying techniques employed by Sumatran coffee farmers also contribute to the coffee's distinctiveness. These techniques involve an extended period of the coffee bean's exposure to the pulp of the berry after the berry has been harvested—a process which is believed to produce deeper tones in the brewed coffee.

Ethiopia produces some of the most unique and fascinating coffees in the world. The three main regions where Ethiopia coffee beans originate are Harrar, Ghimbi, and Sidamo (Yirgacheffe). Ethiopian Harrar coffee beans are grown on small farms in the eastern part of the country. They are dry-processed and are labeled as longberry (large), shortberry (smaller), or Mocha (peaberry). Ethiopian Harrar coffee can have a strong dry edge, winy to fruit like acidity, rich aroma, and a heavy body. In the best Harrar coffees, one can observe an intense aroma of blueberries or blackberries. Ethiopian Harrar coffee is often used in espresso blends to capture the fine aromatics in the crema.

If you are a coffee drinker, seek out an Ethiopian restaurant near you. Not only is dinner spectacular, (be ready to eat with your hands. Forks are optional!) and an experience, the coffee is a must!

Bon Apetit!