Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony in Phoenix: A Different Kind of After Dinner Drink
Abebech Ejersa pours coffee during a tradtional coffee ceremony
For most of us the ceremony of drinking coffee means brewing a pot of joe in the morning and sipping it over the daily news, or more likely as we run out the door on our way to work.
But in Ethiopia a coffee ceremony is one of the most integral parts of community life. The hours-long process takes the coffee bean through its full life cycle of preparation and the good news is, you can get the experience right here in the Valley.
See also: - Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony at Ethiopian Famous Restaurant and Coffee in Phoenix (Slideshow) - Ethiopian Famous Restaurant & Coffee's Oddball Location Belies the Treats Inside - Eight Best Coffeehouses in Greater Phoenix
At Ethiopian Famous Restaurant and Coffee you can catch the unforgettable aroma of roasting beans on Saturdays and Sundays between 5 and 8 p.m. The ritual can take anywhere between one to three hours and involves washing, roasting, smelling, brewing and enjoying three servings of traditionally prepared strong coffee.
To begin the ceremony, owner Abebech Ejersa dons traditional clothing as shown in the numerous posters depicting the ceremony that hang on the walls of the restaurant. Taking her place at the small alter-like space dedicated specifically to making coffee, she lights incense and sets out large plates of Ethiopian bread called injera and freshly roasted popcorn.
Then the fun begins. The process starts by washing and then roasting the coffee beans over a burner, right before guests' eyes. As the beans turn from a light green to the more familiar dark brown color, the room grows smoky and scented with the smell coffee. If for some reason you can't quite catch the scent, don't worry. Ejersa will make a circle of the restaurant, wafting the scent around and offering the pan to each of the tables to take in.
Traditionally, the beans would then be ground with a brick and mortar but for time and convenience Ejersa takes them in the back to be processed. When she returns they are placed inside a traditional pottery vessel called a jebena to be boiled...and boiled...and boiled.
See a video of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony on the next page.
This part of the process provides Ejersa ample time to chat with her many regular customers while everyone munches on bread and popcorn or finishes the last of their meal. In Ethiopia this is a crucial opportunity for community bonding, talking with neighbors and catching up with family. Ejersa explains that back in Ethiopia, one might set aside hours for the ceremony and would invite friends and family over to share the drinks.
"In America people talk over drinks," customer Kalkidan Kifleyesus explains. "[The ceremony is] like that. It's the community aspect of it."
When finished brewing, Ejersa brings each customer a tiny porcelain cup of the strong, bitter coffee. While most often enjoyed black, some require sugar to tone down the taste. The first pouring called abol will be the strongest, with the second and third, huletegna and bereka, becoming increasingly milder in flavor.
By the time you're ready to leave, you'll be feeling as comfortable as if you had been chatting with old friends and most likely, they'll be asking when you're coming back. The ceremony offers an insight into a different world and lifestyle where community building is engrained into shared, common cultural practices. It will change your view of "after dinner drinks" for life.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Phoenix dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.