Source: http://afkinsider.com, by Dana Sanchez
Sign outside LA’s Messob Restaurant shows traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Photo: Maral Tavitian/LAWeekly
Berhanu Asfaw is the owner of Messob Restaurant on Fairfax Avenue in the Little Ethiopia district of Los Angeles, where he tries to offer Ethiopian immigrants a taste of home with a traditional coffee ceremony.
In his home city of Addis Ababa, neighbors meet together every day over coffee, Asfaw said in an LAWeekly story by Maral Tavitian.
When Asfaw immigrated to the U.S. in 1981, he said he was surprised by the grab-and-go approach to coffee consumption. Coffee is a tool for social engagement, best savored slowly in the company of good friends and lively conversation, he said.
“Here, people just go to Starbucks, different places, to pick up a cup of coffee,” Asfaw said. “In Ethiopia, it doesn’t matter what kind of fast-paced life you have. You really have to make time for coffee in the traditional way.”
Starbucks is often a target for people who love to hate big business, but it has helped revolutionize the U.S. coffee scene and actually paved the way for smaller businesses to flourish, TheGuardian reported in May.
“I think (Starbucks) expanded people’s idea of coffee, that coffee could be decadent, luxurious; something that’s a treat,” said Sarina Prabasi, owner of Buunni, an Ethiopian coffee shop in New York City.
Ethiopian coffee houses have been popping up across the country, according to TheGuardian.
Nearly all of the restaurants in Little Ethiopia on a block of Los Angeles’ Fairfax Avenue offer a traditional coffee ceremony. The area has been a hub of cultural and economic activity for Ethiopians since the early 1990s, according to LAWeekly. In 2002, the L.A. City Council approved the formal designation of the ethnic enclave.
The coffee ceremony plays more than just a social role in Ethiopian society. It’s also a source of pride in the country’s history. A popular legend is that a goatherd discovered coffee berries on an Ethiopian hillside thousands of years ago. They still grow wild there. The traditional coffee ceremony developed as a way to honor the crop, Asfaw told LAWeekly.
Here’s how an Ethiopian coffee ceremony works in Ethiopia, according to Epicurean.com:
The coffee ceremony takes place three times a day — morning, noon and evening. If you’re invited into a home in Ethiopia, etiquette requires you to drink at least three cups. The third round bestows a blessing. The ceremony is the main social event in the village and a time to discuss the community, politics, life and who did what with who.
Coffee in Ethiopia is generally served with sugar (or in the countryside, salt) but no milk. The recipient is supposed to praise its flavor and preparation.
The beans are roasted while you wait, so allow lots of time. The smell mingles with the scent of incense that is burned during the ceremony. Usually a woman conducts the ceremony, according to Epicurean.com. She washes the beans, shakes the husks away, and when they turn black, grinds them with pestle and a long-handled mortar. The ground coffee is stirred in a black clay coffee pot or jebena, then strained several times. The youngest child is sent out to announce that coffee is served. The oldest in the room is served first and then the others, connecting all the generations. Coffee is served in tiny cups to family, friends and neighbors who have waited and watched. The woman pours a thin stream of coffee into each little cup from a height of one foot without any interruption — doing it right requires years of practice.
In the mid 1990s, the U.S. imported an average of $24 million of Ethiopian coffee beans. That increased to $93 million by 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, TheGuardian reported.
“Starbucks might have led the way, but now just about every coffee store selling whole bean coffee will have an Ethiopian,” said Dan Cox, president and owner of Coffee Analysts in Burlington, Vermont, in a Guardian interview.
Ethiopia is the only coffee-producing country that consumes more coffee than it exports. The government sells the best coffee more cheaply overseas than at home because Ethiopia needs foreign currency, TheGuardian reports.