Coffee and Culture

Coffee – the plant watered from the tears of God, Oromo myth

Most people are familiar with the Kaldi story, where the goatherd named Kaldi observed his goats getting excited after eating some red cherries off a bush. It is the story of the discovery of coffee and its beginnings in the lives of the few select at the time. Although many myths suround coffee, what most people do agree upon, is that coffee was discovered in the highlands of Kaffa, near Djimmah. In fact, there is a place called Makira, where coffee is supposed to be born and raised. Coffee, is since then an integral part of Ethiopian society, and culture. In fact, Ethiopia is the only country in the world that consumes 50% of its total production, and the only country with a word to describe coffee which is distinct and unique: BUNA!!! The way of preparing and serving coffee varies according the occasion and also the region of the country.

The Coffee Ball Legend -

They say that coffee spread from the West to the East of Ethiopia through coffee balls that were carried by slaves. Coffee balls are made from ripe coffee berries which are then ground by stone mortar and mixed with butter and formed into small balls. These balls are rich in caffeine, sugar, fat and protein. Most probably it was a power food used by laborers, slaves, and warriors to keep them alert in the battle field from a thousand years back.

Traditional Coffee Ceremony

Just like Japan and the famous tea ceremony, Ethiopia offers a spectacle unique to the visitor by preparing and serving coffee in a festive kind of manner;

Incense burns, and grass is spread along the floor. The lady of the house, sits in front of her prepared utensils, facing her guests.

The coffee is roasted in a flat iron pan, after it has been washed to be cleaned from the husks and the dust. Once the brown, desired colour is achieved, the host blows he smoke emanating from the beans to her guests as the smell evokes the desire to drink and calls upon the spirits of peace.

Coffee is then ground in a wooden mortar, and slowly stirred into a clay pot called JEBENA.

This famous ceremony, that all guests and Ethiopians alike cherish, is a reminiscence of the forest, its spirits, and the gathering of the family and the curing of the sick. Coffee is a magical drink, and as so should be drank in a magical way.

Bunakela & Qori

A mix of coffee husks, and oils or animal fats together with wheat or barley, or cheakpeas. Used mainly by the hunters and travellers of Borena and Gedio zone, it provides a highly nutritious food preferred even from bread. It was consumed mostly by the people that would travel long distances during the day, a kind of old type of POWER DRINK Or POWER FOOD

Bunakela is also served as a holy food during the birth of the first child in Harar, and it is a food with spiritual significance as it tends to be prepared on special family and cultural occasions.

Qori is prepared from roasted coffee beans, barley and butter and served as a snack during the coffee ceremony.


In Kaficho and Shakicho zones where coffee was first domesticated, fresh coffee leaf buds are collected from wild coffee plants and are then brewed and spiced with pepper and ginger, cardamom and spice. This warm and spicy drink, is a favorite morning tea, and also used as a medicine for ailing people. It is also believed to prevent malaria.

Chamo is also a drink very popular in Wellega



A tea kind of a drink, drank mainly by the farmers of Harargue, Hoja is another power drink, as it is involves roasting slightly the husk of dried cherries, mixing them with milk and honey or salt.

It has been used as an alternative to coffee, by farmers that did not have the means to buy their own coffee, and they have to export or sell any that they produce.

Till today, when farmers gather together to plow each others land, they share HOJA together


A special infusion, prepared with roasted coffee leaves and spices like ginger and cinnamon.

Kutti, is not just any coffee leaf roasted. Farmers collect meticulously the leaves, after the coffee has been handpicked, and they choose leaves that have turned slightly yellowish. They further dry them, and when they are about to use them, they roast them in a dry pan, and then once water has been boiled they add them to the boiled water and drink it like tea, mixed with spices again.

Interesting Facts about Ethiopia

Here are some facts about Ethiopian coffee:

  • 95% of Ethiopian coffee is produced by over 2 million smallholder farmers
  • About half of the coffee produced is for domestic consumption
  • It has the biggest cattle population in Africa.
  • About 25% of the population is directly or indirectly involved in the coffee industry
  • Coffee is Ethiopia’s #1 export
  • Almost 2% of the world’s coffee comes from Ethiopia
  • About half of the coffee is exported to Europe, 1/4 to Asia and the rest to North America

1.  Ethiopia is where coffee was first discovered

They say that in the 8th or 9th century a goat herder named Kaldi discovered coffee after noticing his goats getting very frisky from nibbling red berries off some wild shrubs. He chewed some himself and enjoyed the buzz. Next someone (possibly monks) tossed some coffee berries in a fire and loved the scent. Slowly coffee as we know it today began to be drunk. Arab traders took the beans home and by the 15th century coffee had made its way to Europe and cafe society was born.

2.  The “coffee ceremony” is core to Ethiopian culture and hospitality

It is unclear how or when it originated, but the coffee ceremony is a strong cultural tradition throughout Ethiopia. Important events are opened with a coffee ceremony. As well, people traditionally gather together over coffee to just enjoy conversation on a regular basis. Cafes will have an ongoing ceremony where one can enjoy a small cup any time.

3.  No Starbucks here but Kaldi’s coffee shops around in Addis Ababa

4.  In 2008 the Ethiopia commodities market began trading in coffee

For four decades coffee had been sold at auction but for the last four years, since 2008, coffee has been traded on the commodities exchange (ECX). While the new system seems to still have some kinks to iron out, it is making progress, especially in the more lucrative specialty coffee markets that have the greatest potential to increase profits for the farmers.

The above information comes from Spiderwebsunite

Some other things few people know:

a) Taxis in Ethiopia, especially in Addis are Blue and White in color. They are called BLUE DONKEYS. But very few people remember that they are are so colored, to honour a Greek Delegation that came to visit the Emperor Haile Selassie, during his reign.

b) The Word "RASTAFARI", it is actually the name of the Emperor Haile Silasie, who  was called  Taferi Mekonnen Wudesa. He was supposed to be the Black Messiah, people in Jamaica, under the preaching of Marcus Gravey believed he would come to liberate them.

c) The word "Ethiopia"- otherwise written as "AETHIOPIA", first appeared in the ancient World, in reference to the Upper Nile, and mentioned repeatedly by Homer (8C BC). Herodotus, is the first westerner to describe "Aethiopia" as the land below Egypt, where people had "Aithia Opsi"- ie had faces "burnt by the sun". It is the country farthest of "Libya"(ie: Africa), where there is gold, huge elephants, wild trees, ebony and men are taller and handsomer and longer lived than anywhere else.

d) Ethiopia is a country that although traditionally has been Christian, Muslim populations around the world, venerate, and respect, as the first persecuted Muslims that escaped the Quraysh tribe, found shelter under the protection of the then ruler of Axum, a Christian King. That was the first "HIJRAH"-migration recorded.

e) Armenians have played a very significant role in the development of arts, and jewelry as well as shoe making in Ethiopia. They have been recorded in Ethiopia as early as the 13th century but a real number of a community was formed in the 1900s. The Crowning Crowns of King Yohanes, and Menelik, were made by the famed Dikran Ebeyan. The Filigree work on gold and silver, is the result of the armenian influence and skill transmitted to the local goldsmiths.  Even the Shoe Factory, and Shoe making, was started by Armenians, and the remains of a great family, is the Ambassa Shoes, that started as Darmar Shoes.


Addis Abeba

Phone: +251-116455999 | +251-116456008
Fax: +251-116456012
Bole K/Ketema, K:14, House Number: NEW
Dire Dawa
Phone: +251-25113453 | +251-25113971