Bunna is served

My morning coffee will never taste the same. After three weeks in Ethiopia the standard breakfast blend is desperately lacking that unique flavor of hospitality and culture steeped in a thousand years of tradition. With the rich fresh scent of roasted bunna still wafting through my imagination my thoughts drift back to the highlands of Africa as the sun raises slowly on a crisp autumn morning in Wisconsin.

At a few of the villages we visited on our tour of the Tigray region of Ethiopia each meal was served with a ceremony of coffee or bunna. Fresh green beans are seared black in a well-used iron skillet over the heat of a charcoal brazier. Fragrant smoke rises up from the sizzling pan as the bunna maker, typically a woman, fans the aroma under the nose of everyone gathered waiting the taste of this sacred beverage. Anticipation grows.

With wooden mortar and pestle the charred beans are crushed to a coarse powder. Transferred to an urn with a narrow opening the ground bunna is set upon the brazier to boil. Within minutes a plume of black foam the color of road tar bubbles up through the opening. Cool water is added to the hot liquid. Thick and pungent, but a bit thinner now, it boils again. Bunna is served.

Tiny porcelain cups are filled with a stream so rich and dark that it seems to absorb every ray of visible light. The taste is heavy on the tongue, rough at first, but it suddenly smooths going down as if by magic to carve a path both to the stomach and the brain at the same moment. The intoxication of caffeine is immediate as columns of steam lift the corners of your mouth into a smile.

What remains most profound in my thinking of this simple ceremony is the spirit of community imbibed with every sip. Ethiopia remains one of the most economically challenged regions of world. And in the face extreme poverty the people of these remote villages continue to share what little they have to welcome strangers. Though they may lack material prosperity their smiles, laughter and willingness to extend the hand of friendship betrays a wealth of kindness to be admired and perhaps envied.

Special thanks to sponsors  Patagonia, Osprey, Clik Elite and Mountain Hardwear whose generous support makes this latest series of stories possible.

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I’m a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.