Coffee’s origins go back centuries to Ethiopia, from where it traveled east to the Arabian peninsula. By the 16th century, it spread to Egypt, Syria, and Turkey, enjoyed widely in private residences as well as public coffee houses. European travelers got a taste of the invigorating brew and eventually brought it home. After that, coffee was in the New World, where in the 18th century it supplanted tea as the preferred caffeinated beverage.
In its historical travels, coffee has adapted to the customs and cultures of the places it entered, resulting in a broad array of new traditions developing around the celebrated drink. Let’s look at four coffee rituals from around the world to discover new ways to enjoy the coffee-drinking experience.
In Ethiopia, where coffee originates, the bean and the brew remain integral parts of the culture, which is reflected in the Ethiopian saying “buna dabo naw” (“coffee is our bread”). Coffee is so important in Ethiopia that a social ceremony, performed up to three times a day, has developed around it.
The ceremony, considered an honor to host, is typically performed by the women of a household. In preparation, they wash the coffee beans by hand, burn incense, and spread flowers and grasses on the floor where the coffee is to be brewed. The host roasts the beans over an open flame until they separate from their husks and release their aroma. In some cases, they add spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves before manually grinding the beans with a mukecha (a wooden mortar) and a zenezena (a wooden or metal pestle).
The host then boils the coffee grounds in a jebena — a pot with a spherical base, a long neck, and a handle. They taste and strain the coffee to ensure that it’s fit to drink before pouring and serving. There are typically multiple rounds of the ceremony. After the first round, the host brews and serves the coffee twice more, each serving being less robust than the preceding one. Guests of the ceremony may add sugar if they wish.
Coffee has long played an important role in Turkey’s social customs, to the degree that UNESCO has classified Turkish coffee culture and tradition as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The Turkish coffee ritual starts with a cezve — a small pot with a long handle, typically made of brass or copper — into which finely ground coffee, cold water, and sugar are added. The mixture brews slowly until a characteristic foam forms on top of the drink. It’s then served unfiltered in small cups, often with a glass of water and sweets. The resulting brew is robust and rich.
The Mexican coffee ritual refers to café de olla, or “coffee from a pot.” The history of café de olla goes back to the Mexican Revolution, which lasted from 1910 to 1920. During the decade-long struggle, the soldaderas (women who fought for independence) would prepare coffee with cinnamon, cloves, chocolate, and a raw form of cane sugar called piloncillo. The vessel they used to prepare café de olla was a clay pot, which is where the drink gets its name.
Today, café de olla is typically prepared with just four ingredients: water, ground coffee, piloncillo, and cinnamon sticks. It’s not uncommon to serve it with milk or cream, as well as a piece of pan dulce.
Coffee entered Vietnam via the French, who enjoyed coffee hot with milk. Vietnam, however, has a much different climate than France, so the café au lait of France saw a delightful transformation, at the hands of Vietnamese coffee purveyors, into cà phê sữa đá, or Vietnamese iced coffee.
This particular coffee ritual begins with coffee brewed in a phin (a traditional single-serving coffee filter made of metal), which is placed atop a glass filled partially with sweetened condensed milk. The brewed coffee slowly drips into the glass and mingles with the milk. Once all the coffee has filtered through, the glass is filled with ice and the drink is served.
You don’t need centuries of development to follow a coffee ritual. Many people have individual traditions that they follow every day, whether that means following an exact brewing procedure or just drinking from their favorite mug with a splash of milk and a teaspoon of sugar. We encourage you to take a coffee personality quiz to get a sense of your tastes and the practices that jibe with your approach to life. From there, you can build your own comforting coffee ritual to center yourself every morning.