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The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony In America

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Participating in an Ethiopian coffee ceremony is like standing in the front row of a live concert—but the band is the beverage itself. The nearly two-hour event draws your full attention, encompasses all your senses, and shuts out the outside world for the duration. It’s the coffee tradition of a place whose history with the drink goes back at least five times as long as it does in the US.


Ages before Starbucks was a household name, before coffee replaced tea as the drink of choice in America, Ethiopia brewed a culture of ritual around the roasting, steeping, and drinking of coffee. Kaldi, the young goat herder who, legend holds, discovered coffee after watching his goats frolic energetically following a snack on the fruit of a coffee shrub, is depicted on the country’s one Birr note (worth about a nickel). It is a part of the history, the culture, the economy, and, with its ceremony, the daily life of Ethiopia. With a barista in a uniform of flowing white cotton and the scents of frankincense and myrrh mingling with that of freshly roasted coffee, the multi-hour ritual might seem like a special occasion to an outsider. But in coffee’s native home, it’s simply the everyday manner of drinking it.

“The way we roast the beans, grind them in front of you,” explains restaurateur Tensay Assress of Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles, “this is the way to really try coffee the way it’s supposed to taste, the original bean, no machines involved. If someone is a coffee lover, this is the way to go about it.”

Ethiopian immigrants and their descendants in the United States have long kept up the tradition in their own homes, but many Ethiopian cafes and restaurants are pushing to introduce the tradition to new audiences. “It is our culture,” explains Assress, “in each household, every day. And we want to share that, the tradition and the culture.”