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2007-05-11 Let's Enjoy Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
    2007-05-11 10:44:45     CRIENGLISH.com

Hello and welcome to this edition of  Africa Express here on China Radio International. I'm your host, Wei Tong.

When you want to relax from heavy work pressures, you may choose to sip a cup of coffee with your friends at a Starbucks on a bustling street.

Indeed, as one of the three main non-alcoholic social beverages in the world, coffee has become very popular in China, especially among young white-collar workers. But few people actually know that coffee, originated in Africa--more precisely, from Ethiopia.

Coffee drinking in Ethiopia is just as popular as tea is in China. Ethiopians consider drinking coffee a fairly big event. People follow certain rules and sometimes hold a ceremony to do so. Not long ago I was invited to a traditional coffee ceremony held at Ethiopian embassy in Beijing.

A Coffee Ceremony held at Ethiopian embassy in Beijing [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com]

On entering the embassy, I was intoxicated by a special coffee aroma, which really made me feel refreshed. I noticed a colorful rug decorated with Ethiopian traditional patterns which were placed on the floor. Fresh, long green grass and flowers were scattered over the mat. An exquisite charcoal burner stood on the rug.

A charming lady was busy heating up a container filled with green beans. This container was placed on the burner roasting the beans. A finely crafted "rekepot" or coffee cup stand was set up to support the little cups which patiently waited to be filled with freshly brewed coffee. As I was carefully watching the process, the Ethiopian ambassador Haile-Giros Gessesse proudly told the people assembled the history of coffee.

"Coffee originated from a small town in Ethiopia named Kaffa. This is the place where coffee derived from. So coffee is the main backbone of the economy of Ethiopia. We export coffee. We generate caffeine from it and we also consume fifty percent of coffee production in our country."

After the guests were seated, the coffee ceremony began. First the green coffee beans are roasted over the small charcoal burner. Each bean crackles as it opens up and releases its rich, provocative aroma. When the beans have been roasted precisely to the right color, a server moves around the room holding the roaster, inviting those in attendance to gently coax the steam towards them with their hands and, in so doing, spread its enticing aroma.

The beans are then crushed and pounded with traditionally crafted mortar and pestle into a fine powder, ready to be put in the boiling water of the "jebena" or black clay coffee pot. Waiting until the sediments settle, someone pours the coffee with intoxicating aroma and serves it to everyone at the ceremony. I was treated with a cup and took a sip.

I can say I had never tasted such a fragrant coffee. It is not just the scent on the surface but that of the essence of organic coffee beans from the home of coffee, Ethiopia. His Excellency Haile-Giros Gessesse said that coffee plays a very important role in Ethiopian's social life.

"Coffee has social value in our society. It is deep rooted in our culture. The coffee ceremony in local areas is used mainly for social gatherings. In the mornings and evenings parents, especially mothers gather together for a coffee ceremony and also use it as a platform for exchanging information in their surroundings. It is a means of communication. When people sit down they usually spend three hours finalizing the ceremony, starting with the preparation, and then roasting to brewing it."

Gessesse said that as the ceremony progresses, the coffee drinkers continue to share their thoughts and feelings, their concerns about the family, neighborhood gossip and community events with those present. Many tough problems especially contradictions between people can be solved in the relaxing atmosphere of the coffee ceremony.

Now with China and Africa developing closer ties, some prominent hotels in China, such as the Hilton and Shangari-la, hold grand coffee ceremonies to welcome distinguished guests as it is seen as a powerful symbol of Ethiopian tradition and culture.

As an important trading partner with Africa, China imports around 200 tons of coffee from Africa every year, especially from Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and some from Tanzania for processing. And the imports keep growing steadily.

That brings us to the end of this program. If you would like to listen to this or other stories again, please log on to our website: www.crienglish.com. You can also contact us via email, that is, africaexpress@crifm.com. I am Wei Tong. I hope you can tune in to our program next time.

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