Reflecting on the Meaning of Coffee in Ethiopia

AGCI Creative Producer Dayn Arnold travels around the world to document the challenges the organization is trying to address and the difference its efforts are making. He recently wrote this reflection about a memorable experience in Ethiopia.

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I love it.

I’ve seen it in all its stages from the cherry on the tree to its seeds being sorted, dried, processed, roasted, ground, brewed, and, ultimately, consumed. But there’s no coffee experience quite like the one in rural Ethiopia.

Coffee in Ethiopia is a twelve-hundred-year-old tradition, and when I had the privilege of experiencing a coffee ceremony at the home of someone with no electricity and no gas stove, I was transported back in time.

In the US, those who love the art of pour over coffee (my favorite brewing method), know how to achieve the perfect brew through precise grinds, timing, and temperatures. It takes time and practice to find the right balance, and despite it being a relatively simple brewing method, it usually needs a thermometer, timer, and scale to get it just right. But traditional Ethiopian coffee is something unique. Everything is done manually, from roasting the beans in a pan over a wood fire, to pulverizing them in a mortar by hand. It’s a full sensory experience.

There is the aromatic mixture of fresh-cut long grass, burning frankincense, and brewing coffee. There are the gentle sounds of conversation in Amharic, popcorn popping, and the bleating of the baby goats peering in through the open door. But the heartbeat of the experience is not the process. It’s all about connection. Community. And if there hadn’t been a big white guy in the room, this experience would largely be the same—a way to connect with family and neighbors. It’s the people that are the point of the coffee ceremony.

We, Americans, could stand to learn a few lessons in community and hospitality from these folks who, by our standards, have so little. And we need to do what we can to help preserve these communities that are so hard hit by nature, poverty, and conflict.

All too often, Ethiopian families see no choice but to suspend their children’s schooling to send them to bigger cities where they can find jobs or spouses for financial support. And not only does children’s schooling matter, so do opportunities to build community and learn the value of tradition. Twelve-hundred-year-old coffee ceremonies matter.

The gift of time to build a fire, roast the beans, pulverize them, and connect with family and neighbors, is among the things AGCI sponsorships afford families in Ethiopia. $40 a month provides a child school tuition, uniforms, healthy meals, school supplies, a savings account—the essential support they need to remain and thrive with their family.

And it all ties back to coffee.

Learn more about AGCI sponsorships.