Jebena is the name of the typically shaped pot where coffee is brewed during the ceremony, with Buna being specifically coffee itself.
How does the Ethiopian coffee ceremony work?
The woman of the house where the ceremony is held is responsible for all the coffee brewing and preparing the room for the guests. Sometimes a younger woman also helps. Preparing the Buna is considered an honor.
The Jebena pot used is held in high esteem by the members of the family. The more intricate and decorated it is, the more the family is considered wealthy.
The brewing process may be quite different from what you’d expect. Green beans of premium, Arabica coffee, are roasted in a pan, then ground by hand with a simple mortar and pestle style. A metal bowl is used to hold the beans, called mukecha, while a rod, called zenezena, is used to crush the roasted beans.
Then the ground coffee is put into the Jebena to brew with hot water for quite a long time, slowly. Small cups called cini are used to serve the coffee to the guests, who gather for these ceremonies to gossip over local news or to discuss exceptional matters from time to time. The woman hosting the ceremony pours the coffee from above into the tiny cups, a gesture resembling pouring tea in north-African countries.
The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is as much a cultural as a social event. The coffee is kept warm throughout the ceremony, often brewed again and again to keep up a lively conversation. Guests are expected to drink at least 3 cups of coffee during the ceremony. This clearly makes the Ethiopian coffee ceremony a very caffeine-imbued moment of the day. It is customary to add a dash of milk or butter to the coffee, or a teaspoon or 2 of sugar.
Food is generally provided in the form of popcorns, or the local Himbasha (sort of sweet and flat bread). Burning of dry flowers or incense during the ceremony is common, creating a whole sensory experience that goes beyond the coffee.
Where is the ceremony held today?
Outside of the Ethiopia and Eritrea themselves, the nearby Sudan has also a tradition of Buna, as all the countries that host a medium-large Ethiopian community. Whenever the coffee culture of the original country is remembered, the Jebena Buna is present.
It is not rare to have a simplified Jebena Buna in an Ethiopian restaurant in Europe or the USA. It may not include the roasting in front of you nor burning incense, but it is possible to take part in more complex Ethiopian coffee ceremonies on request. Higher scale restaurants may prepare a Jebena Buna for weddings or other special occasions.
Obviously the truest experience of the ceremony is experienced only in the traditional setting of Ethiopian villages and towns. For the travelers who had the chance to be in one, assisting one there is a moment to remember for life.