From Colombia to Ethiopia

I had my first outstanding cup of coffee when I was in Colombia on business. It was my first visit and I made the mistake of arriving for my 10 o’clock appointment at – 10 o’clock! Since my contact had confirmed by phone the previous day, I decided to have a cup of coffee in a nearby café till he arrived.

My Spanish was minimal, but I figured out that café con leche would be coffee with milk. My cup and saucer were accompanied by a small jug of hot coffee and a larger one of hot milk. The coffee was the proverbial black tar, gorgeously aromatic, hot and strong. The milk was full cream – no 2% or skinny liquid here – and obviously had been heated on a stove, not steamed. After experimenting a little with proportions, I settled on roughly half and half. I ended up coming back to that café a second time before my contact finally arrived at 11 o’clock. The rest of the week I drank café con leche everywhere and have been hooked ever since.

I was in Eastern Europe on a long-term project for the Government of Canada shortly after those countries escaped from the Soviet Union’s “workers’ paradise”. I had not had a decent cup of coffee on my first day as my hotel still operated Soviet style, i.e. whatever the kitchen gives you as coffee is coffee. As I had an hour between meetings, I went into a small café that seemed to be doing a roaring business. I got in line, ordered my coffee and was about to take my small cup of steaming black liquid when the server, who must have been an Olympic weightlifting champion in her youth, added three huge, heaping teaspoons of sugar to my coffee.

I conceded defeat, took my cup to a small, barstool-sized table and took my first sip of very hot, very sweet and very strong coffee. A few seconds later I felt heat start in my throat, slowly move up my head and finally make my hair stand up on end – at least it felt that way. That coffee was par for the course wherever I went in Eastern Europe the next fifteen years. Since then, I can’t drink anything except good, strong coffee (without sugar).

My “Aha!” moment came during a project in Ethiopia in early 2019. The small hotel I was staying at near the centre of Addis Ababa had an eating area and kitchen in a large room separated from each other with a counter. Prominent on the counter was the traditional Ethiopian coffee urn (Jebena). After my first sip I knew I was in love. The coffee (buna) was strong and so aromatic, so smooth, it was like drinking black velvet. Even in the smallest of cafés, including little ones up in the hills where, another few hundred metres higher, Ethiopia’s famous Olympic champions train. The cafes were crowded with locals standing at little tables chatting, laughing and enjoying life. No matter where I had coffee, in my hotel, in a multi-cultural café in downtown Addis Ababa or a small café in the hills, it was always rich, strong and smooth as velvet. No burnt or bitter after-taste.

One Sunday the owner of the small hotel I was staying at asked my colleague and myself if we would like to participate in a typical Ethiopian coffee ceremony. We were a small group – six hotel staff and the two of us. It was, in fact, a coffee break for the staff and a very nice event for us. It took place exactly as described in tourist literature and other publications, except that it did not take two to three hours. The beans of course are important, but the secret is Ethiopia’s coffee culture and generations of experience. The young woman who conducted our coffee ceremony roasted the beans herself. She had learned everything from her mother, who learned from her mother and so on back for generations.

I did make one mistake. Instead of bringing back two suitcases and a carry-on full of coffee, I brought home three small bags. I managed to make them last almost 4 months by moving from drinking it every day, to only on weekends to only on Sundays. At Christmas 2019 a friend brought me two more bags and again, by carefully hoarding them, I made the two bags last almost 3 months.

And then came covid. International travel stopped and I ran out of Ethiopian coffee. That was the stimulus I needed. I determined to introduce Canadians to the pleasures of real Ethiopian coffee. That is why our coffee is "roasted at origin", i.e., it is grown in Ethiopia, processed in Ethiopia and roasted and packaged in Ethiopia – and immediately shipped for you to enjoy.