Even though I have only been living here for just over two months (has it really been that long already?), there is one piece of Ethiopian culture I think I have a pretty good grasp on: The Bunna Ceremony.
Legend has it that coffee was discovered in Ethiopia, in the south west of the country. True or not, coffee certainly has a large place in the culture here. I’m not talking “Ethiopian Roasts” from Starbucks, I mean the traditional coffee ceremony (called bunna in Amharic) that every Peace Corps volunteer has sat through at least 45 times by now.
Every special event, celebration, plain old 4pm in the afternoon, or 9pm at night calls for a coffee ceremony. I will walk you through one as I got to help prepare the coffee from scratch. Now many of you who know me, are probably thinking how in the world did this coffee adverse girl get the luck of being assigned to the nation of the birthplace of coffee? She’s a waste a space. Never fear! I am officially now a coffee drinker. Not addicted yet, though I feel a slight headache coming on…
Though you really cannot compare this delicious concoction with an American cup o’ Joe. Therefore I am not a coffee “drinker” so much as I am officially a coffee “connoisseur,” and with such a now refined palette I will not bring my newly addict ways back across the Atlantic.
THE BUNNA CEREMONY
I think the best habit to come out of this ceremony is the presence of fandesha (popcorn). If you really want to get fancy and impress the neighbors you best make sure you have some popcorn (double points for kettlecorn done over the charcoal) ready. The other traditional accompaniment is a grass floor (not pictured). The “modern” version of this is a little straw mat died green to look like grass. I think this comes from the days when the floors were all dirt (most still are) and so only the fancy people could afford to put grass down—a sign of wealth.
Step 1- Wash the coffee beans that you picked out of your backyard, or if you’re a city girl like me (hey Gondar!) that you bought from your neighbor that picked it out of their backyard. Super fresh.
Step 2- Roast the beans over a traditional charcoal stove. None of you cheaters with your fancy propane burners! Be sure to waft the scent around the room (don’t know if this is traditional or because I smelled bad and my host mom wanted to cover it up).
Step 3- Grind the beans (by hand!) by crushing them with a mallet. While this is happening, be sure to “techawetchi” meaning talk about what’s going on in the town. Sanctioned gossip, all right! The word literally means “to play.”
Step 4- Boil the water in a jebenna and add scoops of ground coffee to steep. The jebennas are clay jug like things that considering I will not be brewing my own coffee anytime soon, will probably serve as beautiful flower vases. Machine espresso is also popular here (thank the Italians), but clearly everyone knows the best bunna bets in town are always jebenna bunna bets- the traditional way.
Step 5- Add three spoons of sugar to a tiny cup. Maybe this is why I can drink it black. A quirk of our training region (the ARSI region) is that most people traditionally prefer bunna ba wetat, or “with milk.” Apparently not as popular up north.
Step 6- After a very finely tuned sense of timing (for me, the jebenna boiled over), you know the coffee is brewed. Serve 3 cups. This is very important, it is rude to quit after the first 2 because each is drunk to a specific toast. Cup 1 is for family, Cup 2 for friendship, Cup 3 for health. Don’t worry, they’re small.
All in all a bunna ceremony can take from 1 to 3 hours, depending on how much news you bring to the table, or how tired you are. Along with the gorsha (feeding someone with your hands), the bunna ceremony is another traditional sign of love and friendship.
So I’m taking orders for Ethiopian roasts- but I will only entertain requests that come with care packages. I should have a PO Box in about 2 weeks! Keep your eyes peeled coffee lovers : )