Sunday, July 26, 2009

Eritrean Coffee Ceremony

A nice end to a long week... It seems I have a willing partner in my quest to know food in Southern Sudan. I got a surprise invitation on Friday from Fatmah to join her and her Eritrean colleague, Nebyat, for an afternoon coffee roasting ceremony. She said it would take about an hour. Being a coffee lover, I hoped for a Sudanese hour!

The affair was simple and elegant with satifying results, all in about an hour...and a half.

Nebyat got the little cooker going with charcoal, and when it was nice and hot, she began roasting. She put about a cup of green Ugandan coffee beans in her long-handled roasting pan, and just patiently sat there, chatting away, and shaking the pan every few seconds. As the beans started to brown a bit, she placed a nice chunk of dried ginger inside, and kept on shaking. In no time that lovely smell began wafting, and the beans had become a rich brown. Nebyat placed the roasted beans in a wooden mortar and began to grind them with a heavy metal pestle. Though she referred to this process as a coffee ceremony several times, it wasn't necessarily tradition that impelled her to grind the old-fashioned way...she said simply that she didn't have an electric coffee grinder, so this would have to do.
After the beans were somewhat coursely ground, she funneled them into a long necked clay jug, followed by water, and a reed stopper. In Eritrea, Nebyat explained that people often use a cow tail as the cork. This piqued my curiosity, as I imagined the tail might rot or something, so I asked her how long the tail would last. "A very long time," she said, "unless you lose it."
She placed the jug on the same charcoal stove where she roasted the beans, and we waited. Not an eager waiting, like I have in the Starbucks line, but the most relaxed waiting for coffee I think I have known. We chatted, nibbled on roasted barley and digestive cookies, talked about Eritrean customs, and just enjoyed the warm evening. The coffee started boiling after about twenty minutes, filling the entire room with its aroma. Nebyat lit resin incense in a small charcoal burner, and its sweet smell floated above and around the earthy aroma of the coffee. Then she poured out four little cups.
And it was good...


  1. hi gordon, i love the blog. so very you. my cousin and i are doing something similar you might enjoy - food and culture - i so agree with you. to hearts and minds through stomachs. no? ciao, j

  2. Hey Gordon,

    Good stuff. I can smell the coffee from here.

    Are you keeping your entrepreneur hat on as you experience this? Will you take some of this with you on your next business voyage?

    Your business coach would like to know! :-)

  3. Last night, we were invited to a similar, after-business-hours ceremony at an Eritrean spot called Cafe Mereb in San Francisco. Delicious, and eventually you get used to the irregular heartbeats and affected pupils!