At Kezira Cafe in Columbia City, you can experience an authentic Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
By Nicole Sprinkle |
Seattle’s love affair with coffee is evident, of course, by the advent of Starbucks as well as by the many independent coffee shops that continue to proliferate all over town. But in our quest for the quaintest shop or the most high-tech brewing methods, it’s easy to forget that the actual birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia, is well-represented in the city too.
At Kezira Restaurant in Columbia City, for instance, you can experience an authentic Ethiopian coffee ceremony, where the beans are simply roasted by soft-spoken owner Nigist Kidane—whose first name means “Queen”—in a pan on a small electric burner in a tiny nook by the window. As she keeps them shaking so they don’t burn, she explains that this ritual is traditionally done three times a day back home: morning, afternoon, and before dinner, when people get home from work. (Here in the U.S., people mostly do it on Sundays only.)
“It’s not as slow as back home,” she adds with a touch of nostalgia, referring to our fast-paced American lives. As the beans begin to pop and the smell and smoke of the roast envelop us, she tells us, “My people like the smell more,” and she brings the pan over in front of our noses for a better whiff. After more roasting, while we chat about our daughters and I admire her beautiful traditional red silk gown and gold rings, she gently dumps the beans into a little woven African basket and disappears into the kitchen to grind them, asking first if we like ginger, which, sun-dried and ground, will go into the coffee.
I joke that the process reminds me of popcorn, and am stunned when she actually brings out a plate of freshly popped corn, slightly sweetened, to have with the coffee—another tradition. The ground coffee is now in a rustic clay vessel (a jebena) with an opening and a spout, back on the stove. Kidane lights heavy-fragranced incense (etan), and the coffee brews for nearly 10 minutes, until steam begins to waft heavily out of the spout. Once the pot is removed from the heat, it sits on a brightly colored woven coaster to let any grounds settle. Now thoroughly relaxed, we’ve learned that this process is something that in past times an Ethiopian mother would carefully watch a future daughter-in-law perform to see if she would make a good wife.
By the time Nigist pours the dark, semi-thick coffee into small porcelain cups without handles (similar to Chinese teacups), we note that soon an hour will have passed without us realizing it, sated as we are by our immersion in this ancient practice, with no noise or distraction besides our quiet conversation and the pop and hiss of the coffee-making, all our senses engaged.
The coffee itself is lovely—enhanced ever so slightly by the ginger, very balanced, and not at all bitter. I could easily drink cup after cup of it. Nigist tells us that in Ethiopia or Eritrea, one will knock on a neighbor’s door to invite them for coffee, and the invitee will reciprocate later that night. It’s a tradition steeped in community—much like our dwindling Southern version, drinking iced tea with neighbors on the front porch.
It’s almost 3 p.m. and I know that more coffee will result in a sleepless night, so we reluctantly prepare to leave. When we emerge out of the dark, quiet space into the bright September sunlight and bustle of Rainier Avenue, I truly feel like I’m stepping out of history, fully caffeinated yet somehow, also, serene.
Source: Seattle Weekly
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