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Coffee Customs & Rituals from Around the World

Coffee Customs & Rituals from Around the World

Throughout history and for many substances, many rituals – both formal and informal – have evolved in which those substances are crucial elements. Certainly, coffee is one such substance.

For many people, stopping at a certain point in the day or after a meal to have a cup of coffee or espresso allows them to relax for a moment, and put aside their daily problems. And when sharing coffee or espresso with friends and family, the ritual has become not only a basic gesture of hospitality, but also a celebration of being together.

In many cultures, the rituals of tea and coffee drinking also have religious, and/or spiritual significance. A prime example of this is the famous Japanese tea ceremony which has lots of formalism attached to a proscribed and often protracted serving of special kind of ceremonial tea.

Coffee has also been though of as a spiritual substance within some cultures. In his book “Coffee: Botany, Cultivation, and Utilization,” Frederick Wellman describes a blood ceremony that takes place in Africa in which “the blood of the two pledging parties is mixed and put between the twin seeds of a coffee fruit, and the whole swallowed”.

Coffee as we know it today was first used as medicine, then an aid to meditation by Arabian monks. Pilgrims to Mecca spread the custom of coffee drinking, carrying the coffee and its customs all over the Muslim world. At first, Christians believed that coffee was a “black bitter invention of Satan,” unlike wine, which symbolically was “Christ’s blood.” This changed in the 16th century when Pope Clement VIII tasted the coffee, and gave it his blessing.

For people in the Middle East, and also around the Horn of Africa, coffee still has some religious connotations, and is used in rituals. The Ethiopians and Eritreans brought their coffee ceremony across the oceans to United States when they emigrated. Their ritual begins by roasting the coffee beans in a special bowl, and then cooling them on a straw plate prior to grinding them with a mortar and pestle. Then coffee is then prepared in a traditional clay pot, and served in tiny cups.

For people living in the Middle East, and in some parts of Eastern Europe, the foam that collects in the pot is essential to the daily coffee ritual. The coffee is ground very finely into a powder, and then combined with sugar and water, and sometimes with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, or cloves. This mixture is brought to a near-boil in a special pot called an ibrik to prepare a wonderful black Turkish coffee.

The thick froth that first bubbles up in the ibrik is poured into serving cups. The coffee remaining in the ibrik is again brought to boil for the last time, and poured into the cups over the froth. The sludgy grounds left behind in the serving cups are sometimes “read” (divined) to predict the coffee drinker’s fortune.

In Italy, espresso is sipped all day long as part of the daily ritual. The French start their day with a large bowl of café au lait, ideal for the dunking of buttery croissants. The Scandinavians and Dutch also like their morning coffee with milk, accompanied by pastries and/or bread. While all of these examples are daily rituals, none of them have mystical or religious connotations.

In Austria, coffee houses are a very important part of the Viennese culture. Cafe Landtmann is a well-known hangout for actors, while Cafe Hawelka is thought to attract the high-browed “intellectual crowd.” Here coffee is frequently accompanied by the well known Sachertorte, which comprises layers of chocolate cake, chocolate butter cream, apricot jam, and chocolate icing.

Like Americans, the Germans usually drink coffee in the morning and again in the late-afternoon. In South America, the Brazilians drink café com leite in the morning. As the day progresses, they drink black cafezhino. The coffee of Mexico, caffe de la olla, is brewed with raw sugar, and cinnamon sticks.

Americans coffees range from drip-brewed traditional coffee served with dinner to the chicory New Orleans café au lait usually enjoyed with beignets. In the last decade, Starbucks created the “Seattle coffee craze,” and has made espresso-based drinks (such as cappuccino and latte), and espresso-laden drinks (like red-eyes and dead-eyes) more widespread and popular in America than ever before.

...written by your friends at The Coffee Brewers