Monday, January 3, 2011

Yirgacheffe Coffee at Ethiopiques

Coffee has become a curiosity for me since I saw the doc "Black Coffee" over the Christmas holidays.It piqued my interest in a beverage which I don't actually drink throughout the day, Canadian style. You won't see me walking around with a latte anywhere. However my interest did take a turn last summer when I tried some Greek coffee and became so enamored of the taste that I found out how to brew my own, and bought the grind and paraphernalia to make it. I make a rather good cup!

I guess 2010 was my 'coffee awakening' year, as I became more discriminating in my taste and discovered my likes and dislikes. I don't much like the chains, not because they are chains (as seems to be a popular reason not to patronise the big ones), but because I don't much like the blends they serve.
So now I have this desire to sample coffee varieties and in much the same way as one samples wine.
I am just beginning on my journey of discovery and hope my education will be much enhanced by the end of this new year.

I have a very long way to go, but I do believe that I will probably not be able to drink huge cups at a time, but savour the sweetness of strong rich brews, in tiny cups.

So I heard about the Yirgacheffe coffee on the "Black Coffee" doc and decided to try Ethiopiques at Church and Dundas in downtown Toronto( to find the beans. They did have Yirgacheffe and actually serve it free with dinner on Thursdays.
Here's a corner spot in Ethiopiques:

I met Senai ( her name means "Little crutch") and Enat (means  "Mother"), who were kind enough to invite me for a complimentary cup, and to chat about the coffee.
Senai explained that Ethiopian coffee (from one of the oldest coffee drinking cultures known), is meant to be appreciated after a spicy meal rather than drunk solo, North American style. I take that to mean it is not consumed for warmth, but to complete the flavours of a hearty, spicy meal.
So the ladies were kind enough to serve me some hot lentil soup with the coffee.
The beans are roasted on the spot, so be prepared for a wait and a very pungent aroma preceding your cup.
I took several photos of my experience  at Ethiopiques to capture the process.
This is a photo of the roasting beans which Senai brought out of the kitchen to show me:

Then they pound the beans to a grind, which is then shoved into a clay pot with a long neck and spout. This is the pot which was brought out to me:

Cold water is then poured into the clay pot. It renders a better flavour than hot water. Then the coffee is brought to a boil and taken off the heat as the brew begins to boil. An experienced brewer can tell just how short  a time it should be left on the heat, so as not to become too bitter.

Here's my steaming coffee being poured into the espresso-sized cup.

I would say that the Yirgacheffe reminds me of the Greek coffee brew. There's more in the cup though, as the Ethiopians strain the grounds out, while the Greeks leave the grounds in, so you drink the top off the sediment.The flavour comes from the method of brewing as much as from the bean itself. It certainly is a far cry from the coffees we get from the chains!
And Senai painted an Ethiopian morning for me:
The coffee-making process is central to community between the women in an Ethiopian village.  One awakens to the sounds of coffee beans being pounded, and the rich aroma wafting through the huts. The men have arleady left for the work day and the women and children are in the village. The sounds of the coffee-making call some of the women to gather at one of their huts, where the brew is consumed while the women chat about what's happening in their lives (since the last time they met, yesterday).

Howard Schultz, President and CEO of Starbucks attempted to bring a parallel, but different sense of 'community' to the coffee shops of North America, when he purported to re-create the Italian espresso cafes in  the North American context.The coffee shops are supposed to be the 'Third place" where we spend a lot of our lives, home and work being the first and second.
The gathering of Ethiopian women may not be the third, but the 'second place' in that culture.
I don't think the Starbucks experience has managed to really create the feeling of community in the coffee shops.
But the role of coffee in bringing people together is certainly an interesting story...


  1. Nice to learn something new. Love their story of the coffee village community and that gorgeous clay plot!

  2. I was fascinated by the coffee-brewing ritual.Would love to experience it someday.