Writer pours her heart into sharing Ethiopians’ coffee-drinking custom

December 7, 2012

For the millions of Americans who drink coffee every day, grabbing a cup is usually a simple affair. But for the 200,000 Ethiopians who make the Washington area home, coffee is more than just a morning or afternoon pick-me-up: In their homeland, drinking coffee is close to a sacred ritual.

Hoping to explain to Americans how important the coffee-drinking experience is for Ethiopians, local writer Metasebia Yoseph is working on a book titled “From Ethiopia with Love,” which will introduce the warm, family-oriented ceremony that traditionally goes into making, serving and enjoying of coffee in that country.

Yoseph, who is a director for the Ethiopian Cultural Development Corp., a nonprofit organization, is embarking on a three-month journey through Ethiopia to research its coffee-producing regions. She is the creator of cultureofcoffee.com, part blog, part funding engine for her research. In her eyes, coffee is a cultural good, and as Ethiopia becomes more westernized, and the habit of rushing to get and drink coffee becomes more prevalent, the ceremony becomes more special, more sacred. In her words, here’s why:

Ethiopia [is] really culturally diverse . . . and coffee is the one cultural tradition that everyone shares. It’s the one thing that unites us all. Children start drinking coffee as young as 7 in some places. So you’re constantly surrounded by the coffee ceremony and the coffee tradition.


Metasebia Yoseph, founder of A Culture of Coffee" (Delece Smith-Barrow)

We’re all familiar [in America] with that kind of instant, on-the-go coffee. Taking it on the go, and ‘Get my fix.’ That’s kind of the western side of the coffee. In Ethi­o­pia, it’s a slow coffee ceremony. It’s slow coffee theater. The host will consecrate an area. Sprinkle it with, like, flowers and leaves and foliage. Incense is lighted. Frankincense is lighted. So it’s very sensory.

The beans are washed. They’re roasted right in front of you. And the sound. So when you hear a crackle, you know ‘Okay, that’s a start.’ Set up a little, small table and the mini cups. Pour it into the brewer, which is a traditional coffeepot. And the fire. Everything is right there in front of you. It’s not like some machine. It seems primitive, but there’s an elegance to it as well. She’ll grind it, pour it, brew it. She serves everybody. The eldest first, and then the youngest last.

The young and well-to-do want to be out and about at cafes and get their coffee to go, because that’s the kind of fashionable thing. But now the coffee ceremony has moved into this kind of . . . special thing, so it’s something you bring out on Sunday morning when you go and visit family, or definitely on the holidays.

In Africa as a whole, culture is the one source that all the countries are uniquely abundant in, but no one’s harnessing it. No one’s utilizing it as a tool for development. My larger larger goal is to start a cultural development nonprofit to kind of stimulate that.

Delece Smith-Barrow

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