Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Ethiopian Coffee Craze

Ethiopian coffee - the best of the best. Period. 

Macchiato heavenly goodness

There. I said it. Yes, I'm Colombian and our coffee is fantastic and clearly (probably biasedly!) the best in the world. Or so I thought. After experiencing Ethiopia, I have to say that Ethiopian coffee is by far the best coffee I have ever had anywhere, ever. I'm just being honest here: nothing else that I have ever had comes close, and I think the secret to this wonderful taste and experience in the roasting. 

Traditional Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
The Coffee Ceremony 
Sipping on home-roasted Ethiopian bunna (coffee) is much more than just a pleasant experience, it's beyond mind blowing! Just like injera, Ethiopians take their bunna very seriously. Coffee is typically drunk between three and four times a day and almost every single time before consumption, a coffee ceremony precedes. 

The raw, whole beans (which are likely not export quality) are roasted on a small pan over a fire. Darker roasts are roasted longer and lighter roasts don't get as much of the heat. The medium to darker roasts were the most common. After the roasting the beans, the roaster brings the pan to the drinkers so they can smell the freshly roasted beans. Then, the beans are ground by hand using a special mortar and pestel. The grounds are then added to hot water and frankincense is lit to create a nice atmosphere. After a few minutes, small coffee cups (simi) are rinsed and then the coffee is served. Usually, Ethiopians add quite a bit of sugar to their coffee but I always asked for mine black and proceeded to have at least three (and often more) servings. 

Frankincense

Macchiato vs. Cappuccino
Coffee ceremony coffee is usually black, with the option to add sugar, and milk is not an option. However, every restaurant and cafe offers espresso-type drinks with milk. The Ethiopian macchiato is the closest version to a 'western' cappuccino and it kicks 'western' cappuccino ass. The Ethiopian version of a cappuccino is its own thing and is basically just hot milk with a little bit of chocolate and a drizzle of coffee. Cappuccinos are not their best drink, macchiatos are definitely king. Ethiopian macchiato comes with a bit of steamed milk on top and, for about $0.40 USD per serving, is dangerously addictive. We'd usually have at least two macchiatos every time we sat down at a cafe… I mean, why not? I'm not generally a coffee drinker at all -- I'm a much bigger fan of tea -- but in Ethiopia, I completely reversed that and had coffee almost every single day 

Size matters
Sipping on coffee in the middle of nowhere
One of the nice things about coffee in Ethiopia is the serving size. Unlike crazy vent or 24 ounce sizes, bunna cups are very small and probably only hold about three ounces of coffee. Some of the macchiato cups can be a little bigger but probably wouldn't hold more than five ounces. Having more than one "cup" is therefore almost the norm. 


Origins

Legend has it that an Ethiopian farmer Kaldi discovered coffee. Many, many years ago, whenever the farmer's goats ate small red 'fruits' from a particular bush, they would be energized. The farmer noticed this only happened with the red 'fruit' so he decided to try it for himself and got the same reaction. Coffee was thus born but it wasn't until the Arabs began to trade it that coffee got really popular. Back in the day, Ethiopia was a much bigger country, known as Abyssinia and its territory included today's Eritrea, Djibouti, and parts of Somalia, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen and even Saudi Arabia. Coffee beans eventually made their way across the Red Sea to Yemen, hence the term arabica when it comes to some coffee beans. Today, Kaldi's is the Starbucks of Ethiopia, with stores all over the capital, Addis Ababa. 
Such a delicious aroma!

One of the most memorable things about Ethiopia is seeing every little cafe always full of people, no matter what time of day. The cafe culture is very strong in Ethiopia, especially in the big cities like Gondar and Addis Ababa. The other memorable experience was the fact that almost no matter where you go, whether you're on a bus or walking around, the scent of freshly roasted coffee beans follows you around. The unfortunate consequence is that I now feel very spoiled and will probably stick to tea to avoid disappointment... until Sumatra in late July!

47 comments:

  1. Great post however , I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Bless you!

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    Replies
    1. I'd be happy to! Do you have any specific questions?

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  2. If you are a true coffee lover, then you must try to buy coffee beans instead of ordering those grinded coffee packets that are easily available in the market, because it will help you to get that natural flaovour and taste that refreshes the mind and tastes too good.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your comment Buy Coffee. I could not agree more - roasting your own green coffee beans and grinding them at home yields a sublime coffee drinking experience! If anyone happens to live in the Bay Area, Sweet Maria's in Oakland is an excellent place to buy green beans and roasting equipment.

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  3. I live in LA where can I buy the best roasted coffee beans ?

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    Replies
    1. I'm not sure about Los Angeles (I assume that's what you mean by LA) because I have not spent a lot of time there. The best roasted coffee beans honestly depends on your taste. Do you like lighter or darker roasts? Do you prefer drip or espresso drinks? If you light lighter roasts, the newer coffee places may be a good place. I have been to Intelligentsia in Santa Monica and they take their coffee very seriously (http://www.intelligentsiacoffee.com/products/coffee). For darker roasts, I have no idea where to find good ones in LA. Illy is not a bad choice, however, especially for espresso. They seem to sell whole beans online: http://shop.illy.com/online/store/products_whole-bean-us_us
      In the Bay Area, Cole Coffee has some of the best roasted beans I've had, they work their magic with Yergacheffe beans when available: http://www.colecoffee.com/

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  4. If anyone wants to drink medium cups of the new dark roast coffee at a discounted price then I personally suggest to visit the different types of coffee shop.

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  5. Hey, I appreciate your writing. Ethiopian Limu Inara coffee is by far the best coffee I've ever tasted. I live in Ottawa, Canada, and we're lucky enough here to be able to drink this in Bridgehead coffee shops, or buy them whole grain in bags and grind them ourselves at home. Thanks for sharing.
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