The First Coffee Drinkers

Coffea Arabica is originally found in Ethiopia and not Brazil, as is commonly thought. Ethiopians are real coffee connoisseurs. There are many legends about its origins: the most frequently told story is that of shepherd Kaldi, who learned about the invigorating properties of coffee by observing goats that had grazed on the plant’s ripe cherries. The direct descendants of the first coffee drinkers are now the Oromo, a tribe that has lived in the region of Kaffa for about 500 years. The Oromo continue to prepare coffee in the traditional way, using all the edible parts of the plant: the leaves in an infusion called kuti, the skins in the hoja (a decoction diluted with milk), and lightly roasted beans in the bunna qela, an energy snack with a deep symbolic meaning that also contains butter and salt. In other parts of the country, buna is the traditional rite for preparing black coffee, which starts with home-roasted beans ground in a mortar and finally brewed in the jebena, a typical Ethiopian clay coffee pot.

The recipes
Ethiopian coffee

In the Harar region, among Oromo, Larari, Amhara and Somali ethnicities, the coffee is prepared in homes in a ritual way using the jebena and then flavoured to taste with black cardamom pods. Other areas of the country use other spices, such as ginger roots in the Kaffa region, or cinnamon along the border with Sudan. Some Muslim communities in the Kaffa region prefer to add salt to their coffee instead of sugar or to dissolve a teaspoon of butter into the cup.

1 litre of water
16 heaped teaspoons of arabica coffee
half a teaspoon of black cardamom seeds (optional)
sugar to taste

Wash the green coffee beans quickly and carefully drain all the water. Toast them gently over a moderate flame in a saucepan or on a metal griddle, turning them continuously to ensure an even and not too strong a roast. When the beans have a nice brown colour, pour them into a terracotta bowl, let them cool then grind them with a grinder or a traditional wooden mortar. Meanwhile, pour the water into the jebena and place it on the fireplace or, better, on hot charcoal embers. When the water starts to boil, pour the coffee powder several times into the jebena, add the chopped spices and, with a rotating movement, shake the coffee maker to stir the brew. Allow it to rest for 5 to 15 minutes, to obtain a more concentrated coffee, and serve by filtering the infusion into ceramic espresso cups.

Decoction of coffee leaves

A drink spread in the Harar region among the Oromo and Somali ethnic tribes, prepared using Coffea arabica leaves picked from the tree and allowed to dry in the sun (amertassa). In the region of Kaffa the same infusion is prepared by using the dry leaves that have spontaneously fallen from the tree.

1 litre of water or milk, or a 50/50 mixture of both
2 handfuls of Coffea arabica leaves
Sugar or salt, to taste

Lightly toast the leaves on the flame. Crumble them coarsely with the fingertips. Separately, boil the water in a large metal teapot, add the leaves and simmer for about 15 minutes over medium heat. Add sugar to taste and serve in tea cups.