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Coffee isn’t just Ethiopia’s national drink. It is had throughout the day but never
consumed alone. Unlike in cities like New York, London and LA where ‘coffee-to-go’
is almost a norm these days, in Ethiopia every meeting includes coffee and coffee
always requires company. It’s an important part of cultural life. Not surprising, in a
country that’s been drinking coffee for more than 10 centuries. Even today, Ethiopians
consume around half of their annual coffee crop, exporting the rest.

Nowhere is Ethiopia’s special relationship with coffee more apparent than its traditional
coffee ceremonies, or jebena buna. Savored among friends and family, and never
ordered on the go, this is coffee at its slowest, strongest and most sociable.
Buna tetu’ which translates to ‘come drink coffee’ is a famous communal tradition in
Ethiopia. Families will send children to knock on their neighbors homes to invite them to
come share some coffee. This bonding nature of Ethiopians is a key thread in the fabric
of its society.

Traditional way of drinking buna
The coffee brewing tradition in Ethiopia has many special elements. The ceremony
involves processing the raw, unwashed coffee beans into finished cups of brewed
coffee. Before this event, the dining room undergoes some preparatory rites for the
ritual. Firstly, the coffee cups are all arranged on a table along with snacks. Freshly cut
grass is displayed on both the floor and the table. And sweet incense is burnt as a way
to clarify the space.
Preparing a traditional cup of coffee or buna can take more than an hour and actually
drinking it can be longer, especially during festivities and celebrations. Drinking coffee is
a sensory experience in Ethiopia unlike any other. The process begins with washing and
roasting the beans on an iron pan called mitad. The person preparing the beans is
typically dressed in the traditional Ethiopian clothes called habesha kemis. When the
coffee beans are roasted, the mitad is taken to the guests so that they can inhale and
smell the roasting beans. This is a huge part of the Ethiopian Coffee sensory
Besides its beautiful presentation, the ceremony has a strong social and cultural
element to it. The three cups each have a distinctive role in the ritual. Abol, the first, is
the strongest. Cup number two, or tona, is milder after the second brewing. The final
cup, bereka, holds the most importance as it signifies a blessing. In some of Ethiopia’s
more traditional households, particularly in rural areas, the ceremony takes place at
least three times a day. In all, that’s a sleep-shattering nine cups of coffee.
First and foremost, though, the ceremony is an act of hospitality. For new
acquaintances, the ceremony is a welcoming and a form of respect. Among friends and
family, it’s a way of catching up or reconnecting. After three cups of Ethiopian coffee,
there’s never a shortage of conversation