The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony In Fukuoka
Ethiopia is said to be the birthplace of coffee. Some of the oldest coffee forests exist there with many ongoing campaigns on preserving them.
Coffee has been deeply embedded as part of the culture and custom in Ethiopia. One such aspect is the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony that’s held as part of daily life as well as a welcoming gesture towards guests.
Today I’d like to give some insights on my experience of the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony in the heart of Fukuoka City.
A few posts back, I had the opportunity to introduce Masukaru Coffee マスカル珈琲, an Ethiopian themed roaster cafe. The place is run by Ryoko Miyazaki, a die hard lover of Ethiopia, and she’s been holding the coffee ceremony on the 11th day of every month to give locals an opportunity to experience Ethiopia.
Ryoko has been to Ethiopia through the JICA non-profit organisation and that experience has changed her life; so much so that she now has her own roaster cafe and provides coffee from Ethiopia.
On October 11, I got to experience the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony at Masukaru Coffee.
This is my story.
As I enter Masukaru Coffee, I’m immediately drawn to the various tools which will be used in the ceremony today. I quickly take some pictures as other participants enter the cafe. I glance at the posters on the wall, showcasing Ethiopia through tourism, as I prepare for an experience that’s quite unlike any other.
Ryoko introduces the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony as something more of a daily thing and nothing too glamorous. Although the word ceremony is used, it’s not necessarily ritualistic and doesn’t carry much of a rigid system. The ceremony is used as a break, kind of like the ” afternoon tea break ” to promote social interaction and the togetherness of families and friends. She also says that the ladies usually carry out the roasting, grinding and then steeping of the coffee while the rest sit back and children play around.
The raw coffee beans are washed to get rid of dirt and bits of dust, and then immediately placed on to a flat steel plate above an open charcoal stove. Ryoko then moves the beans around using a steel rod that’s curved at the end. It definitely seems like the ideal sort of tool to move the coffee beans
As time passes by, the beans darken and then I hear the first crack or pop; just like a popcorn. That’s the instant I take in that familiar sweet and alluring fragrance of coffee I find when I enter a coffee shop.
Ryoko keeps moving the steel rod around until there’s a second crack, although much quieter than the first. That’s when oils start coating the surface of the beans and they turn shiny. Smoke starts to appear and the smell gets intense. Ryoko says that it’s almost time to remove the plate from the heat.
The beans are not evenly roasted, and that’s understandable given that the roasting process is rather primitive. But I love it. That’s the beauty of everything that’s hand-crafted.
Ryoko then transfers the roasted beans into a large wooden mortar. She talks about how high the humidity is in Japan which has taken its toll on some of the wooden tools and stools she’s brought from Ethiopia.
Oh yes, everything you see in the pictures were brought all the way from Ethiopia. Ryoko had to ship them since there was just so many things to send.
She picks up the wooden pestle and then starts to pound on the beans. She starts slowly at first so as not to spill the beans, but once they are crushed into smaller pieces she proceeds with a faster rhythm.
We all had the chance to pound the beans. It’s quite a work out; the long wooden pestle is rather heavy and several minutes of pounding is required to get a consistent fine grind.
After several minutes, Ryoko lays a small straw mat and then pours out all the ground coffee. She picks out the leftover beans too large for the steeping pot also known as the jebena.
She then folds the straw mat and then pours the grinds into the jebena filled with hot water. You can use cold water of course, Ryoko says, but that would take too long to bring to a boil.
She then places the jebena onto the charcoal stove at a slight angle. The grinds will settle down and it’s easier to pour out the coffee, she says.
She repeats the process of boiling the jebena and then setting it aside to cool. I’m looking at Ryoko, trying to see when she plans to finally pour the coffee. Yes, I can’t wait. I smell that sweet and chocolatey fragrance of the coffee which is very alluring.
She finally decides to pour, but before that she tells us a few things. The fact that people in Ethiopia add sugar to their cups and drink it sweet. Depending on regions, some people add butter, salt or some sort of spice. Generally, something is always added when drinking the coffee.
She also says that one would have at least three cups. And there’s a meaning to this. The first cup is called the Abol which is for health. The second is known as Tona which represents love and finally Baraka, which represents blessings. She says that she’ll make three cups for everyone, and she’ll add sugar to the first cup but we’re free to choose whether we want sugar for the second & third.
Ryoko takes the jebena and then starts to pour into the small china cups known as cini. She continuously pours until all the cups are filled. I’m guessing there’s some kind of meaning to the continuous pour but I don’t ask.
Everyone is silent now, perhaps anticipating what the coffee is going to taste like. Ryoko is passing around the cups now for each of us.
I take the cup, and it’s pretty hot. I blow on it a few seconds and then take a slight sip.
Let me tell you, the coffee is amazing. The freshness, the flavour, and that palpable wake-you-up factor is there. I don’t think I have enough words to explain.
All I can say is this.
One has to experience the coffee ceremony. Let it be one of the top things to do in your lifetime.
Traditional Snacks/Incense & Conclusion
Other things that accompanied the ceremony was the popcorn snacks which were slightly sweet but very delicious. I was constantly plucking some from the basket and shoving it into my mouth. I had to make sure I wasn’t taking too much as I was sharing the bowl with other participants of the ceremony.
Ryoko also brought out this wonderful incense she lit with some of the hot charcoal fragments. The incense reminded me of aromas associated with wood and cedars. It was very unique and not something you would find in Japan.
I had such a wonderful time at Masukaru Coffee and I would definitely recommend you take part in the Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony. Only thing is that it’s quite popular and it becomes fully booked rather quickly so make sure to reserve in advance.
A big thanks to Ryoko and her crew for such an amazing opportunity.
Address: 4-16-14 Hakataekiminami, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka 812-0016, Fukuoka Prefecture
Open Hours: 08:00 ~ 18:00 (closed on Sundays and Mondays, and on the 11th unless you’re participating in the ceremony)