Why three pots of buna?

Okay… as you can tell, we clearly stole a little inspiration for our title from the book, Three Cups of Tea.  Let me assure you that in our blog we will attempt to refrain from the exaggerations, self-aggrandizement, and alleged outright lies of Greg Mortenson (see 60 Minutes expose of a few months ago).  Despite the valiant efforts of friends (thanks, Henry and Kim), we were for the longest time stuck for a blog title.  We wanted something that would reflect Ethiopia, catch people’s attention, and yet wouldn’t seem horribly trite within six months.  It was Richelle’s brilliance that finally came through with this title.

So why “Three Pots of Buna”?  Buna is Amharic for coffee, Amharic is the national language of Ethiopia, and Ethiopia is the land of coffee.  As with many ancient lands in the world, much of ancient Ethiopian history merges on legend, and legend has it that Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee as a consumable beverage.  The story goes that a young boy named Kaldi in the Kaffa region of southwest Ethiopia was tending to his family goats in the field one day when he saw the goats dancing.  After observation of the goats for a few days, he found that the source of the goats dancing energy was some red berries on some nearby bushes.  He too consumed the berries, discovered the caffeine-energy that they produced, shared them with his village and… thus… coffee cultivation, consumption, and export throughout Ethiopia, then to the Middle East and eventually around the world (yes, the coffee “bean” is actually the seed in the center of a berry that grows on a bush… when you buy the non-export-qualify unroasted coffee beans here in the local market, you may have to extract some of the beans from their dried-up berries).

Ethiopia is not only the birthplace of coffee, but coffee is woven into the culture and into everyday life.  Coffee is brewed traditionally in a black earthen pot called a Jebuna.  During a traditional coffee ceremony, coffee beans are roasted over charcoal, then ground.  A handful or so of ground coffee is then poured into the top of the Jebuna and hot water is added.  The coffee is allowed to sit for a few minutes, and then coffee is poured into small cups and served (often some grass is placed at the top of the Jebuna to act as a filter to keep the grounds in as it’s poured… sometimes there is no filter and you simply enjoy some of the grounds with your coffee…).  While consuming the coffee, the people sit around, talk and often snack on popcorn that’s been sweetened with a little sugar.  While most Ethiopians take their coffee black with sugar, here in the Wolaita region of Ethiopia, the “old-timers” take their coffee black with salt and spiced butter added.  As an aside, also here in Wolaita region, we’ve learned a new way of understanding the Ethiopian phrase, shai-buna Shai is Amharic for tea, so when Ethiopians ask you if you want to sit down for either tea or coffee, they’ll sometimes ask, “Shall we go for shai-buna?” Apparently in Wolaita, shai-buna can literally mean one cup, half coffee, half tea. 

So why “Three pots…”? In a traditional coffee ceremony, the Jebuna is filled with hot water three times, using the same original grounds.  This usually means that those enjoying the coffee are served three rounds.  The first round is wefram (literally means fat); it’s very strong, as the grounds are fresh.  The second round is a little weaker, and the final round is k’ech’in (literally means thin).  When you visit someone’s home and you see them spread the grass on the ground, pull out the charcoal burner and start roasting coffee, you know you’re in for a long visit, because you’ll be leaving only after three pots of buna.  The coffee ceremony represents a lot about Ethiopia.  It’s a long, slow, social, traditional process steeped (or should I say, “brewed”) in centuries of history, in which Ethiopians take great pride.

I hope you’ll enjoy our blog as we write about our observations and experiences with Ethiopia, its culture, its landscape, and its people, as well as our life here at the CCC Children’s Home in Wolaita, Soddo.

5 responses to “Why three pots of buna?

  1. I’m so happy to hear you’re doing ok and have some time to write and keep us posted on your lives. Three pots of buna it is! We think and speak of you often and are proud to be associated (however tangentially) with your courage and determination. Coco and Felix say hi to Titay!

  2. Abol Buna it is, I have just finished reading an article on Buna from U.P. Michigan what a coincidence!
    I am happy to read your blog enjoy,enjoy, enjoy Ethiopia.

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