My VSO adventures

Tag Archives: coffee ceremony

With half an eye on coming home to the UK in a little over a month my attention last weekend was split between two events.
Here in Ethiopia all of the VSO Axum volunteers took a trip to Adigrat to visit Helen and Ashley, two of the VSO volunteers there. We got the opportunity to see the paediatric ward there, which is an old army barracks. There is a lot of space compared to Axum hospital and they’re also creating a neonatal unit. I am definitely jealous of the space that they have – all of our unit could fit into one of the rooms they have! The building work is completed for them (ours is still ongoing!) and they had done final cleaning that day. As in Axum there are still some outstanding issues that need to be sorted with the building before equipment can be moved in and the unit start to function. After looking around there was a coffee ceremony for Ashley as she is completing her placement and heading back to the UK. Lots of speeches were given, including a very complimentary one from the hospital CEO, and a beautiful cultural dress was given to her as a present. After the visit to the hospital we had a relaxed weekend with a farewell meal for Ashley combined with an early birthday meal for Helen on Saturday at the local cultural restaurant. We got the Sunday lunchtime minibus back to Axum with lots of twists and turns, unscheduled stops and passengers vomiting it was an enjoyable journey as always!

Leaving meal for Ashley & birthday meal for Helen at the cultural restaurant

Leaving meal for Ashley & birthday meal for Helen at the cultural restaurant

Back in the UK though I was missing out on all the fun of the Tour de France in Yorkshire. The Tour passed by the bottom of my parent’s street on the Sunday so there was a family party weekend at their house The ‘Hello Hello’ theme, yellow bikes and bunting created a party atmosphere. I got lots of updates and photos of all the action that included late night antics after a gig in Holmfirth I understand 🙂 I really missed being part of the fun there as well as seeing everyone after being here in Ethiopia for a year.
'Hello Hello' theme for the Tour de France weekend in Yorkshire

‘Hello Hello’ theme for the Tour de France weekend in Yorkshire

I’m looking forward to heading back to the UK to take part in all the celebrations and fun that happen with family and friends back home. At the same time I will miss all my friends in Ethiopia and the fun and celebrations we have had here.


Coffee is such an essential part of life here that after 8 ½ months I really couldn’t go any longer without writing about it. Coffee is found in many different forms – unroasted beans, roasted beans, ground coffee, flavoured chewing gum, and incense sticks to name a few! The majority of coffee or ‘bunna’ is drunk black from small cups after being prepared in the traditional way.
It is claimed that the origin of coffee is in Ethiopia with legend saying a goat herder from Kaffa (where coffee grows wild) discovered the berries after his goats became excited following eating it. He then took the berries to the monks who threw the beans on the fire calling them the devil’s work. Following smelling the aroma of the roasting beans though they crushed the beans and distilled them in boiling water thus creating coffee. This gave them renewed energy for their holy devotions and the tradition continued.
The coffee ceremony is a routine part of daily life as well as part of all celebrations. It is a way to entertain friends and family, welcome people and celebrate. Only women know how to perform the coffee ceremony. The men don’t have the skill and are often found getting their coffee fix at pop up coffee stalls by the side of the road. You need to make sure that you leave some time free for the full ceremony though as it can take an hour or more to complete.
For the complete ceremony the ceremonial apparatus is arranged on a bed of long scented grasses. First the green coffee beans are roasted over a charcoal fire.
Once they have obtained the colour needed the pan is brought round for everyone to take some of the coffee scented smoke. The beans are placed into a pestle then and pounded by hand into the ground powder (the nurses on the paediatric ward use the modern technology of a food blender for this part!).
The water is placed on the stove to start heating in the traditional coffee pot (jebena) on top of the charcoal. Once it has started to warm the coffee is added. The coffee pots all have a similar design but there are differences in the style in different regions in Ethiopia.
The coffee is allowed to boil over a few times and then returned to the pot before the first cup (awel) is severed. (You need to be quick to say if you want it without sugar as this is added as a standard – sometimes up to 3 spoons into the very small cup.) More water is added to the pot again and it is put onto boil while everyone drinks. The second cup served is called the ‘tona’. Following more boiling the final cup (bereka) is served. This is the mildest cup and least bitter. Chatting, dancing and popcorn or bread accompanies the coffee. Frankincense is also burnt on the charcoal to add to the atmosphere. Once the third cup is completed it is time to go back to the tasks of the day.
And yes, for all those I know at home, I do drink a lot of coffee here in Ethiopia! It’s impossible to refuse and I’m getting to like the taste (although that may be due to the sugar ;))