“Today, only Eritrean coffee remains with Eritreans along with their memories about Eritrea. It is this tradition that still is the thread that keeps the Eritreans together. The etiquette in offering and drinking coffee is distinctive to them.”
Like any group that leaves the home country for whatever reasons — personal or political — the Eritreans who migrated to various counties too have brought with them something indigenous.
Africa was a boiling pot in the mid-seventies with many nations staking their claim for freedom from their colonial masters. Eritrea too was battling to break the shackles that Italy had imposed on them.
There was an exodus of many Eritrean families due to this independence struggle and political compulsions and each one migrated to places where there was already an Eritrean population or the more adventurous set out to places where there were no Eritreans.
In their move to different places they brought their own flavor of culture to their new homes, and the one tradition that still rules the roost in every part of the world is the art of coffee making and drinking. It is unique in its ethnicity.
Eritrean families fleeing the independence war invariably ended up living in neighboring countries like Sudan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Majority of the Eritrean families emigrated to the Kingdom because they follow Islam.
These Eritreans, like the other migratory groups, have left everything behind — their homes, goods and probates — but they did not leave one major tradition back home.
Today, only Eritrean coffee remains with Eritreans along with their memories about Eritrea. It is this tradition that still is the thread that keeps the Eritreans together. The etiquette in offering and drinking coffee is distinctive to them.
Eritrean coffee known as “Jabbanh” according to the pottery they use during the drinking ceremony. Jabbanh for Eritreans is more than a cup of coffee. It is a history, tradition and life. Jabbanh means the honor of Eritrea; it is basically a meeting of past and present, and during Jabbanh if a group of Eritreans is present then they talk about Eritrea, pray for Eritrea and hope to go back to Eritrea. When Eritreans moved from their home country, they had to adapt to life of the new nation in which they became domiciled. Jabbanh was the only thing Eritreans could not leave behind, it was always with them no matter where or when.
Nowadays, with the number of Eritreans in the Kingdom growing, Jabbanh has become popular in Saudi Arabia. But Jabbanh for them is still tradition that has rules and steps that makes it unique.
The following are the steps that determine how to make Eritrean coffee:
Eritreans are among the people who enjoy the sounds of roasting coffee beans, and it is the oldest woman of the family that usually conducts Jabbanh.
She presents herself after the coffee beans have been roasted, and asks people to smell it and ascertain the quality of coffee. It is only after this custom that she crushes the coffee to put it in Jabbanh and mixes it with water and ginger.
The other aspect of the ceremony is that every single member of the family drinks three cups of coffee and each cup has a name:
- “Awal” is the first cup and means the beginning for Jabbanh.
- “Deggam” is the second cup and it means that let out joys and hopes double.
- “Khader” is the last one that brings about an end to Jabbanh.
The taste of coffee is different from one to another and depends on the degree of concentration of ginger, which becomes less from Awal to Deggam then Khader.
One important word has to be said by everyone who had Jabbanh is “Toa’Aom Boon” which means sweet coffee, and that’s how people thank the woman who made Jabbanh for them.
Eritreans have Jabbanh every day at least once, morning or evening, even if there is an event or not.
Most of Eritrean history has been transferred from one generation to the next during the Jabbanh ceremony. So it is just not coffee, it is something special.