Cultivating and Tending Medicinal Relationship with Coffee


By Craig Canedy

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One of the great tragedies of our time is our growing sense of separation from the world around us. This sense of separation is expressed in our use of language as well as our behaviors, practices, beliefs, and perceptions. We have gradually lost touch with our true inherent relationship with nature and, as a consequence, ourselves.

This perceived disassociation with nature has led to an impoverished inner landscape that we seek to fill with acquisition, consumption, immediate gratification, and security. Yet, no matter how successful our efforts, we fail to fill the void. Some understand that the antidote is a reframing and reprioritization of relationship. Indigenous people living closely with nature, view relationships very differently than we do in the industrialized world, acknowledging that everything around them has living energy and therefore is treated with respect.

One practical example is our relationship with coffee in the industrialized world. Coffee is an indigenous plant that grows wild in Ethiopia, where it is prepared in communal ceremony to honor relationships with family, friends, and guests. Traditionally, coffee is not consumed every day, and would never have been drunk “on the go” or for an energy wake up. The coffee ceremony is revered specifically to celebrate and honor relationships. The ceremonial practice and reverence for the coffee bean itself is a part of the coffee bean’s heritage and living story.

What many people traditionally do drink every day for personal enjoyment and health is called “kuti”; or coffee leaf tea. This doesn’t mean that today we shouldn’t drink coffee, but that we need to consider our relationship with it. Understanding, acknowledging, appreciating, and engaging in the traditional ceremonial practices and knowledge related to coffee and other plants of consumption will help us cultivate better relationship, one adjusted to be more considerate and reciprocal; more in ayni. Recognizing a living energetic connection to coffee and other foods as living beings, these relationships become truly medicinal.

Traditionally, in Ethiopia, a woman of the household prepares the coffee for ceremony, and this is considered to be an honor. Green whole coffee beans are first roasted over an open flame in a small cast iron pan. These beans are then taken and ground down with a wooden mortar and pestle. Once ground, the coffee beans are then steeped in boiling water for a short period of time. Following this, the liquid and beans are strained through a sieve. The warm liquid is then poured into small handle-less cups from one foot above. The cups are filled to the top. The repetition of brewing, straining, and pouring is performed for three rounds with the same ground beans. The first round is called “awel”; meaning “first”; the second round is called kale’i; meaning “second”; and the third round is called “bereka”; meaning “to be blessed”. The intention of the ceremony is to invoke a blessing upon the participants. A similar ceremonial practice of invoking blessing upon visitors and guests is also performed by the Igbo people in Enugu, Africa, by performing a ritual breaking of a kola nut. The number of pieces signifies specific meaning and omen, and most of the time, the elder facilitator of the ceremony knows just how to crack the nut in order to transmit good omen. The pieces of the nut are then eaten by all participants. The Igbo believe that the kola tree is the original tree. Imagine how things could shift if the drinking of cola soft drinks honored these traditions and heritage!

Of course, the coffee plant has migrated all over the world, and our modern culture has created many spaces and tools for drinking coffee. For those of us looking to adapt and adopt a more respectful relationship with coffee and all nature medicines, there are specific approaches we can take. First, if possible, commit to participating in a traditional coffee ceremony with some people from Ethiopia. You can also communicate with the coffee spirit: express your intentions and introduce yourself in ceremony. Open your energy field to the coffee plant, be still and listen deeply. Notice the changes to your relationship to coffee and the medicine that has been gifted.

jeffrey schmitt