The Coffee Ceremony

Coffee Ceremony
My name is Jessica Guff and I’m a retired television producer, formerly with ABC News. I came to Ethiopia at the invitation of EngenderHealth Board member Rosemary Ellis, a former colleague and dear friend. I had been to Africa before, but never to Ethiopia. I had always wanted to see the first Christian country, home of the Ark of the Covenant, and a proud people and ancient culture. I am so glad to have traveled here with EngenderHealth and to have the opportunity to see firsthand the wonderful work they do to improve the lives and health of Ethiopia’s women and children. Here are some of my reflections from the past few days.

We have visited two clinics thus far, both government-run and both supported by EngenderHealth’s wonderful healthcare training. During our visits, we have literally heard babies born and have seen the newborns shortly after, but the thing that most impressed me was the graciousness of the staff at these clinics. Though they deal with life and death on a daily basis, they took time out of their busy days to brew and serve coffee to us, their visitors. Coffee is one of Ethiopia’s better known exports and to drink it here is quite sublime. The Coffee Ceremony itself is a ritual passed down from grandmothers to mothers and daughters.

According to EngenderHealth Ethiopia’s Country Representative, Dr. Yetnayet Asfaw, all Ethiopian girls in every community learn how to prepare the coffee at home and offer this ceremony whenever they wish to welcome a guest. At the two health clinics we visited, a traditionally dressed woman roasted the coffee beans over hot coals, wafting their delicious scent our way by fanning the smoke in our direction. She heated a clay pot over coals and ground coffee brewed within it. Once the water and coffee mixture boils, she waits until the grounds settle at the bottom of the pot before pouring it gently into individual coffee cups. Another woman had already spooned sugar into each cup and then served the cups on delicate saucers arranged on a tray.

We happily sipped our coffee and were then offered another treat: freshly popped popcorn! Frankly, the combination of coffee and popcorn had never occurred to me, but the popcorn, which is slightly sweet and deliciously salty at the same time—like Kettle Corn—is the perfect accompaniment to black, sweet freshly brewed Ethiopian coffee.

As the popcorn was passed to each guest to grab a handful from a tray, I asked Dr. Yet if corn was indigenous to Ethiopia. While corn is grown in the lowland areas of the country, it is not the popping kind. The kernels are imported and are a special treat, served to welcome guests. At an EngenderHealth supported health clinic in the countryside near Debre Berhan, the coffee was accompanied by a serving of large hunks of freshly made wheat bread, roasted over coal fires. The delicious coffee and warm welcome we received at each clinic are a testament to the graciousness and cordiality of the Ethiopian people, who seem truly grateful for the aid the United States government and people have given through organizations like USAID and NGOs like EngenderHealth.

The obvious pride that Dr. Yet takes in the success of her staff, and their work with the local healthcare workers in the clinics is well deserved. They are improving the lives of Ethiopia’s women and children one by one. Their work is not easy, but it is both satisfying and much needed. It was a pleasure to witness the good that they have done in this beautiful country, and to be welcomed by these wonderfully gracious, kind, and generous people in their traditional and charming way.

  • Jennifer Howe

    A beautiful report. It made me remember my times in Nigeria. Food and drink bring people together to enjoy the simple act of eating and each other’s company.
    Thank you. Look forward to many other posts!

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Photo credits: M. Tuschman/EngenderHealth; B. Porter/EngenderHealth; R.K. Ramaswamy/EngenderHealth; Staff/EngenderHealth.