A Mindful Living Coffee Ceremony in Ethiopia by Hannah Gorman

 

Hannah is a rising junior from Amherst College majoring in Anthropology and French. She is interning with me at Harvard School of Public Health this summer.

Coffee has always kept my house running. For as long as I can remember, my parents could not be found without a morning cup of coffee in hand before work. I never thought twice about it. Like gas in the car or food on the table, things just ran smoother when coffee was involved. It was a household necessity. I never considered drinking coffee, however, until I arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a three month stay during my gap year after high school.

My first weeks in Ethiopia were a blur of unfamiliar words and customs, but one thing that immediately stood out to me was the coffee ceremony. In Ethiopian culture, lunch is followed by the ritual preparation of coffee. In sharp contrast to the sleek buttons and precise timer of my parents’ coffee-maker at home, the coffee ceremony is a long, methodical process. After the green coffee beans have been soaked in water, everyone gathers around a small charcoal stove as the beans are roasted. Whoever is preparing the coffee passes the pan around the circle, fanning the rich-scented smoke for everyone to enjoy. The beans are ground with a mortar and pestle and then added to an intricately carved clay coffee pot full of water over the stove. The water and coffee grounds are brought to boil and the coffee is served with copious amounts of sugar in little cups.

The coffee is always wonderfully fresh and tasty, but the ceremony is about much more than the coffee itself. The ceremony is the ultimate symbol of community in Ethiopian culture. For a couple of hours in the middle of the day, everything shuts down so that people can gather and take part in this ritual together. Even before I spoke a word of Amharic, I could sit for hours and enjoy the chatter of my coworkers. Other days, we would sit in total silence, listening to the crackling of the beans over the charcoal, or smelling the incense burned before the ceremony to cleanse our pallets. With a simple cup of coffee I was welcomed into a community. No one was worrying about things they had to do, or rushing off to their next engagement. The sweet, smoky taste of the coffee seemed to anchor us all: reminding us how important it was to stop for a moment, be fully present, and enjoy each other’s company.

If you want to know what a culture values, one thing you look at is what it spends time on. One of the most striking aspects of Ethiopian culture for me was the strong sense of community and hospitality. The Ethiopian coffee ceremony exemplifies those two values. The ceremony cannot be performed quickly, and no one I met in Ethiopia would want to change that. It is important not to underestimate a moment of contemplation over a cup of coffee; a time where to-do lists and agendas fall away, and we can simply be present.

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