Ethiopia is a long way from Portland, but it sure doesn’t feel that way when you slip into a small café with frankincense permeating the air and coffee beans slowly roasting over small stoves. Experiencing the Ethiopian coffee ceremony is about as close as you’ll get to the East African highlands of Addis Ababa without a passport and a plane ticket, so here’s where to participate in this ancient tradition without leaving Portland.
E’Njoni Ethiopian Café
E’Njoni Ethiopian Café on North Killingsworth Street drops you into an area populated by Ethiopian shops, cafes, markets and hair braiding salons. E’Njoni is the only cafe in Portland that officially performs the coffee ceremony, which can take at least an hour or even longer if you stay for the third round.
You can opt for sitting at a brilliantly colored round hand-woven table known as a moseb, so remember to ask for it. Call in advance to reserve a spot for the ceremony, which is an intricate process performed by a member of Portland’s vibrant Ethiopian community. In private homes, it is considered an honor to prepare and serve the coffee to guests as a symbol of respect and friendship.
The ceremony begins with the lighting of frankincense, and the beans begin roasting slowly atop a tableside stove. The smoky aromas mesmerize you as they mix and mingle, and you can order any number of Ethiopian side dishes to try while the green coffee beans roast to a deep golden brown.
Ethiopia traditions dictate grinding the beans by hand instead of using an electric machine, so the server places the now-roasted beans in a bowl and grinds them using a zenezena, which resembles a mortar and pestle in western kitchens. The ground beans then seep in hot water inside a jabena pot, which is made of clay and features a long, slim spout and a rounded flat bottom.
After sipping the simmered coffee amidst long conversations and Ethiopian music, the process is repeated a second time. If you’re patient enough to stick around for round three, you receive a special blessing from the actual birthplace of coffee.
Good things to know: Call a few days ahead to request the coffee ceremony, and bring along as many friends as you’d like. There’s a flat fee for the ceremony, and then just $2 per cup served.
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