Ethiopian Coffee Stores Find Fans Far from Home

    06 October 2023

    When Yared Markos moved to London 25 years ago, he did not see any Ethiopian coffee shops. Now, there are at least 12 around a city known for its tea drinkers.

    In Ethiopia, coffee is usually drank at the end of each meal. Drinking coffee is a communal activity for Markos. When he first immigrated to London from Ethiopia 23 years ago, he did not understand the culture.

    "They sell our coffee in Starbucks and other places, but they don't follow our traditions," said Markos, who has owned Kaffa Coffee since 2004. The shop is now in an East London neighborhood. It holds coffee ceremonies every weekend in the summer. It also holds cultural events and fills special orders.

    Anteneh Mulu, 46, poses behind the counter after serving a customer at his coffee shop, The Ethiopian Coffee Company, in central London on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Almaz Abedje)
    Anteneh Mulu, 46, poses behind the counter after serving a customer at his coffee shop, The Ethiopian Coffee Company, in central London on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Almaz Abedje)

    "Tourists will walk by and smell the coffee and come in asking questions," Markos said. "It makes people want to learn more about the culture."

    Among some of the most popular Ethiopian kinds of coffee are the flowery Yirgacheffe, fruity Limu and nutty Kochere.

    An ancient tradition

    Markos named Kaffa after the southwestern area in Ethiopia where coffee beans are believed to have been discovered about 1,200 years ago.

    An old story says that an Ethiopian goat farmer once noticed his goats acting strangely one day after eating berries from a tree. He tried them himself and felt energized and awake. The farmer took the berries to a religious worker, a monk, who threw them in a fire, calling them the work of the devil.

    A strong smell was released, so the monks saved the burnt coffee, putting it in a container with hot water. When they drank the liquid, they realized it helped them stay awake during nightly prayers.

    Coffee contains a lot of caffeine, a substance that has the effect of keeping people awake and feeling energetic.

    Over the years, coffee-making in Ethiopia has changed into ceremonies led by the women in households.

    "The social value of the coffee ceremony is one of our biggest traditions," Markos said.

    How the coffee is made

    Fresh coffee "beans" are heated in a pot for a few minutes before being passed around, so everyone can breathe its smell. The beans are then ground down to a powder and placed inside an Ethiopian coffee pot, traditionally made of clay, on top of a stove.

    While the coffee is being made, frankincense, a substance from a tree, is burned to enhance the taste. Once the water comes to a boil several times, the coffee is placed in a small cup called a sini.

    International coffee day

    Almost 10 years ago, the International Coffee Organization, with 77 member countries, officially marked October 1 as International Coffee Day. This year, the group is calling for a safe and healthy working environment in places involved in the coffee trade.

    The London Coffee Festival started in 2011. It also provides a chance for coffee lovers to come together. Anteneh Mulu is one of the owners of The Ethiopian Coffee Company in central London. He said the festival has helped spread Ethiopian coffee to a new community.

    Mulu and his business partner Polly Hamilton opened their store in 2013. Like Kaffa Coffee, they import directly from Ethiopia, where beans are named for the area where they were grown.

    As Ethiopia's traditions spread outside the country, both Markos and Mulu hope more people will be pushed to value their community over concerns about drinking caffeine in their coffee.

    I'm Dan Novak.

    Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.


    Words in This Story

    tourist — n. someone who travels to a place for pleasure and not for work

    berry –n. a small kind of fruit

    the devil –n. the most powerful evil spirit in many religions

    enhance — v. to improve or increase the effect of something

    caffeine n. a chemical compound made by a number of plants including the coffee and tea plants that affects the nervous system of animals

    pot –n. a container for cooking