“Bona” – Ethiopian coffee ceremony – Ethiopia

My first encounter with coffee was in Israel. In Morocco, the cradle of my birth, it was a commodity intended for the aroma and taste of cafes that sprang up in the provinces ruled by the French conquerors. I want to say that the French were the ones who introduced coffee to Morocco, until then the Moroccans drank tea that was shockingly sweet.

My first encounter with coffee in Israel will be defined as a not-so-pleasant experience. It was in my first days as an army flower, I want to say – a “rookie”. The taste of this coffee was roughly like tea mixed with sand from my granddaughter’s sandbox, so I preferred to drink the military tea in those days, which was terribly sweet.

I had a corrective experience for the military coffee when I started the field research among our Arab cousins, especially those who lived in Kidar tents, I was first exposed to the coffee beans and the cardamom spice. And I met the tree that bore the fruits of the coffee beans for the first time on a fascinating trip I did in Yemen and I did not know that the first coffee plantations planted in Arab countries were in Yemen.

More about coffee in the world
More about Ethiopia

First the coffee

At the dawn of history, coffee beans were recorded in the highlands of southern Ethiopia as a staple food. The beans were crushed until fine and the resulting powder was used to make bread.

Although it seems that a drink made from a coffee bush that grows wild in the highlands of Ethiopia was first sipped by monks.

The earliest cultivation of coffee was in Yemen and the Yemenis gave it the Arabic name Kahwa, which later also became a nickname for cafes.

Ethiopian Jews have traditionally adopted the national drink, and the Ethiopian coffee ceremony known as “Bona”.

The Ethiopians say that coffee beans were discovered in Ethiopia around 800 AD by a shepherd whose goats grazed among wild coffee bushes. The goats ate the red fruit and started frolicking, jumping and dancing. The shepherd who watched the strange sight, picked fruits and brought them to the monks who were secluded in the vicinity.

The monks who did not know the fruit, threw the fruit into the fire. The smoke that rose from the fire had a wonderful aroma. The monks took the roasted coffee beans out of the fire, crushed them and threw the crushed beans into boiling water.

They soon discovered that the drink had a special taste that stimulated their physical activity, allowed them to stay alert and conduct their prayers well into the night.

The Ethiopians say that coffee beans were discovered in Ethiopia around 800 AD by a shepherd whose goats grazed among wild coffee bushes. The goats ate the red fruit and started frolicking, jumping and dancing

the ceremony

Ethiopian coffee ceremony always falls to the lot of a young woman. This skilled hostess wears a traditional white cotton dress embroidered with colorful threads. Her skillful movements elevate the relatively simple act of roasting, grinding, cooking and pouring coffee to the level of art. Many children witness the coffee ceremony almost every day – up to three times a day.

In traditional households, often the child’s initial task will be to carefully carry a cup of coffee to each guest. Sometimes, the child will offer the first glass to the guest of honor. But traditionally, the first glass will be awarded to the elderly among the guests. This is one of the many ways in which Ethiopian culture connects and respects its elders.

It is customary to drink three cups in the ceremony (Abol, Tona, and Baraka), against the names of the three monks who traveled from Ethiopia to Bethlehem to pay their respects to the newborn baby Jesus. They gave his family members three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The three cups are supposed to honor the monks and their long journey during which they drank coffee to sustain themselves.

“Bona” has a special relevance for women, since it is a ceremony led by women that takes place every day and at any time.

The coffee ceremony is also an opportunity to share news, exchange gossip and discuss local politics – each ceremony can last from half an hour to several hours.

Although the strong coffee is served black, guests usually sweeten each cup with a few teaspoons of sugar before drinking. Some salt the glass, or add butter to it. However, there is one thing that guests must not do: refuse to drink the coffee.

On the ceremony table there will always be an association of Pigam – Tenadam in Amharic. Some season the coffee with figs that add a special aroma to it.

Before an Ethiopian coffee ceremony begins, the hostess smokes myrrh, frankincense, or other incense to purify the air of evil spirits. Afterwards, she offers her guests traditional snacks, which may include popcorn, peanuts or boiled barley.

Raw coffee beans are washed to remove their skin and then roasted until they darken and shine. Or then the hostess removes the coffee beans from the heat and waves the pan to create an aromatic atmosphere.

The roasted coffee beans are ground by hand using a mortar – “Mokcha” and leaves – “Zanza”, then the ground coffee is transferred to a “jabna”, a handmade clay pot with a flat bottom and a long, narrow neck, water is poured into it and it is placed on Heat source until boiling. The hostess skillfully pours the hot coffee into porcelain mugs.

Ethiopian coffee ceremony always falls to the lot of a young woman

Ethiopian coffee ceremony always falls to the lot of a young woman

Coffee is our bread

The Ethiopian proverb – Buna dabo naw. “Coffee is our bread”, illustrates the level of importance of coffee in the economy of Ethiopians.

When an Ethiopian says “I have no one to drink coffee with”, he means that he has no good friends he can trust. And this points to the huge social role that coffee consumption has in Ethiopia and the fact that people often gather over coffee for conversations about everyday life.

Like the shamans among the American Indians who use tobacco or other plants as a catalyst potion for the shamanic vision, Ethiopian coffee also serves as a trigger for strong revelations among traditional dream solvers and communicate with the spirit, who are mostly common in regions where the distress is great.

Ethiopia is the largest coffee producer in Africa and the fifth largest producer in the world and accounts for 4.2% of the world’s coffee production. The coffee industry in Ethiopia contributes up to 10 percent of Ethiopia’s GDP and provides livelihood to about fifteen million Ethiopian farmers all over the country.


Crispy Miracles He is an Israeli researcher and autodidact. He wrote many books and articles on the study of the Land of Israel and especially on the topic of its wild plants and their uses in human culture

Source: כתבות – מסע אחר by www.masa.co.il.

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