In our hurried world, coffee is often a means to an end; but an ancient Ethiopian tradition reminds those who take part to take things slow and enjoy time with friends.
When you hear the words “coffee ritual”, does your daily trek to your favorite café for a grab-it-and-go latte come to mind? We may demand things quick and easy here in the US, but half a world away from us, there are people for whom drinking coffee truly is a ritual.
It’s Wednesday and in the spirit of taking a break to get over that weekly hump, I thought I’d give you a closer look into the tradition of Ethiopian Coffee Ceremonies and tell you where you can find one near you.
In Ethiopia, often considered the birthplace of coffee, coffee drinking is taken very seriously; so much so that the people of Ethiopia created special cultural ceremony to celebrate their love for the brew. Get invited to one and it’s considered an unspoken way of being told, “We’re friends now”. It’s a time for relaxation, and the ritual can take hours.
Sights, smells, and flavors
The process is usually hosted by a woman. She begins by roasting the coffee beans in a flat pan over a small charcoal stove. Incense is burned during the ceremony and the mix of scents as the coffee roasts creates and inviting atmosphere. The woman hosting the ceremony quickly washes the roasted beans in the pan and then shakes it to clear the husks away.
Once the beans turn an oily black color, the woman then begins grinding them with a mortar and pestle. The grounds are then slowly stirred into a pot with a round bottom and a straw lid known as a jebena. Because the grounds were made by hand, they don’t have the even texture of machine-ground coffee and need to be strained a few times before the can be poured into cups.
Honoring the generations
The part that comes next is truly a time-honored ritual. The youngest child announces that the coffee is ready and offers the first cup to the oldest family member or person in the room. The woman who prepared the coffee then pours each cup from a height of at least one foot, a technique that can take years to master properly.
Ethiopians drink their coffee with plenty of sugar, sometimes salt, but never milk or cream. Once the coffee has been served, it’s customary to compliment the woman who ground and prepared it on the coffee’s flavor. As with many coffees, the flavor will vary depending on region. You may end up with an acidic Harar or the more unusual Sidamo.
Each guest then sits and talks through two more rounds of coffee. It is considered rude to leave before the third round, or the ‘baraka’, because it’s the host’s way of bestowing a special blessing on all who are gathered.
Like most immigrants to this country, Ethiopians have brought their traditions with them. In Los Angeles, Messob Restaurant in the city’s Little Ethiopia neighborhood invites patrons to take part in this special ritual or purchase Ethiopian coffee to go. Cities such as New York and even my town, Pittsburgh, often have a selection of Ethiopian restaurants, so if you’re interested in trying out this ritual, don’t be afraid to call them up and ask how you can get involved.
Grown on the venerable reggae legend’s own farm, the recently launched Marley Coffee is helping a son achieve his late father’s dream.
Imagine waking up in Jamaica. Cool island breezes wash against your face as you watch the sun rise over the mountains in the distance. The light of the rising island sun reflects shades of bright pink against the gentle, lapping waves of the Caribbean Sea. Would make Monday suck a whole lot less wouldn’t it?
Well, we can’t all be that lucky, but all can try to bring the spirit of Jamaica into our morning routine with Marley Coffee. Yep, you guessed it. Named for late reggae singer, Marley Coffee was recently launched by Bob Marley’s son Rohan Marley.
According to Marley Coffee’s website, each blend is made from Class One Specialty grade, certified organic beans grown on the Marley family farm in Jamaica. The Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans are said to be picked by hand, high atop those iconic Blue Mountains where some of the world’s best coffee comes from and the location of the Marley Estate.
You can’t help but be reminded of Bob’s music when you see the names of each blend. So far, there are five you can choose from:
Mystic Morning Organic Wake Up – a medium coffee with hints of cinnamon and pumpkin for a kick.
Simmer Down Organic Swiss Water Decaf – aromas of chocolate, star anise, nutmeg, and the flavors of the West Indies give it a mildly acidic smoky flavor.
Lively Up! Five Bean Espresso Blend – flavors of cocoa, buttery caramel, and candied fruit put a twist on espresso.
One Love Organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe – hints of blueberry, cocoa, and spice.
Jammin Java Organic Bold Full City Roast – a mouthful of a name, but it’s said to be smoky, sweet, and unexpectedly smooth. Yeah, mon!
Let’s get together and feel alright
There are two things I really love about this effort: first, Rohan Marley and co-owner Shane Whittle are helping fulfill a dream that Rohan’s father never saw come to fruition.
According to the company’s website, Bob Marley dreamed of returning to his family’s farming roots and didn’t get the opportunity to before he died. Rohan has memories of watching his grandmother dry coffee berries in the sun. How many coffee companies come for a tradition like that?
Secondly, Marley Coffee seems to be doing right by its workers. They pay farm workers twice the average wage, and through the Marley Coffee Foundation, a portion of all sales goes to help build and maintain soccer fields for the children of coffee farm workers all over the world.
I think Bob would be proud.
A study from Johns Hopkins has found that adverse effects of “caffeine intoxication” are strong enough to merit putting warning labels on beverages containing the stimulant.
We all know what a good thing caffeine can be. I often say I can’t wake up without coffee. I’d like to think that it’s that warm, sweetly bitter flavor that takes just a few extra minutes to make each morning that both wakes me up and makes me take a brief break from my dash out the door. But I’d be kidding myself I didn’t admit that the caffeine found in my morning cup is what’s really helping me wake up. It’s the same reason why my daily ritual happens at 7 a.m. instead of 7 p.m. Like a good glass of wine drank in moderation, I know my limits and I don’t abuse what coffee gives me.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are expanding on the similarities between the kind of intoxication alcohol brings on and what the exposure to too much caffeine can truly mean. Consuming more caffeine than your body can handle can cause “caffeine intoxication” , they say, and can lead to a racing heartbeat, tremors, insomnia, and anxiety. Their research has concluded that some caffeinated beverages should carry warning labels pointing to the dangers of abusing caffeine.
Now, we’re not talking about a simple cup of coffee or espresso here. These warning labels are for the caffeine extreme — drinks that carry labels with names better reserved for describing professional sporting events such as Full Throttle, No Fear, and Amp. Drinks for people whose demand to stay awake and alert has surpassed the simple post-espresso buzz into a super-sugary, jitter-inducing end when they reach for a drink such as Red Bull or, my personal favorite, Pomegranate RockStar (please see above note about moderation).
Screaming for the extreme
In terms of caffeine content, the average energy drink can contain between 80 and 500 milligrams of caffeine, even while The American Dietetic Association cautions against consuming more than 300 milligrams per day. At just 45 milligrams per serving, you could drink six and half shots of espresso each day and still remain within those guidelines. But drink one can of Wired X505, currently the reigning king of energy drinks in terms of caffeine content, and you’ll get 505 milligrams of caffeine in just one serving, the equivalent of 14 cans of soda.
The team at Johns Hopkins worries that these drinks, which are often marketed to teens and college students, send the wrong message.
“We think this sends potentially a message to children that, Hey, it’s OK to use a substance for recreational effects. It’s OK to feel good,’ ” said Chad Reissig, a member of the Johns Hopkins research team.
The team hopes to prompt beverage regulators to begin placing warning labels on energy drinks, much like alcohol or cigarettes, and caution against some methods used to advertise such drinks to young people. A trip to RockStar’s website tells that story: images of concerts, spring break parties, and snowboarding trips practically scream, “Look at what a fun, adrenaline-packed life our drink can give you!”
However, regular coffee and espresso drinkers need not fear the full consequences of the Johns Hopkins team’s suggestions. Recent studies have shown that the presence of caffeine in coffee and espresso can help improve alertness among senior citizens, can help stop a headache from coming on, and may help to prevent certain types of cancers.
So stick with the hot stuff that neither gives you a sugar buzz or comes in a garish, neon-colored tin can, because you’ll never have to worry about attaching a warning label to your coffee mug!