Background to the coffee ceremony

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.”


4 thoughts on “Background to the coffee ceremony

  1. frank rispin says:

    Thanks, fascinating. Have never met an orthodox christian who didnt drink coffee or do the ceremony. Met protestants who refuse to have thew grass as they obviously dont believe in the zar at all…

  2. gwaan says:

    It’s nice you appreciate the coffee ceremony. I see it at a par with the Japanese rituals with tea, and I agree, it’s much more than a social thing.

    Never heard of the orthodox prohibition either, I have family in law who are ultra-orthodox -we’re talking the 3 days straight with no food when in theory it’s only Wednesday- but on any other day sip up coffee ceremonies all afternoon.

    Another aspect is “which” incense they burn.. now that does have to do with religion, especially in the Harar region: “etan” for the christian orthodox, “muscaati” for the muslims.

  3. eastmanes says:

    The Orthodox church knows full well who and what the ‘zar’ is. Yes, they are very real. Showing respect to our fellow human is one thing, allowing these ‘zar’ to influence our lives is another. No thanks. Ref. 1 Cor. 5, 7-8. This ‘tradition’ in Ethiopia predates the coffee ceremony by about a thousand years.

  4. philipbriggs says:

    LizaD adds:

    Origin of coffee ceremony is actually of Muslim origin and until about 1890 it was not adopted by Orthodox Christians as it was associated with Muslims and the zar cult and Christians drank tea and talla instead. Today most Ethiopians are not aware of this historic fact and consider it almost blasphemous when they are told this.
    Here is a study by Eloi Ficquet, former director of the French research centre in Ethiopia talking about this, helas in French.

    Liza D

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s