Lab Report: Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

By Steve Dickerson

Most of the time, when I want coffee in the morning, it’s a pretty easy task. Grind the beans, boil the water, combine the beans and the water, wait, filter, and enjoy.

So when I learned we (Noble Coyote Coffee Roasters) planned an Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony at the roastery I wasn’t sure what to expect. Ceremonies tend to be pretty formal affairs and that is not at all what it looks like while I force myself to make coffee after emerging from my bed. How long is a ceremony? After all, when I make coffee I want the process done as quickly as possible.

When Rediet Begashaw arrived at the shop, I knew I was in for something different. She started by placing decorative ceramic cups and saucers, an electric stovetop, and a special pitcher called a jebena on the ground. While the ceremony that followed wasn’t formal, it was completely eye opening when she said the centuries-old spectacle takes place nearly every day.

She started by lighting incense, and then poured a handful of beans into a pot with a long handle and began roasting them over a stovetop roaster, shaking it every now and then like you would while making popcorn on the stovetop. To keep the beans moving, she said, ensures a more even roast.

Once the beans were roasted to a dark finish, Rediet ground the beans (traditionally done with a mortar and pestle, we elected for a more modern approach) and poured water over them allowing them to steep. She then transferred the coffee into the jebena to steep a second time. This allowed the beans to settle into the bottom of the clay pitcher before pouring.

The conventional wisdom around coffee is that it needs to rest after roasting. This time allows the beans to naturally offgas C02, permitting water to penetrate the bean when it’s time to actually make coffee. So I was a little apprehensive when Rediet handed me a cup of coffee that was literally as fresh as possible, and roasted darker than I would normally like. But the coffee she served me was terrific. Rich and spiced and completely satisfying.

I’m really glad we were able to bring a new perspective to the shop. So often we forget that coffee is a global product, and one with roots in many different cultures and traditions. I’m hopeful that we can bring in even more perspectives as we continue to teach our customers and ourselves about coffee.