When I heard that Tuscany Coffee barista David Buehrer had never attended an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, I invited him to meet me at Blue Nile Ethiopian restaurant on Richmond.
We were seated in backless stools at a traditional low, round table in the back of the restaurant. Clouds of frankincense rose from the charcoal burner as we munched on popcorn from a huge communal basket and talked about the origins of coffee. Wrapped in a colorful ceremonial shawl, our hostess brought a smoky pan full of sizzling green beans to our table so we could appreciate the aroma of the roasting.
Blue Nile buys the best imported Ethiopian coffee, then hand-washes, hand-crushes and roasts it for the coffee ceremony. The fresh-roasted coffee is then brewed in a traditional clay pot called a jebena, which is balanced on a straw ring. Hot water is added to the beans in three distinct brewings, the first called abol, the second called tona and the third, baracka. It is impolite to stop before the baracka, which is said to bestow a blessing. Luckily, the cups are very small, and Buehrer and I managed to consume the obligatory three servings.
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The coffee ceremony, with all its incense and ritual trappings, is an ancient and integral part of Ethiopian culture. Coffee is not only considered sacred in Ethiopia, it also currently represents some two-thirds of the Ethiopian economy. At $10 for three people, or $20 for six, Blue Nile's coffee ceremony is one of those exotic luxuries we can all afford. Wear your very best fez.