Check out this month’s issue of AFAR travel magazine and the story “COFFEELAND” by writer David Farley. This was an epic journey across Ethiopia tracing the origination of coffee that goes back to the thirteenth century. Legend says that a herder named Kaldi noticed his goats “dancing” after nibbling bright red berries. Kaldi brought the berries to a nearby monastery where holy men declared they must be the work of the devil and threw them into a fire. Yet, the aroma was too tempting and they quickly raked the roasted beans from the embers, ground them up, and dissolved them in hot water, yielding the world’s first cup of coffee.
This journey did not involve dancing goats but I did travel with brilliant coffee expert Geoff Watts from Intelligentsia coffee and the incredible people from TechnoServe who taught me more than I could ever imagine about my favorite beverage. I also got to meet farmers who showed me what they believed was THE ORIGINAL COFFEE TREE. This happened in two different villages and there seems to be some debate over which one holds the original tree. Wherever the truth lies, I do know that the culture around coffee in Ethiopia is a serious affair. Its much more than gulping bottomless cups on the go. For those who’ve been invited to a coffee ceremony, it the highest possible gesture of respect and friendship. If you are attending an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, be prepared for a long wait. A traditional ceremony can last a couple of hours and it feels like a spiritual ritual as incense is burned and the grounds are brewed three times. The first round of coffee is called awel, the second kale’i and the third bereka which actually means ‘to be blessed’.
The experience and knowledge changed the way I will ever think about coffee. Here in the USA, we sling it back but after witnessing first hand the tremendous energy and love it takes to get the best beans to market, I came back a changed woman. And on the advice of these coffee experts, my french press is now sadly sitting in the back of the closet and we are brewing coffee by hand with the best roasted Ethiopian coffee. Here are some of the images from the trip but pick up a copy of Afar to see the whole story.