Serious Eats: Drinks

An Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony in Brooklyn

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Green coffee turning brown at an Ethiopian coffee ceremony in Brooklyn. [Photographs: Meister]

Thanks to a bit of creative grassroots fundraising from a startup called Bunna Café, Brooklynites have the chance to experience a genuine Ethiopian coffee ceremony. (Close your eyes and you might believe you're in Addis Ababa...)

Like beans in a roaster, Bunna Café has literally been popping up all over Brooklyn this summer: Just about every weekend its small team of collaborators (headed by native Texan Sam Saverance) has been taking over bars' backyards and at other events, offering not only pretty top-notch vegan Ethiopian grub, but also a traditional coffee ceremony.

Bunna is the Ethiopian word for "coffee," and though Bunna Café will be more of a restaurant venture when it finds the right permanent digs, coffee and the traditional way it's brewed definitely takes center stage at these casual events. Just as in the ceremonies back in coffee's birthplace, the act of roasting, grinding, smelling, brewing, and drinking the caffeinated elixir is a way of bringing friends, family, and neighbors together for socializing and sharing news.

That was definitely the scene at Tradesman in Bushwick recently, where the Bunna crew commandeered the back patio for coffee, chill Ethiopian tunes, and paper plates loaded with injera and misir wot. Folks traded bites from each other's plates and breathed deep as the smell of roasting coffee started wafting over the patio.

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Everybody else was there for the beer and food; I came for the coffee. Okay, and maybe some of the beer and food, too.

In the coffee ceremony, the woman in charge will roast green beans in a pan over hot coals, shaking them as they start to turn brown. She removes the roasted coffee from the heat and will allow everyone around to smell the beans before grinding them; meanwhile, hot water is placed in a brewing vessel called a jebena and brought to a boil over the still burning coals.

The pulverized coffee is mixed with the hot water and brewed, then strained out into tiny cups and served to all guests. It's common in Ethiopia to heap sugar or milk (or sunflower milk, which was available as well) into the cup, but mine was perfect with the hint of spice in it—did I detect a hint of ginger?

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If you're in Brooklyn, definitely check out one of Bunna Café's weekend rendezvous: Grab yourself a fistful of lentils and a frosty beer, and definitely enjoy the coffee.

Schedule of upcoming events and menus available at their Tumblr site.

About the author: Erin Meister trains baristas and inspires coffee-driven people for Counter Culture Coffee. She's a confident barista, an audacious eater, and a smiling runner, but she remains a Nervous Cook.

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