Writer Ariane Marder shares her obsession for her morning coffee.
This post comes to us from NYC-based travel and fashion writer Ariane Marder.
Confession: I cannot start my day without coffee. It’s my morning ritual, and there’s no way around it. Call it dependency, call it addiction, I call it love.
This love only deepened when I traveled to Ethiopia two years ago. I’d hired a cab driver to take me around the countryside. We spent the afternoon together, traded niceties, engaging in typical driver-passenger rapport. Until, that is, he asked me what religion I was (it happened to be January 7th, Ethiopian Christmas). Without even thinking, I replied, “love.” He smiled as if I’d given him the secret password and invited me to join his family for coffee at his cousin’s house the following day. If it had been in New York, I never would have entertained the notion. But traveling always opens me up to things I would never be open to at home. Also, I liked him. I believe I can read people pretty well, and so I agreed.
Little did I know that, in Ethiopia, the birthplace of the coffee bean, “having coffee” is no small event. Known as Bunna, coffee is an elaborate two-hour affair that happens every day, even multiple times a day. It’s an essential part of Ethiopian culture, a celebration of friendship, togetherness and a welcome ritual for receiving guests. Plus, there’s popcorn.
In the morning, we drove together to his cousin’s house on the outskirts of the capital of Addis Ababa. There was a flurry of hellos, smiles and exchanges between my hosts, Mr. Cab Driver, the cousin, his wife and her parents, before I took a seat on the floral slipcovered couch. Soon a young woman came through the kitchen door with a stand-alone charcoal stove and a Coca-Cola tray loaded with tiny cups and a basket of green coffee beans. She began by lighting frankincense (said to ward off evil spirits I would learn). Once the heat of the charcoal was just right, she roasted the beans in a shallow pan over the heat, continuously swirling them, the rattle and shake drowning out the noise from the TV. Finally satisfied with the color, she brought out a mortal and pestle to ground the beans by hand. She worked automatically, as if from muscle memory, and without speaking more than a few syllables. I snacked on the popcorn as she added the grains to the water in a traditional clay pot (called a jebena) and placed it on the stove.
She watched over it, alternating between fanning the coals for more heat and removing the jebena to keep the coffee from boiling over. My hosts continued chatting away about something that happened at the neighbor’s house involving a cat. I tried to follow along, but I was practically brain dead from lack of caffeine.
Finally nature’s elixir was ready. Displaying impressive hand-eye coordination, the young woman poured the coffee into the little china cups called cini (from the height of one foot, per the custom) and served us our first taste. I was floored. Perfectly rich and incredibly strong, it was the coffee dreams were made of. It was nothing I had ever experienced before, and according to my hosts, only one of three cups I would have to drink regardless of how badly my hands were shaking.
After saying our goodbyes, Mr. Cab Driver drove me back to my hotel on the other side of town. I had some thinking to do about my relationship with coffee. The French Press waiting for me at home contained multitudes. I knew we were in it for the long haul.