Buna. Macchiato. Latte. When you are in Ethiopia, coffee abounds. And with a variety of coffee-friendly growing regions, your average man on the street can tell you the difference between Harrar and Yirgacheffe, and he would never dream of drinking month-old stale coffee! A pound of green beans is under $3 a pound and Ethiopians roast it in simple tin pans over a coal fire and drink it fresh from a traditional clay pot. Sound good? It is! Even modest snack shops have large manual espresso machines that pull creamy espresso shots into glasses of frothed milk for a truly beautiful macchiato that costs only pocket change.
As I return from the land of milk and buna (black coffee), I’m again inspired by the simplicity, the attention to detail, and the humble artistry that goes into each teensy little cup of coffee. You don’t need industrial equipment to make great coffee. Just a good palette and lots of practice!
My imagination was ignited this trip by the coffee grown around Ethiopia’s giant Lake Tana. Shade grown on peninsulas and islands around the lake, it grows next to the ancient Coptic monasteries that have stood there for centuries. When I visited one of these monastaries 2 years ago, a young girl served us coffee roasted from her family’s private coffee garden. It was some of the best I’ve ever had. Rich, chocolaty, creamy. But for all my research, this coffee hasn’t been exported to the west in nearly a century. In a back-alley market I found a woman selling green coffee from Dek, the largest island in the middle of Lake Tana. Dek is where the Ark of the Covenant was once rumored to be kept. Though I joyfully bought 6 kilos from her to test roast, a frowning guard at airport security informed me that I could not take green coffee out of the country with me. URGH!! Next time, I’ll have to bring something for test roasting with me and then properly import this stuff!
There’s a startling knowledge gap with Americans when it comes to their coffee. For as much as we drink the stuff, it’s curious that we often have no idea who farms it, how it’s roasted, what makes it unique. That gap doesn’t exist in Ethiopia. I’m inspired to continue in my passion to close that gap for my American friends, to serve amazing fresh-roasted coffee that makes you want to learn more about what you’re drinking. I’m inspired to keep refining my roasting techniques and find creative ways to bring the best flavor out of each variety.
As we wait for the new crop of Yirgacheffe to come in, let me recommend the Tanzanian to you. It’s becoming a favorite for us and our customers as the roast profile has evolved into a juicy medium light coffee with a great mouthfeel and crisp (but not overpowering) acidity. Enjoy!