Ethiopia journal: Coffee

I cannot soften the blow. The coffee in Ethiopia puts us to shame. The espresso shorts are magnificent, the milk, perfect. What the hell are we doing back home?

Coffee in the morning at the guest house was prepared in what we would call “cowboy” style. However, instead of rot-gut, it had surprisingly little low-end bitterness. It was spicy and bright.

I’m seeing a Ethiopian coffee ceremony for the first time. Couldn’t do it in our own house as the charcoal briquettes would set off the carbon monoxide detector. The beans are cracking, second cracking, stirred with a staff. Smack! Cool with water! Popcorn from the oven. A mortar and pestle would be more trad, but they have a grinder in the kitchen. Incense fills the room in a burst of smoke on the hot coals. One girl teases the other for putting too much on. Smells fantastic.

The Ethiopian beans I saw at Kaldi’s coffee (a local chain of shops) were about 50% peaberry and uniformly medium dark brown. Pretty matte finish – no visible oil. “Baked” is what Brendan might call it. I would love to see what their shot pull looks like. The next day, they let me stand behind the counter for a while and watch. Holy smokes! Super high dosage of grounds, almost no tamp. “Rancilio” machine. Slow drip pull, super long shot – ~ 90 seconds even. Raw milk! Jugs of it arrived while I was standing there. Unrefrigerated. Steams and foams wonderfully. So good, it’s illegal in the US. For a machioto, they pulled the shot on top of the milk, making designs with a single shot head. That is much closer to it’s namesake.

In the air, on the street, at lunch, in my room, I am constantly smelling a slight whiff of something spicy and burnt and wonderful. What is it? Now that I can put my finger on it, I can’t believe I didn’t recognize it earlier: Fresh roasting coffee! When it’s right there in your face (hovering over the hot machine) it is a bit pungent and not enjoyably. But once it has wafted down the street a hundred meters, it is absolutely fantastic. It’s funny that this is by far the most frequent comment I get when roasting coffee in the shop back home – a praise of the smell down the block. Now, I get to make the same comment myself.

How to brew simple Ethiopian coffee style: Fine coffee grounds + cold water in a tea kettle. Heat to boil. Let sit about 3 minutes. Pour. Leave the last 15% in the bottom. Spoon in lots of coarse sugar.

Do you leave Ethiopia when you enter the airport? With regards to the coffee service, the answer is YES.

The quality of the coffee has varied on ths trip, everywhere we go. One thing has been constant though – very nice ceramic ware. Elegant and heavy. How come all our cups and saucers in America are so ghetto?

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