Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Who Knew that Heaven was in Ethiopia???

Ethiopian coffee.

I've written about it before, talked about it incessantly since arriving home, longed for it hourly.

I am not a person who normally drinks a cup of coffee.  I do not know how to brew coffee in our coffee maker without asking Geoff...usually when company is coming over.  It's something that I drink on those rare occasions out with a friend, or at a friend's (I love my friend Donna's french press), with a piece of dessert or something sweet.  I just don't like a plain cup of coffee all that much, and I have concluded that most of it tastes like muddy dishwater.  I do enjoy an occasional specialty coffee (cappuccino; mocha; something like that), and I have concluded post Ethiopia that these are more enjoyable to me because they contain the stronger, darker coffees/espressos.  I'm a bit coffee snobbish, I suppose.

I'm even more a coffee snob now, post Ethiopia.  I have tasted the best now, and nothing less will do.  Seriously.

The story of coffee has its very beginnings in Ethiopia; it is the original home of the coffee plant, which still grows wild in the highlands.  While it is unclear how coffee was first discovered as a beverage, it is believed that it has been used thus as early as the 9th century.  From Ethiopia, it has been introduced to many parts of the world, and is now the 2nd most popular beverage in the world, behind tea.

Coffee is Ethiopia's biggest export - over 60% of its total export earnings come from coffee.  Its production hasn't changed much since the beginning, as I understand it; most of of the production is done by hand, from the planting of trees to the final pickings.  Over twelve million Ethiopians are dependent on Ethiopia's coffee industry for their livelihood.  I have decided that drinking Ethiopian coffee is a very practical way in which I can support that economy...I will do my best to help.  :)

No trip to Ethiopia could be considered complete without participation in the coffee ceremony that is synonymous there with hospitality and afternoon coffee breaks.

First, the coffee beans are roasted over a charcoal fire, the aroma mixing with the sweet fragrance of the incense that is generally burned during the preparation...

The beans are then pounded by mortar and pestle...
Then, the coffee is slowly brewed in a traditional black clay pot...these pots are to be found everywhere and I hope to bring one home next time we travel - I could kick myself for deciding last minute not to buy the one I could have purchased for 20 birr, an impossible (approx.) $1.40.

The coffee is usually served heavily sweetened, with a side dish of popcorn (of all things)!!  It is sipped from tiny china or glass cups, with or without handles...a few times I laughed outright at Geoff when he complained about how hot it was to pick up a handle-less glass cup!  Poor baby.  (I'm nasty, I know.)

On the day we arrived in Addis, it was around 4:00 the morning.  By late morning, after settling in a bit and snatching a couple of hours' sleep, we were ready to brave our new world and go on the hunt for some lunch...and maybe some coffee!!  After a half hour walk, we turned into a Pizza restaurant on Bole (pronounced 'BO-lay') Road.  Though we were interested more in an ethnic food experience than in the "New York New York" experience this restaurant promised, we were really hungry by this point and decided to try out Ethiopian/New York New York style pizza!  Turns out, incidentally, that it was quite good - a little bland, perhaps, but good.  While perusing the menu, I noticed that the restaurant offered various types of coffee.  I'd heard, from those who have travelled before me, that the thing to try was the machiato.  Just writing the word, understanding now what I didn't yet know then, gives me such a strong craving for one that I can hardly bear it!

Anyway, I ordered one, and this is what was presented to me: my first taste of heaven

It was divine.  Truly.  Dark, rich with incredible depth of flavour, extremely strong with not even a hint of bitterness.  I. was. smitten. hooked. forever!

That was the first of many such visits to the Pearly Gates.  Though perhaps the best of all was the coffee we drank at the Tomoca coffee house.  Prior to leaving for Ethiopia, I had this coffee house on my list of places to go; many BTDT families had recommended it as offering excellent, and cheap, coffee.  Our driver, Marcos, confirmed that this was the place to go, and so we did...and again...and again....  You'll notice the round sugar dispenser in one of the pictures below.  The first time we had coffee at Tomoca, I poured one serving (approximately 1 teaspoon) of sugar into my tiny coffee cup.  Marcos looked on in horror, grabbed the sugar dispenser, and dumped another four (yes, four) more servings of sugar into my little glass.  "Better," he said confidently.  Frankly, he was right!  But who really needs the equivalent of five teaspoons of sugar in a cup of of coffee that measures, at most, 1/8th of a cup??  I'd rather do with less, given that I like the taste just as well.

The coffee, despite being the best, like, ever (or have I said that already), cost an astounding $0.30/machiato.  We bought a number of packages of coffee beans there, too, and brought them home, for friends and family and for our own cupboard.  When we got home and opened the suitcase containing the coffee beans, the aroma that emerged from the suitcase was...well...mouthwatering.

The Tomoca Coffee House...usually crowded with people.

Here are Marcos and Geoff, ready for their caffeine fix of the day.  Can you see mine standing along with theirs?  I am salivating.  Every other time I was there, the tables were jammed with men standing at these little tables (and I was always the only woman).

(below - three pictures)
Here's the coffee we shared with two other Imagine families after a traditional Ethiopian dinner one evening at Yod Abyssinia Restaurant:

One final coffee note before I try to leave this subject behind me.  Two days after coming home, I made a stop at Starbucks, desperate to find a way to replicate the taste of my beloved little machiatos.  So I asked the barista to give me a double espresso and then put a tiny shot of hot milk into it.  She looked at me a little aghast and asked if I was aware of how strong a double espresso would be.  I confidently said "yup," and smiled, salivating internally with the hope of finding something I could live with to replace the machiato.  I monitored precisely what she did and stopped her from adding as much milk as she wanted.  So I ended up with about 1/3 of a tall/small cup of super strong espresso, combined with a wee bit of hot milk, and dumped two packets of sugar into it.  Gotta say, though I find the aftertaste of Starbucks coffee to be bitter (almost burnt), it wasn't altogether a write-off.  :)  Not the same depth of flavour, not as rich in either taste or texture, not quite as strong as my beloved ET coffee...but maybe a poor replica that I can indulge in on occasion when the heavenward call becomes too much.  In fact, I may need to go back again today.  Matthew, get your boots on...we're going out!

And with that, I will try to stop (at least talking about) my obsession with Ethiopian machiatos.  But I will say that, beyond the prospect of finally taking custody of our children #2 and #3, the lure of coffee is amongst the top three drivers to get me back to Ethiopia.  It. really. is. that. good. Amen.


  1. Oh Ruth, I so totally hear you!! The coffee (and the St Georges beer for Tim) is a thing that I long for! We figured out a way, to make it taste exactly like how it was there! We put it in our coffee perk, and perk it for like 30 minutes...and seriously, it was just the same...heaven.

  2. What a great post! I love coffee myself but recently decided to stop drinking it daily due to the horrible migraines I was getting. Reading this really makes me want to try Ethiopian coffee!!

    Thank you Ruth for taking the time to share your trip with us. I just love reading about it and especially enjoy the wonderful photos.

  3. I am an absolute coffee fiend and my mouth also waters at your coffee descriptions. I do not care for the regular coffee in the least, but love espresso and espresso based drinks. Although, I must say that I cannot tolerate Starbucks espresso on it's own (I do like the mochas though). I've had to sample quite a few spots to find the good stuff . . . I think your newfound interest may require a similar search!

    At home, I use a Bialetti Moka Express (which is a stovetop espresso maker) and it is not toooo bad. I plan to get a Nespresso machine when I have the $$ - it makes unbelievably good espresso for the price. I doubt that any of it compares to Ethiopian coffee, but at least I am not living with the knowledge of what's out there!

  4. I love the coffee too. And I really don't like coffee normally. I can't drink it due to migraines, but Ethiopian coffee (I was told) has much less caffeine. I found I could drink it and not get a migraine.
    The taste! I miss it so much - just reading this post makes me want to get on a plane. Nothing compares to it!!

  5. I don't like coffee but your picture of the ethiopian coffee makes me want to try a cup.

  6. I don't drink coffee, but loved the coffee in Ethiopia! Your whole post made me smile!