Most of my coffee adventures so far have been in South or Central America, but I’ve always known that coffee is native to Ethiopia. The worrying lack of genetic diversity in arabica coffee stems from the fact that virtually all the world’s crops were cultivated from the same sources in Ethiopia, and then spread via Yemen and the Arabic traders from which is derived its name.
I read Dave Eggers' The Monk of Mokha recently. It's a fascinating biography of Mokhtar Alkhanshali and his quest to build up the global profile of Yemeni coffee. Given that Port of Mokha coffee is now one of the most expensive coffee brands out there, Alkhanshali obviously did a great job, but apparently not as ethically as the book would have you believe... Coffee Company from Bestseller 'Monk of Mokha' sued for alleged racketeering
It was great to learn more about coffee in other parts of the world that I haven’t yet explored, and after The Monk of Mokha, I came across Jeff Koehler’s Where The Wild Coffee Grows. This is all about wild coffee growing in Ethiopia, and coffee’s true origins before its global spread. When I think of coffee producing countries, I still think of massive plantations in Costa Rica, or tiny little farms in Nicaragua, where coffee is planted in amongst bananas and other crop staples; little bushes with bright berries or jasmine like flowers. I can’t imagine whole forests of tall coffee trees, growing wherever they want, not pruned into neat lines or restricted to heights reachable by farm workers.
The book also describes traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremonies beautifully, still something I’d never properly experienced. The coffee ceremony is a long process, where beans are roasted in front of guests, then ground up, boiled in a jebena and served without filtering it.
The universe is full of odd coincidences. As I was reading all this, we happened to go to Regina Folk Festival that hosted the usual array of food trucks in the plaza. I was lining up for overpriced icecream for the kids when I noticed a new food place, Selam Ethiopian restaurant apparently now has an outdoor catering branch! And sitting out on the plaza was a woman with a jebena pot (on an electric burner), serving up little cups of fresh brewed Ethiopian coffee. So I tried it, (and burnt my mouth!) It was VERY strong! Quite different from anything you get in regular coffee shops!
Traditionally, those beans would be from wild trees, and the beans are dried with the fruit still on (unlike in most of Central America where they wash the fruit and mucilage off first). ‘Natural processing’ to the coffee export world. This lady from Selam restaurant probably wasn’t using wild beans and wasn’t roasting them on the street, but it is possible to get a close equivalent! I searched my green bean suppliers for Ethiopian Djimmah, which is the only form of wild coffee (‘forest-harvested’) traded on the global markets. I got some! I’ll be roasting it this week – look for it in Books and Beans. I hope I can do it justice!