For Ethiopian and Eritrean communities in North America, coffee is not just a drink, it’s a sacred ritual that ties them to their motherland.

By Mary Getaneh (Toronto Star)  |

CALGARY, AB—As the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants, one of my bedtime stories included the origin of coffee.

Coffee originated in Ethiopia. If you ask my mother, it’s where you will find the “absolute best coffee in the world. No competition.”

International Coffee Day is on Monday, and though the hot beverage is popular among many in Canada, it holds a special meaning for the Ethiopian and Eritrean diaspora. Coffee ceremonies are a tangible connection to their homeland.

The earliest origin stories tell of an Ethiopian goat herder who noticed his flock of goats were more animated than usual after eating some bright, red berries.

The details after that get a bit murky. In one version, he takes the berries to a holy man who forbids him from using them. In another, he throws them in a fire, but is lured back because of the aroma of the berries roasting.

For Ethiopian and Eritrean diaspora, coffee — or buna as it’s called in Amharic of Ethiopian language (and bun in Tigrinya of Eritrean language) — is not just a drink, it’s a sacred ritual that ties them to their motherland.

When a baby is a born, or someone gets married, or there is a death, coffee is always prepared.

My mother, Messi, left Ethiopia when she was 18 years old due to political tensions. Among the few things she brought over was a jebena — a clay coffee pot — that her mom had bought her, and a few of her favorite traditional coffee cups, called sinis.

Though she’s been separated from her family by oceans, continents, cities and dropped long-distance calls — coffee has always been her way of keeping them close. She’d hold on to a small sini and be transported back to her home.

My mother learned the art of making coffee at 12 from her own mother.

Continue reading this story at Toronto Star
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