Street Vendors Keeping Ethiopian Traditional Coffee Ceremony Alive

By Seble Teweldebirhan


Ethiopian Coffee CeremonyAddis Ababa, October 18, 2011 ( - Coffee ceremony, for Ethiopians, has several meanings. Coffee, on top of its considerable effect on the overall economy of the country, is a sign of celebration, holidays, gathering, and greeting of guests. Many people are addicted not only to the coffee itself, but also for the long and beautiful ceremony which usually integrate the small talks, the hot discussions, the gossip and sometimes the foods associated with it.


Though not practiced these days as it used to, coffee ceremony was not something people do alone in a family. Whenever there is a ceremony, the neighbors are invited to participate. That was in fact the beauty of the ritual, which gave societies a chance to communicate and share ideas, discuss what is going on around them, in their country and in the world. Though there were always people who condemn this culture saying that there is too much time wasted in a coffee ceremony and the discussions are mostly irrelevant gossips that sometimes hurt the society, it is hard to deny the fact that the majority of Ethiopians enjoy the event. As children, many of us probably had a memory of being sent to the neighbor’s house to invite them for a coffee saying “Buna Tetu” and share the excitement of the gathering.


Nowadays, especially in the capital Addis Ababa and in some regional cities, this lengthy and colorful ceremony is fading out from day-to-day household activities. For this, many raise several reasons. First and most, today’s generation claim constraint of time to perform this ceremony on everyday basis. Of course, the ceremony itself probably takes two or more hours to be completed. The coffee goes through its full preparation process during the ceremony, which makes it really time consuming. Ethiopians even like it when this process is slower, since the ceremony is meant to give the guests and the gathering a time to talk and spend some quality time together. It also includes three rounds of coffee serving, which actually forces people to drink at least three cups of coffee during this time. Trying to leave before the ceremony is finished is considered some sort of lack in ethics or may be disrespect depending on the relationship one has with the host. This long ceremony though does not seem to go well with today’s generation rushing life style.


Individualism, which is now becoming a dominant life style in the capital cities, also has its own contribution, especially making the ceremony separate from neighborhood gathering occasion. Even those who keep performing the traditional ceremony in their households, keep the event in their homes probably share it with only family members only.


The economy also takes a huge blame for the loss of people’s appetite to share the coffee ceremony with all the neighbors almost every day. Especially with its current price, which is 100-120 birr per kilo, people have a hard time affording coffee even for themselves. Under these circumstances, inviting the entire neighborhood or even a few close friends might be a luxury many people cannot afford anymore.


The gossip and conflicts associated to it and many other reasons take their split for the decline of this traditional practice. Some people claim that they do not participate in the coffee ceremony anymore because they are tired of all the gossip and ‘talking behind people’s back’ that takes place in the coffee ceremony. As beautiful as the ceremony might be, these people argue that those who sit and spend most of their day in a coffee ceremony waste too much energy on gossips and even create conflicts between families, neighbors and friends.


Except for the holidays, for whatever reason, traditional coffee ceremony was about disappear from the day-to-day modern life style of the society if it was not for the new business in town that almost brought the spirit again. Today, in most corner of Addis Ababa you get to see a coffee ceremony with all its fanfare and elegance. The small houses usually put up a sign saying ‘Buna Tetu” or ‘come and drink coffee’ and are busy almost the whole day making traditional coffee.


With a gigantic Jebena (traditional pot used by Ethiopians to make coffee), big wooden Rekebot, Yebuna Kurse mostly popcorn, and with a smiley beautiful Ethiopian women with traditional clothes, these houses present the whole package of the original cultural ceremony. The spirit of the service seems to bring the youth on board with a coffee ceremony. The usually ‘macchiato’ after lunch, which is common for many people who spend their day at work is now becoming ‘Yejebena Buna’. Today, with almost the same spirit as before, young people attend the ceremony in groups probably arguing the economy or politics or may be gossiping about their colleagues or bosses.


Of course, there are as many rounds of coffee as the customers want in these houses. And mostly, the customers are good with one cap (Cini) of coffee and nobody bothers when they leave whenever they wish. “I just love the spirit here,” said Bruck. He was drinking coffee in one of the coffee houses around Ambassador Theater. About five of his colleagues were sitting in the traditional short wood chair ‘Berchuma” eating popcorn and drinking coffee. The spirit has the same as the household ceremony since Bruck and his friends often chat with the Coffee maker telling her jokes and including her in their discussions. 


These traditional ceremonies, just like it did to the neighborhoods, create a small gathering of colleagues, friends and families. Athough people do not spend as much time as they might have spent in the household ceremonies, they seem to be pleased and enjoy the coffee with its full cultural appearance.


For the women who are involved in the traditional coffee making, these new business are not disappointing them. Especially after launch, they have many customers, sometimes more than they can handle. “People do love the tradition. However, I do not think that is the only reason they come around. The coffee is good. We make it in traditional way and we use good coffee unlike the cafeterias that mix it with other cereals,” said Zafua who owns a coffee house around Hayahulet Mazoria.


Understanding the attraction for the traditional coffee ceremony by customers, most restaurants are also making traditional coffee part of their daily beverage. It is also becoming common to witness girls who carry traditionally-made coffee around selling to the passengers or those who wait for taxis or buses.


Though the price of coffee has gone up, just like other commodities in the country, these new coffee houses will definitely take the credit for keeping the tradition alive on everyday basis and provide traditional coffee with reasonable price for those who really anjoy it.


Seble Teweldebirhan



Seble Teweldebirhan is Addis Ababa based Reporter for She can be reached by sending email through this form.




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