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The first drinkers of coffee

ETHIOPIA - The first drinkers of coffee ETHIOPIA The first drinkers of coffee

Coffea Arabica actually originated in Ethiopia, and not Brazil as is often thought. The Ethiopians were the first to discover coffee. There are many myths and legends about its discovery: the best-known is the story of a young shepherd, Kaldi, who realised that coffee had regenerating properties after watching his goats nibbling the ripe berries of the coffee plant.


The direct descendants of the first coffee-drinkers were the Oromo people, a tribe who have lived in the Kaffa region for about 500 years. The Oromo still prepare coffee as they once did, using all the edible parts of the plant: the leaves are used to make an infusion known as kuti, the husks to make hoja, a brew which is diluted with milk, while the beans are lightly roasted to produce bunna qela, an energy-rich snack containing butter and salt, with a strong symbolic meaning.


In other parts of the country, buna is a well-known ritual used to prepare black coffee. The coffee is roasted by hand, ground in a mortar, and finally infused in a jebena, the typical Ethiopian terracotta.



Buna - 
Ethiopian coffee
In the Harar region, the Oromo, Larari, Amara and Somali groups ceremonially prepare coffee at home using the jebena. The coffee can also be flavoured with black cardamom. In other areas of the country, different spices are used, such as ginger root in the Kaffa region and cinnamon along the Sudanese border. Several Muslim communities from the Kaffa region prefer to add salt to their coffee instead of sugar, or they melt a teaspoon of butter in their cups.


Ingredients for jebena for 10 people:

  • 1 litre of water (35 fl oz)
  • 16 teaspoons of Arabica coffee
  • ½ teaspoon of black cardamom seeds (optional)
  • sugar to taste


Rinse the green coffee beans and drain well. In a pot or on a griddle, roast them gently over a medium flame and continue to stir to ensure even roasting.
When the beans are golden brown, put them in a terracotta bowl, set them aside to cool, and then crush them using a grinder or traditional wooden mortar. In the meantime, pour water into the jebena and set it on the burner or, if possible, on hot charcoal.
When the water starts to boil, gradually add the pulverised coffee to the jebena. Add ground spices if desired and swirl the receptacle to blend the brew. Set aside for at least 5 minutes, up to a maximum of 15 minutes to make more concentrated coffee. Filter the brew into ceramic cups and serve.

Kuti - Steeped coffee leaves
This beverage is widespread in the Harar region among the Oromo and Somali tribes. It is prepared with Coffea arabica leaves that have been picked from the tree and left in the sun to dry (amertassa). In the Kaffa region, fallen leaves are used to prepare this beverage.


  • 1 litre (35 fl oz) of water or milk, or both in equal amounts
  • 2 handfuls of Arabica coffee leaves
  • Sugar or salt, to taste

Lightly roast the leaves over the flame. Chop them coarsely with finger tips. Boil the water separately in a large metal teapot. Add the leaves and continue to boil over a medium flame for about 15 minutes. Add sugar to taste and serve in teacups.

Hoja - Arabica skin ‘coffee’
This is the bracing drink that coffee growers, farmers and shepherds from the Harar region take to the fields with them to quench their thirst as they chew chat leaves.


  • 1 litre (35 fl oz) of water
  • 4 handfuls of coffee skins
  • 250 ml (8.8 fl oz) milk

Rinse the coffee skins under running water. Squeeze well and roast lightly on a hot griddle. Boil the water separately in a small saucepan. Add the roasted skins and let them boil over a medium flame for 15 minutes. Add the milk to the brew and set aside for 5 minutes. Filter and serve hot.

Bunna qela - Coffee roasted with butter and salt
The coffee, roasted with melted butter and flavoured with a blend of many spices (cardamom, garlic, cumin, turmeric, fenugreek, basil, ginger, cloves, long pepper and other local aromatic herbs). The preparation is served as an appetiser in certain regions, or as a replacement for coffee when it cannot be prepared in the traditional way.


  • 450 g (15.9 oz) of Arabica beans
  • 450 g (15.9 oz) spiced butter
  • salt to taste

Roast the green coffee beans on a metal griddle over moderate heat, taking care not to burn them and ensure even roasting. Then mix the still-hot beans with the spiced butter and salt, and store them in a sealed container.

Yebunna Tejj - Honey wine flavoured with coffee
Tejj is a moderately alcoholic beverage (6-9 % vol.) commonly drunk by Orthodox communities on feast days and particularly at weddings. Very popular and more expensive than ordinary beer, it is usually made from high-quality honey (Tigre type). There are various regional recipes, but here is a special one, flavoured with coffee.


  • 360 g (12.6 oz) of Gesho (Rhamnus Phinoides) leaves
  • 1 litre (35 fl oz) of pure honey
  • 3.8 litre (134 fl oz) of water
  • 450 g (15.9 oz) coffee beans

In a large bowl, mix the honey with water, then place the mixture into a glass or steel container and leave in a warm place for three days to allow fermentation. Take 1.5 litres (52 fl oz) of the mixture, and boil over a moderate heat for 15 minutes, together with the gesho. Strain, and leave the concoction to cool. Then add it, together with the leaves, to the left-over honey and water mixture. Leave to ferment for another 5 days. When the mixture begins to ferment, remove the gesho with a strainer, and continue the fermentation process for another 24 hours.
Then roast the coffee beans, cool and finely slice them, before adding to the beverage after placing them in a piece of cotton gauze, so that their powder is contained. Leave for 15-20 days in an airtight container, to allow the flavours to develop. At this point the drink can be bottled.