John Grinling writes:
“The coffee ceremony (p 1o1) might be “really just a social thing” in some
modern contexts. But as understood and performed in the traditional
Ethiopian culture, it is far more than that: the fundamental purpose
of a coffee ceremony is to please and placate the “zar”, the spirits
who belong to our world and who can protect or harm us.
Whoever watches a coffee ceremony with even minimal attention will
notice that fresh grass is strewn over the ground: the zar normally
dwell in the nature. So the grass scattered on the floor seems
inviting and will make them feel at home.
Incense is burned: perfumes and pleasant scents are known to please the zar.
The tray holding the cups always count one cup more than the number of
participants: it is for the zar.
The lady pouring the coffee from the gabana, or coffee pot held high
up, will not mind if it splashes on the tray: the zar like froth, and
the more humble amongst them will drink from there.
Popped corn that might have fallen on the ground are meant for the zar also.
In some more extreme and rather secret occurrences, the coffee
ceremony is deliberately meant as an opportunity for the zar to take
possession of the lady presiding the ceremony or other participants.
These spirits are known by name, have their own characters and the
cups meant for them have specific colors.
This animistic background of the coffee ceremony is so obvious that
the Ethiopian Orthodox Church forbids devout christians to take part,
or even drink coffee.
To consider the coffee ceremony as “really just a social thing”,
solely as an opportunity for family, friends, neighbors, colleagues to
spend time together, entirely overlooks an important aspect of
Ethiopian culture : we must indeed show respect to our fellow human
beings, but we should also honor nature whose forces can influence and
change our lives.”