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Ethiopia's coffee love affair

From Isha Sesay, CNN
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Cup of culture in Ethiopia
  • Ethiopia exported $528 million-worth of coffee last year
  • Some families hold a coffee drinking ceremony every day
  • Ethiopians drink on average four cups of strong Arabica coffee a day
  • In a coffee shop you'll pay about 50 cents for a cup of coffee

(CNN) -- For many in Ethiopia, it is part of their daily routine -- a steaming hot cup of coffee first thing in the morning. But in an area considered to be the birthplace of the coffee bean, the drink is also an important part of the economy and culture.

Ethiopia exported $528 million-worth of coffee last year. It is a love affair for the country that stretches back to the 10th century.

"It's just the sense of belonging. It's ours, we drink it, it's produced here, we don't import it, so I think that satisfies everybody," explained Wondassem Meshasha, who runs a family coffee shop in downtown Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia says its highlands are the birthplace of coffee. The story goes that centuries ago grazing goats tried the beans and started behaving wildly, so the goat herders tried the beans too.

How Ethiopians came to dry, roast and grind the beans is a mystery, but the elixir has become one of the world's most popular beverages and nowhere more so than in its homeland.

In a sense you can say coffee and Ethiopia go together.
--Wondassem Meshasha, barista
  • Ethiopia
  • Coffee
  • Africa

"Ethiopians love coffee, and coffee is our source of income. It's our pride, it's how about 80% of Ethiopians live and it's our number-one foreign-income earner," Meshasha said. "In a sense you can say coffee and Ethiopia go together."

Some families perform an elaborate coffee ceremony in their homes every day. It is an important Ethiopian tradition and a way to get together and socialize.

Ethiopians say that the ceremony is not just about drinking coffee but creates a sense of belonging within the family.

"It's related to the Arabs who came to Ethiopia and who actually took our coffee to Yemen, and developed the drink, so I think history will probably tell you that it came from the Arabs," Meshasha said.

"Even the busiest person will probably have his traditional coffee ceremony either at lunch or at home, so it will never fade away," he added.

Drinking coffee outside the home is also seen as a sociable activity. In towns and cities the coffee shops are places to meet friends, strike deals and fall in love.

Ethiopians drink on average four cups of strong Arabica coffee a day. It's all part of the routine, explains one coffee drinker, called Daniel.

But the economic strain is showing, and rather than buying coffee from coffee shops, some of those four cups are bought on the pavement for pennies.

"One problem is that coffee has become quite expensive here in Ethiopia for local consumption -- though each Ethiopian needs its coffee every day and they will get it some way or other," Meshasha said.

He continued: "In coffee shops like ours it's a bit expensive for low-income people. Even middle-class people find it expensive."

In a coffee shop you'll pay about 50 cents for a cup of coffee but for 10 cents you can buy one from a street hawker. They are a familiar sight on the streets of the capital, carrying around a flask of home brew and china tea cups.

It seems in this nation, indoors or outdoors, you are never far from a coffee.

"Even if you find it at home, (in a) coffee shop, on the road, hotels, restaurants, everywhere, you'll find a cup of coffee," Meshasha said.