This week's Spotlight is on another of our new Ethiopians...and this one is certified Organic!
The word, “certified,” is important, because all the Ethiopians we sell are grown using organic methods, in other words, naturally, with no artificial pesticides or fertilizers. Most Ethiopian farmers simply can't afford to buy such things. Instead, they grow the coffee the same way it's been grown for centuries.
Coffee originated in Ethiopia. Though today many nations on the African continent grow and export coffee, much of it wonderful, Ethiopia is the only African nation where the people who grow the coffee also drink it. Drinking coffee is an important part of Ethiopian culture, and one of the best examples of this is the Ethiopian coffee ceremony*.
It's an honor both to perform the ceremony and to take part in it. The first honor usually goes to the youngest woman in the family. She starts by spreading fresh, fragrant grasses and flowers on the floor and burns incense (originally intended to chase away evil spirits). She then fills a jebena, a round-bottomed, black clay coffeepot, with water and places it over hot coals. While the water is heating, she puts green coffee beans, often beans that her family has grown, in a heated, long-handled pan. She cleans the beans by shaking the pan until any husks and debris have shaken away and then roasts the coffee over hot coals or an open flame. The coffee is roasted until at least the first crack (what we would call a City roast level), when the beans are an even medium brown color. It may be roasted longer, though, until the beans are much darker and the coffee oils begin to come out, the equivalent of our Northern Italian roast level.
The young woman then pours the beans in a small, heavy wooden bowl called a mukecha and grinds them with a zenezena, a wooden or metal cylinder, much like people in this country grind spices in a mortar and pestle. She crushes the beans between the bowl and the cylinder until they are coarsely ground.
By the time she's finished grinding the coffee beans, the water in the jebena is hot enough to brew. The young woman pours the ground coffee into the coffeepot and brings the coffee back to a boil before removing it from the heat.
The coffee is served in small, handle-less cups or glasses. The cups are arranged close together on a tray and the young woman holds the jebena at least a foot above the cups and pours the coffee in an uninterrupted stream until all the cups are full. As you can imagine, this takes a lot of practice.
Now it's time to drink the coffee. The youngest member of the family (or the youngest one capable of carrying a cup) serves the oldest member of the family (or the most honored guest) the first cup of coffee. The young woman who brewed the coffee serves the rest of the family and friends. Coffee drinking is a very social affair, with lots of time for talking about politics, local excitements, growing conditions, etc. It's also considered a spiritual affair, and the coffee grounds are rebrewed two more times. The family and friends taking part in the ceremony are expected to drink 3 cups of coffee, one from each pour. Each round has its own name. The first round of coffee is called awel, the second kale'i and the third baraka. The coffee in the third round is the weakest, but is considered the most important spiritually. The word “baraka” means blessed.
Coffee is such an important part of Ethiopian life, it's not surprising that coffee farmers take extra care growing their coffee. That's one of the reasons we were excited to find an Ethiopian coffee where the farmer was able to take the extra steps necessary to have the coffee certified organic. Organic Ethiopia Natural Lake Abaya also earned a Grade One rating, meaning the green coffee beans are basically flawless. Naturally processed, organically certified and “practically perfect,” no wonder we wanted to try this coffee. Boy, are we glad we did!
At a medium (Full City) roast level, the coffee is intense and complex, with a silky mouth feel, full body and a flavor that combines soft, lemon blossom brightness, ripe persimmon and spice sweetness and a lingering cocoa finish. A slightly lighter roast (City) will bring out more lively lemon flavors while a darker roast level (Vienna or Northern Italian) will heighten the spicy sweetness and cocoa flavors. Any way you drink it, Organic Ethiopia Natural Lake Abaya is a great example of what makes coffee from the birthplace of coffee so special.
There's an Ethiopian proverb that captures the special relationship the people of Ethiopia have with coffee: "Buna dabo naw", which when translated means "Coffee is our bread!"
Have you tried coffee from Ethiopia? Have you ever taken part in an Ethiopia coffee ceremony? If you have, please join the conversation and share your experience on the Facebook thread or in a comment on this blog. Or, if you'd like to share your thoughts with the wider world, leave us a coffee review on Google or on your favorite review site. Not only do we value your opinions, but reviews help more people find us. Help us connect coffee lovers to fresh, quality coffee!
~ Carrie, Paul and all of us at Coffee by the Roast
Photo courtesy of Cafe Imports.