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History of Coffee

The Use of Coffee in Traditional Ethiopian Medicine and Rituals

Explore the rich history and cultural significance of coffee in Ethiopia, from its origins and role in global trade to its integral role in Ethiopian society through traditional coffee ceremonies. This article delves into the use of coffee in Ethiopian herbal medicine, its spiritual significance in religious rituals, and the evolution of Ethiopian coffee traditions in the modern world. Go on a journey through the world of Ethiopian coffee and uncover its unique customs and practices which have been preserved and cherished over time.

ethiopian coffee traditional medicine

The history and culture of coffee in Ethiopia

Origins of coffee and its discovery in Ethiopia

Coffee, an essential part of daily life for millions of people around the world, has its roots in Ethiopia, where it is believed to have been discovered. This naturally occurring plant species, scientifically known as Coffea arabica, is native to the highlands of Ethiopia. Widely known as the “birthplace of coffee,” Ethiopia is home to over 6,000 distinct varieties of the Coffea plant.

According to popular legend, the discovery of the beverage dates back to an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi in the 9th century. He noticed his goats becoming unusually energetic after consuming the berries from a certain type of bush. Intrigued by this, he decided to taste the berries himself and experienced the same uplifting effect. He then shared his finding with a local monk at a nearby monastery, who experimented with the berries, roasting and boiling them to create a beverage that would help the monks stay awake during prayer.

Word of this invigorating beverage spread throughout Ethiopia and, eventually, to neighboring countries. By the 15th century, coffee consumption had become common in the Islamic world, including Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula.

Connection between Ethiopia and the global coffee trade

As the consumption of coffee grew in neighboring countries, it was only natural for Ethiopia, given its rich coffee history, to become a vital player in the global coffee trade. The coffee beans that Kaldi had discovered began to be distributed by traders to the Arabian Peninsula and subsequently to the rest of the world.

By the 16th century, coffee had reached Europe, and in the following century, it had become entrenched in European culture. European explorers and traders, such as the Dutch and the British, introduced coffee to the New World, planting the seeds for the widespread cultivation and consumption of coffee in South and Central America.

Since the days of Kaldi, Ethiopia has not only played a significant role in the global coffee trade but has also maintained its rich tradition of growing and producing coffee. According to a report by the International Coffee Organization, Ethiopia ranks as the seventh-largest coffee producer globally and the largest producer in Africa.

Ethiopian coffee is known for its diverse flavor profiles, distinctive aromas, and fine quality. The country’s two main coffee production regions – Sidamo and Yirgacheffe – have gained worldwide recognition for their exceptional coffees, which are sought after by specialty coffee roasters and enthusiasts worldwide.

Cultural significance of coffee in Ethiopia

Coffee is deeply rooted in Ethiopian culture and forms an essential aspect of daily life. Its cultural significance is evident in the Ethiopian coffee ceremony, a unique social ritual typically performed by women. The ceremony begins with the roasting of freshly washed green coffee beans over a charcoal stove, followed by grinding the beans with a traditional wooden pestle and mortar. The coffee is then brewed in a traditional earthenware pot called a jebena, with water added to the ground coffee to create the thick, rich beverage known as buna in Amharic, Ethiopia’s official language.

The ceremony features a strong sense of community, with neighbors and friends gathering to share stories and news while savoring the rich flavor of the freshly brewed coffee. Traditionally, the host will serve three rounds of coffee, with each round symbolizing different aspects of life: the first round, Abol, symbolizes birth; the second round, Tona, represents adulthood, and the third and final round, Bereka, signifies spiritual growth and prosperity.

These age-old rituals and customs showcase the important role that coffee plays in Ethiopian culture, and the country’s contribution to the world’s beloved hot beverage cannot be understated. From its ancient origins to its modern role as a significant player in the global coffee trade, Ethiopia’s coffee culture remains a fascinating and enduring aspect of its national identity.

Coffee ceremonies in Ethiopian society

Ethiopian coffee ceremonies are an integral part of the country’s social life and cultural tradition. These elaborate ceremonies provide an opportunity for Ethiopians to come together, spend quality time, discuss important issues, celebrate momentous events, and bond over a shared love for coffee. Locally known as Bunna, coffee is considered the national drink and the coffee ceremony is a strong symbol of hospitality and community spirit.

Steps of conducting a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is a multi-step process that can take around an hour or even longer to complete. The ceremony celebrates not just the brewing and consumption of coffee, but also the careful and skillful preparation of the beans.

Roasting coffee beans

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony begins with the host roasting fresh green coffee beans in a pan over an open flame. Often a woman dressed in traditional attire conducts the ceremony. The pan, called a menkeshkesh, is shaken repeatedly to ensure the beans roast evenly. The continuous shaking produces a distinct sound that blends with the aroma of roasting coffee beans to create a unique sensory experience. Once the beans reach the desired level of roasting, they are removed from heat and passed around the guests to appreciate the fragrance.

Grinding and brewing

Once the beans are roasted, the next step is grinding the coffee. Traditionally, a heavy wooden mortar and pestle are utilized to ground the beans into a fine powder. The process requires strength and precision, as the beans must be evenly ground and not too coarse. Nowadays, in urban areas, electronic grinders are becoming popular to speed up the process.

The ground coffee is then mixed with water and placed on the fire in a traditional clay coffee pot called a jebena. The jebena has a round bottom and a straw lid, one handle, and a narrow spout used to pour the coffee. A skillful host will carefully heat the pot without boiling the coffee mixture to obtain the desired flavor. It is common to add sugar or sometimes salt or butter to sweeten the coffee during the brewing process.

Serving and consumption

Once brewed, the host carefully pours the coffee into small cups called finjal, which are set on a colorful woven tray, known as a rekbot. The coffee is often accompanied by snacks such as popcorn, bread, or traditional snacks like kolo (roasted barley) and himbasha (sweet bread). The ceremony often includes burning incense, which creates a soothing, pleasant ambiance.

Guests are traditionally served three rounds of coffee: the initial serving called abol, the second round known as tona, and a third round called baraka. The third round is considered to bring blessings, and the ceremony concludes with a prayer recited by the host for the well-being of guests, family, and community.

Social and symbolic meanings of the ceremony

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony has deep social and symbolic meanings. It represents the values of Ethiopian culture, which prioritize hospitality, respect, and a strong sense of community. Attending the ceremony signifies bonding with friends, family, and neighbors, and it allows participants to engage in dialogue, share experiences, resolve disputes, and exchange ideas. The ceremony is a vital space for maintaining social connections and fostering a sense of unity.

Role of women and gender dynamics in the ceremony

women coffee ethiopia

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony has traditionally been conducted and hosted by women, and it remains an important space for female empowerment and agency. Women are considered the masters of the ceremony, and their expertise in hosting and serving coffee is regarded with great respect. Performing the coffee ceremony not only showcases a woman’s culinary skills but also her social status, strength, and grace. The coffee ceremony is an important aspect of a woman’s identity and role in the community.

Coffee ceremonies in major Ethiopian events and celebrations

In Ethiopia, coffee is at the heart of important events and celebrations such as weddings, christenings, holidays, and religious festivals. Coffee ceremonies are essential for marking significant life moments and communal gatherings. They reinforce the bonds between friends, family, and community members and symbolize the continuity of Ethiopian cultural traditions.

In recent years, the Ethiopian coffee ceremony has also found its way into urban spaces and diasporic communities across the globe, becoming a popular way to showcase the rich Ethiopian culture, heritage, and love for coffee.

The use of coffee in Ethiopian herbal medicine

Coffee is an essential part of Ethiopian culture and has been an integral aspect of their herbal medicine practices for centuries. Ethiopia is considered the birthplace of coffee, with the plant Coffea arabica originating from the forests in the highlands of Ethiopia. In the Ethiopian traditional medicine system, coffee plays a vital role, not only as a popular beverage but also as an herbal remedy for various health problems.

Coffee as an energizer and mood-enhancer

One of the most well-known properties of coffee, and the main reason behind its global popularity, is its ability to energize and uplift. The caffeine content in coffee acts as a natural stimulant, aiding in boosting energy levels and improving concentration. In Ethiopian herbal medicine, coffee is known for its ability to improve mood and combat fatigue. Coffee is often recommended in traditional medicine as a remedy for depression and anxiety, as well as to boost the overall well-being of an individual.

In addition to its energizing effects, coffee is also believed to boost cognitive function and improve memory by increasing the release of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. There is a strong correlation between drinking coffee and an improvement in mental alertness, making it a valuable resource for treating various mental health issues.

Health benefits of drinking coffee in moderation

Apart from its energizing and mood-enhancing effects, coffee has been found to provide a multitude of other health benefits when consumed in moderation. Research has shown that regular coffee consumption may help in preventing certain chronic diseases and improving overall health. Some of its potential health benefits include:

  1. Reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes: Several studies have demonstrated that moderate coffee drinkers have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than non-drinkers, which could be attributed to an abundance in polyphenols and minerals found in coffee that help improve insulin sensitivity.
  2. Protection against Parkinson’s disease: Coffee’s high antioxidant content, combined with its ability to keep dopamine levels high, may help protect against the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
  3. Lowering the risk of certain types of cancer: Coffee contains an array of antioxidants that may aid in the prevention of certain types of cancer, such as liver and colorectal cancer.
  4. Improved heart health: Moderate coffee consumption can help protect against heart disease by improving blood circulation and reducing inflammation.
  5. Weight management: Coffee’s stimulant properties can temporarily increase metabolism and suppress appetite, which may assist in weight management.

It’s important to note that these health benefits are associated with coffee consumed in moderation, typically defined as 3-4 cups per day, depending on the individual’s sensitivity to caffeine.

Common coffee-based remedies for various ailments

Ethiopian herbal medicine makes use of coffee in various remedies for treating a variety of ailments. For instance, the fresh leaves of Coffea arabica have been utilized as an antihypertensive treatment, helping to regulate blood pressure. Coffee is also used to alleviate headache and migraine symptoms by constricting the blood vessels in the brain, which can reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Furthermore, roasted coffee beans are applied topically to wounds, burns, and ulcers in order to promote healing and reduce infection.

Turning coffee waste into medicinal products

Given Ethiopia’s rich history with coffee, it is not surprising that they have discovered uses for the waste products produced during coffee processing. The potential of coffee husks and grounds as medicinal resources has been explored in recent years, offering sustainable and innovative solutions for waste management.

For instance, the silverskin or parchment of coffee, which is typically discarded during processing, is rich in antioxidants and other bioactive compounds, making it a valuable resource for developing herbal medicine products. In fact, researchers have identified the potential of coffee by-products, such as caffeine-rich coffee oil and coffee silverskin extract, in the treatment of oxidative stress-related diseases, inflammation, and skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis.

Overall, the use of coffee in Ethiopian herbal medicine is a testament to the versatility and potential that this cherished plant has to offer. From its ability to energize and uplift, to its numerous potential health benefits and uses in the treatment of various ailments and recycling its waste into beneficial products, coffee’s importance in Ethiopian culture and medicine is undoubtedly significant.

Spiritual significance of coffee in Ethiopian rituals

coffee in ethiopian traditional healing

Coffee has a deep-rooted cultural and spiritual significance in Ethiopia. As the birthplace of Coffea arabica, Ethiopia has an ancient relationship with coffee that has intertwined with its religious and social fabric. In Ethiopian society, coffee is used to cement social bonds, as well as to enhance spiritual connections. The following sections will discuss the symbolism of coffee in Ethiopian religious practices, its role in rituals across various faiths and beliefs, and the connection between coffee consumption and sacred spaces.

Symbolism of coffee in Ethiopian religious practices

In Ethiopian culture, coffee beans are considered a gift from God. They symbolize fertility, abundance, and life. The very act of preparing coffee, known as the coffee ceremony, is a ritual that is both social and spiritual in nature. The elaborate process of harvesting, roasting, grinding, and brewing coffee symbolizes the transformation of raw natural elements into something refined and sublime. This transformation is said to bring those who partake in the ceremony into closer communion with the divine.

During coffee ceremonies, the beans are often roasted in the presence of frankincense, an aromatic resin used in religious rituals throughout the world. This fusion of scents creates an ethereal atmosphere that invites a spiritual presence into the gathering. Furthermore, the act of sharing coffee in the communal experience of the coffee ceremony reinforces strong social and spiritual bonds within the Ethiopian community.

Role of coffee in rituals across various faiths and beliefs

Ethiopia is a religiously diverse country, with a majority of people following either Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity or Islam. Coffee plays an essential role in rituals and customs across these faiths, as well as in indigenous religious beliefs.

Christian Orthodoxy

Coffee ceremonies are an integral part of Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, which combines ancient Christian teachings with local customs and beliefs. After church services, it is customary for congregants to gather in a communal area to share in a coffee ceremony as a means of fostering fellowship and unity. Additionally, coffee is served during important religious events, such as baptisms, weddings, and funerals, further solidifying the connection between coffee and spirituality.


Though there are Islamic traditions that discourage the consumption of mind-altering substances, coffee has still emerged as an important element in Ethiopian Muslim rituals. With its origins in nearby Yemen, coffee came to Ethiopia through the Islamic world, and Muslim communities in Ethiopia continue to use it as part of their spiritual practices. Coffee houses can be found adjacent to mosques in many towns and cities throughout the country, ensuring that coffee is readily available for post-prayer gatherings of faith and reflection.

Indigenous religious practices

Beyond the major religions, coffee also plays a role in indigenous religious practices. Some traditional Ethiopian beliefs attribute a divine origin to coffee, while others maintain that coffee has protective properties. By participating in coffee ceremonies, adherents maintain a connection to their ancestral roots and the spiritual world.

Connection between coffee consumption and sacred spaces

In Ethiopian culture, the consumption of coffee goes beyond a simple means of satisfying physical hunger or thirst. The sharing of coffee in both religious and communal settings elevates the experience to a spiritually significant act. The spaces where these coffee ceremonies take place, whether in homes, religious institutions, or traditional coffee houses, are seen as sacred ground.

Ultimately, the spiritual significance of coffee in Ethiopian rituals is a testament to the powerful connection between faith, culture, and the natural world. As Ethiopians continue to rely on coffee as a means of strengthening their spiritual connections and reinforcing their social bonds, the ancient coffee bean will no doubt maintain its revered status in the hearts and minds of the people.

Modern influences and changes in Ethiopian coffee traditions

Ethiopian coffee culture has a deep and complex history, with roots in ancient rituals and customs passed down through generations. In recent years, this traditional coffee culture has faced new challenges and influences, with globalization and modernization reshaping and evolving the practice. From the impact of globalization on traditional coffee ceremonies to the commercialization of Ethiopian coffee culture, it is essential to understand and appreciate the significance of these changes and their implications for preserving and promoting traditional practices in the modern era.

Impact of globalization on traditional coffee ceremonies

Globalization has exposed Ethiopia to various cultural influences and ideas, resulting in some changes in their traditional coffee ceremonies. As more Ethiopians have travelled abroad and more foreigners have visited the country, elements of the coffee culture have been influenced, bringing both positive and negative changes.

One of the influences of globalization on Ethiopian coffee culture is the proliferation of international coffee chains and cafés with a Western-style of serving coffee. These establishments offer a more individualized and quick experience, contrasting with the traditional, slow, and communal Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Consequently, this modern coffee experience has become popular among urban, younger Ethiopians who wish to enjoy coffee without spending substantial time participating in the ceremony or who simply crave the taste of international, branded coffee.

On a positive note, globalization has also introduced Ethiopian coffee to a broader audience around the world. The increasing international appreciation for Ethiopian coffee has helped boost the country’s economy and has encouraged innovation within the local coffee industry. Efforts are being made to achieve a balance between modernization and tradition, with new Ethiopian enterprises combining the coffee ceremony’s unique features with the practicality of modern coffee shops.

Commercialization of Ethiopian coffee culture

With increasing global demand for Ethiopian coffee, commercialization has become a critical element in adapting the country’s traditional coffee culture to the needs of the expanding market. Coffee tourism has surged as travelers have become increasingly interested in experiencing Ethiopia’s unique coffee ceremonies and visiting its numerous coffee farms.

Commercialization of the coffee culture is evident in the increasing number of Ethiopian coffee shops and restaurants that offer traditional coffee ceremonies. These businesses capitalize on tourists’ desire to experience a part of Ethiopian culture, showcasing the full ceremony as local artisans roast, grind, and pour the coffee. Despite serving a commercial purpose, these establishments help sustain the tradition and offer opportunities for local artisans to continue practicing their skills.

Moreover, as the international market for Ethiopian coffee grows, many entrepreneurs and businesses have sought to capitalize on this demand by branding and marketing their products as authentic, traditional Ethiopian coffee. This move has contributed to expanding the reach and popularity of Ethiopian coffee and its unique flavors, while also potentially diluting the true essence and significance of the traditional ceremony.

Preserving and promoting traditional coffee practices in the modern era

coffee in ethiopian traditional medicine

In response to the challenges posed by globalization and commercialization, various initiatives and efforts have been put in place to preserve and promote Ethiopian coffee traditions. Some coffee shops, both in Ethiopia and abroad, emphasize the importance of preserving the traditional coffee ceremony by hosting events that highlight the experience, educating customers about the significance of the ritual, and offering a taste of Ethiopian culture.

Another strategy employed by coffee connoisseurs and enthusiasts is documenting and promoting the traditional coffee ceremony’s history and significance through books, articles, and photo exhibitions. This increased awareness and appreciation for the rich heritage of Ethiopian coffee may encourage more people to preserve and continue the traditional practices.

As Ethiopia continues to modernize, it is essential to strike a balance between embracing new technologies and trends while maintaining the rich cultural heritage associated with coffee. Through supporting local artisans, educating people on the Ethiopian coffee ceremony’s history and essence, and encouraging both traditional and innovative coffee experiences rooted in their cultural heritage, Ethiopia can successfully preserve its coffee customs while thriving in the modern world.


FAQs on The Use of Coffee in Traditional Ethiopian Medicine and Rituals

1. How does coffee play a role in Ethiopian traditional medicine?

Coffee in Ethiopia is considered a medicinal plant, often used to treat various ailments such as fever, headache, and physical weakness. It is also believed to improve digestion and overall well-being (Wondimagegnehu, Woldegiorgis, & Mequanint, n.d.).

2. What are the specific coffee preparation methods in traditional Ethiopian medicine?

In Ethiopian traditional medicine, coffee leaves and fruits are used for medicinal purposes. The leaves can be crushed, dried, or ground into a powder, while the fruit is often consumed directly or boiled to create a decoction for treating various health conditions (Gebreyesus & Samuel, 2018).

3. How is coffee used in Ethiopian spiritual rituals?

The traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony is a social and spiritual event that fosters a sense of community, togetherness, and friendship. It usually involves roasting, grinding, and brewing coffee beans in a ritualistic manner while reciting prayers or blessings (Chekole et al., 2018).

4. Are there any scientific studies supporting the medicinal use of coffee in Ethiopian culture?

Although scientific evidence on the medicinal use of coffee in Ethiopia is limited, some studies suggest that coffee contains bioactive compounds with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties, which could offer potential health benefits (Wondimagegnehu et al., n.d.).

5. Are there any side effects or risks associated with the consumption of coffee for medicinal purposes in Ethiopia?

While coffee is considered safe for most people, excessive consumption can lead to side effects like insomnia, increased heart rate, and gastrointestinal issues. Furthermore, the therapeutic effects and potential risks may vary depending on the individual and the specific medicinal preparations used (Gebreyesus & Samuel, 2018).

6. How does the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony align with the cultural concept of healing?

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is not only an opportunity for social interaction but also a supportive environment that promotes health and well-being. The ritual is believed to strengthen social bonds, provide spiritual healing, and offer solace during times of grief or illness, which are essential for maintaining overall health in Ethiopian culture (Chekole et al., 2018).


Chekole, G., Asfaw, Z., & Kelbessa, E. (2018). Ethnobotany of medicinal plants in Loma and Gena Bosa districts (woredas) of Dawro zone, Southern Ethiopia. Topclass Journal of Herbal Medicine, 7(1), 001-039.

Gebreyesus, T., & Samuel, A. (2018). Coffee as a remedy for some ailments mentioned in the Käffä traditionally-rich manuscripts. Ethiopian Journal of Health Sciences, 28(3), 295-306.

Wondimagegnehu, A., Woldegiorgis, A., & Mequanint, K. (n.d.). The Use of Coffee (Coffea arabica L.) as Traditional Medicine in Ethiopia [Ebook]. Haramaya University, Department of Chemistry.