Tasting An Ethiopian Coffee Propelled To Stardom

Archie Bland being served a very expensive cup (glass) of coffee at Queens of Mayfair. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

In 2018 and 2019 I had the opportunity to sample many of Costa Rica’s best coffees. We were narrowing our selection from dozens of excellent options down to one dozen that we would offer in our shops. Just prior to opening the shops, a friend generously gifted a bag of coffee from one of Panama’s premier growers. They had made the news for the auction price of one of their finest coffees and our bag was not from that lot, but still it was by far the most expensive coffee I have ever tasted. It was an experience like tasting fine wine, as the story below describes. The coffee was excellent. I would drink more if it was gifted but I am not holding my breath waiting. We drink excellent coffee in our home every day, and we sell plenty of it to others as well. I will leave it to the journalists to tell these stories:

‘Reminds me of vegetable soup’: how does a £50 cup of coffee taste?

It is the most expensive sold in the UK and served in a goblet, but is this Ethiopian brew worth the hype?

For £50, you can buy a return flight to Paris from London or Manchester, or a set of Liberty facemasks, or a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne.

Or, if you’re feeling really fancy, you could go to Mayfair, and have a cup of coffee. Well, a goblet of it, to be precise.

This is the USP of Queens of Mayfair, a central London cafe that weathered a corona-cursed first few months to become a popular venue for well-heeled locals in search of a brew and a posh donut. Continue reading

Ethiopian Vegan

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The vegan sampler at Ras Plant Based features an assortment of dishes traditionally eaten by Ethiopian Orthodox Christians during periods of religious fasting, when they abstain from animal products.Photograph by Bubi Canal for The New Yorker

Always ready to learn more about Ethiopia’s contributions to the world. And the move to animal-free food is an evergreen topic around here. So the story below is perfect for today. The photography is unusual, in the world of food, but the text by Hannah Goldfield is convincing:

Ethiopian Tradition for the Vegan-Curious, at Ras Plant Based

At Romeo and Milka Regalli’s Crown Heights restaurant, vegan proteins stand in for meats, and tangy, fermented injera soaks up sauces spiked with traditional berbere spice or puckery lime.

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Romeo and Milka Regalli, who describe themselves as passionate about vegetables, wanted to both showcase their favorite fasting dishes and offer vegan iterations of common meat preparations.Photograph by Bubi Canal for The New Yorker

Many of the recipes that the chef Romeo Regalli uses in the kitchen at Ras Plant Based—the restaurant that he and his wife, Milka, opened in Crown Heights in March—have been passed down through generations. A number of them came from Romeo’s grandmother, a passionate home cook who died last year, in Ethiopia, at the age of a hundred and four. Yet the dish that seems most likely to have a long, storied history, Mama’s Tofu, traces its origins only as far back as May, when Romeo’s mother texted, from Addis Ababa, a photo of what she had made for dinner.

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An avocado salad with diced tomato, onion, and jalapeño, in a lime vinaigrette.Photograph by Bubi Canal for The New Yorker

“I was, like, ‘Oh, my God, that looks so good!’ ” Romeo recalled the other day. She rattled off the ingredients: tofu, tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños. After she mailed him a batch of her homemade spice mix (the exact contents of which he keeps tight to his chest), Romeo made an approximation, and promptly added it to the menu. Continue reading

Adaptation & South-South Cooperation

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Ethiopian farmers examine the results of a trial of wheat varieties. BIOVERSITY INTERNATIONAL

The bread we eat in the not so distant future may depend on the type of cooperation described below. Thanks to Yale e360 and Virginia Gewin for this story:

How Crowdsourcing Seeds Can Help Farmers Adapt to Climate Change

In Ethiopia and other developing nations, scientists are working with small-scale farmers on trials to see which seed varieties perform best in changing conditions. These initiatives are enabling farmers to make smarter crop choices in the face of rising temperatures, drought, and more extreme weather.

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Durum wheat varieties grow in trial plots in Ethiopia’s Amhara region. Thousands of farmers participated in the project, testing how various wheat strands performed under changing climatic conditions. BIOVERSITY INTERNATIONAL

In Ethiopia’s undulating, high-elevation grasslands, farmers — most of them working parcels of only two to three acres — produce more wheat than anywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa. They accomplish this feat in the face of chronically short supplies of high-quality seed. Still, Ethiopia’s record harvest of 4.6 million metric tons in 2017 didn’t satisfy the country’s needs, forcing it to import an additional 1.5 million tons of wheat. Continue reading

Coffee, Ethiopia & Change

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Growing coffee provides income for about 15 percent of Ethiopia’s population and is the country’s top export. Climate change is likely to shrink the land suitable for coffee, thereby also hurting the livelihoods of many people.
Courtesy of Emily Garthwaite

Change is almost never easy. Then there is climate change. Daunting, but we cannot stop considering the implications and the options. The planet may recover in geological time, the underlying logic of those who promote denial of the urgency, but plenty of people are at risk in real time, so no option but to keep focus.

Thanks to the salt, at National Public Radio (USA) for a reminder of coffee‘s relationship with conservation, a reminder of Ethiopia in general, which is always welcome, and especially Ethiopia’s relationship with one of our favorite beverages:

Ethiopia’s Coffee Farmers Are ‘On The Front Lines Of Climate Change’

by Courtney Columbus

Ethiopia gave the world Coffea arabica, the species that produces most of the coffee we drink these days. Today, the country is the largest African producer of Arabica coffee. The crop is the backbone of the country’s economy – some 15 million Ethiopians depend on it for a living. Continue reading

Ethiopian Options

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I have stated my own preferences for certain pros critiquing and explaining food and the places where you can explore it anew. I have recently been appreciating those like this one–not least because I love Ethiopia, and its contributions to humanity, and in general I am an Ethiopian diaspora fanboy–by the newer reviewer, Nicholas Niarchos and look forward to his providing many more. I am happy to see in the image accompanying his review what appears at first to be popcorn on the lower left, but is more likely a lightly toasted version of a superfood we came to favor when in Ethiopia, (speaking of superfoods):

A Vegan Ethiopian Feast at Bunna Café

The absence of meat and dairy isn’t obvious while you’re there, but when you leave your step will have a new spring in it.

Continue reading

The Nechisar Nightjar

Cover Art © Pegasus Books

Although I haven’t read this book yet, I do know what it’s like to be on an expedition to find a bird that hasn’t been seen in several decades, which is the subject of Vernon Head’s book, freshly published in the US this month. “The Rarest Bird in the World” tells the story of the search for a bird related to potoos called the Nechisar Nightjar, which had been identified as a new species in the 1990s by Cambridge scientists who found a single wing of the bird in a remote area of Ethiopia.

The publisher blurb makes it sound pretty engaging:

Part detective story, part love affair, and pure adventure storytelling at its best, a celebration of the thrill of exploration and the lure of wild places during the search for the elusive Nechisar Nightjar. In 1990 an expedition of Cambridge scientists arrived at the Plains of Nechisar, tucked between the hills of the Great Rift Valley in the Gamo Gofa province in the country of Ethiopia. On that expedition they found three hundred and fifteen species of birds; sixty one species of mammal and sixty nine species of butterfly were identified; twenty species of dragonflies and damselflies; seventeen reptile species were recorded; three frog species were filed; plants were listed. And the wing of a road-killed bird was packed into a brown paper bag. It was to become the most famous wing in the world.

Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In New York City

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PHOTOGRAPH BY DINA LITOVSKY FOR THE NEW YORKER

We took a respite from thinking about Ethiopian food for some months, following our brief exploration of Ethiopia but this item in the current issue of the New Yorker reminds us of why that all held our attention so firmly. It gets us thinking about a return trip to Ethiopia. It has us wondering where have the last 363 days gone? Whet the appetite here:

Abyssinia

For lovers of Ethiopian food, recent years were marked by two seismic events in Harlem. First, Tsion Café and Bakery opened on Sugar Hill, serving steaming piles of stew atop injera.

Continue reading

A River Runs Through It, In Ethiopia

One of Ethiopia's many excellent national parks

One of Ethiopia’s many excellent national parks

This is not the post promised. It is a taste of why I must post, as promised. This canyon, this river, this view came early in our expedition and is among the strongest in my visual memory. It seemed fortunate, at the time, to catch this view at sunset but the more I think about it the more I am convinced that the place is worthy of a snapshot any time of the day. And it is worth making future visits, so next time I intend to navigate downriver (from the right in this photo), arriving at the place where I snapped this photo after hiking up the canyon. Continue reading

Rimbaud In Ethiopia

Michael Tsegaye for The New York Times. The Arthur Rimbaud Cultural Center in Harar.

Michael Tsegaye for The New York Times. The Arthur Rimbaud Cultural Center in Harar.

For those involved in Raxa Collective’s recent scouting expedition in Ethiopia, since Harar was not on the itinerary we must consider Rimbaud’s endorsement during the next expedition:

Where Rimbaud Found Peace in Ethiopia

What do a Super Bowl Hero and a Forest Biologist Have in Common?

Debresena church forest- South Gondar, Ethiopia (Picture from Google earth)

Debresena church forest- South Gondar, Ethiopia (Picture from Google earth)

 

“I can try to explain it to you, but unless you see it for yourself, you really can’t gasp the situation. They’re going through one of the worst droughts ever, it’s barely rained in three years. There is no water to grow vegetation, no water to drink. Everything is like desert. For people in the United States, it’s hard to wrap your mind around that.”   

Anquan Boldin, Football star for Baltimore Ravens, winner of the 2013 SuperBowl

As a nerdy scientist, I was never a SuperBowl fan. This year when Anquan Boldin, who shares my passion for building stone walls in Ethiopia, made the first touchdown of the winning Baltimore Ravens, I became one. Continue reading