Three ways to sip an adored brew: Drinking coffee in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Italy

5 mins read

The ends justify the brew as diverse coffee culture seeps in time and tradition. If you were lucky enough to sip and see your family yesterday, recover today with something strong and Black.

Overlook fictitious opinions on coffee as a Western discovery. In reality, Europeans and Americans began to consume cups of joe very late in history. Before the international coffee trade exploded and Starbucks was on every hipster block, the caffeinated beverage was consumed for a millennium. Historians trace the coffee bean to the Kefa region in Northern Africa.

Nonetheless, coffee foresaw and continues to experience a revolution. Regions across the world adopted unique coffee consumption cultures with some border-crossings to become global sensations.

Caffeine is, according to New Scientist, the planet’s most popular “psychoactive drug.” In the U.S alone, more than 90 percent of adults are estimated to consume it daily whilst more than 125 million people around the world depend on coffee for their livelihoods. 

Continuing its significance in the coffee annals, Ethiopia remains a key contributor to the industry. Be it a small village or the historic Addis Ababa, coffee runs the social arena. Adjoining in production and geographical location, the Volcanic fertile soils in Kenya produce the best Arabica coffee in the world. However, whether it is the British colonial influence or culture preferences, the consumption culture is controversial.

Mathew Mugo, CEO of popular urban outlet Dormans coffee, explains Kenya’s coffee history. “Initially, coffee consumption was preserved for the British and not the Kenyan citizens,” he told Ark Republic.

Crossing over to the Mediterranean, while Italy is not big on coffee farming, it is home to a widely celebrated coffee drinking culture. In the International coffee organisation’s statistics, Italy rates second in importation and roasted coffee production in the European Union.

Thus, the next time you enjoy a cup of the brew, you might want to experiment with the “how-to” of the following drinking cultures.

Traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony in Lalibela where green coffee beans are roasted in a pan. Photo credit: Niels-Van-Iperen

Bunna bean dreams: Ethiopia

There is no doubt–Ethiopian Arabica coffee bears global recognition. Ethiopia is the largest coffee exporter in the region. Not only this, but coffee generates the highest GDP for the East African nation. Hence, it is the leading beverage for the Ethiopians. Meron Berhane explains to Ark Republic that Ethiopian coffee is readily available for purchase in many local shops. 

Farming in high altitudes provides the fruit-like acidity that shuns out bitterness, the coffee`s quality is by no means top-notch.

As per tradition, preparing coffee involves a pot referred to as jebena. Initially, one must burn the coffee beans, thereafter use a grinder to smash them to fine grain and ultimately, serve it in ceramic cups.

Coffee consumption in Ethiopia has a common purpose of bringing people together. “We drink it often with groups and family in social gatherings,” Meron says. Coffee drinking barely goes unnoticed. Other countries gather for beer drinking and what not, withal, coffee in Ethiopia is the crème de la crème.

The prized Kenyan bean is consumed more so out of the country than in. Since the early 1900s, as a British colony, coffee beans have been harvested there. Photo credit: Kamweti wa Mutu

But first, black coffee: Kenya

Even though younger generations embrace the morning coffee fad, Kenya is predominantly a tea-drinking country, a vital influence from its former coloniser Britain. 

Mugo further explains that throughout history, coffee drinking customs in Kenya were solely for the economically abled, targeting high-end professions. “Following the end of British colonialism, coffee prices hiked leaving them for the upper-middle class and the rich,” he affirmed. 

Companies similar to Dorman’s, manufacture and export coffee from micro farmers in the Kiambu and Murang’a county regions from the highlands of central Kenya. Reportedly, a coffee cup costs US $2 dollars, an extraordinarily high price for low-income citizens there.

While most Kenyans do not partake in the coffee craze, surprisingly, coffee production in Kenya is an essential part of the economy, supporting up to 5 million people. Growing in the Mount Kenya region, harvests are sustained by ridiculously fertile volcanic soils. Hence the clean-cut flavour. Despite this, a small part of this coffee is for local consumption. 

Unlike Ethiopia that consumes close to 50 percent of its production, only 3 percent of the coffee is processed locally while the rest finalises as a raw export.

Concentrated black coffee or kahawa tungu is common in Kenya. Highly consumed in the coastal region, it is popular among night workers trying to keep awake and stay warm in the nation’s capital, Nairobi. In the wee hours of the night, vendors walk around hawking coffee in metal cans as cheap as US 10 cents a cup. Depending on the type, the hot beverage made with spices and herbs could make it to US 30 cents.

Espresso is a significant part of Italian culture. The average cost of espresso is €1 to €1.50. In 1911, the Italian government put a cap on commodities such as coffee to make it an accessible beverage. The espresso machine was created by Angelo Moriondo in 1884, which ultimately reduced the time the coffee is made. Photo credit: Gabriella Clare Marino

Never start a day without it: Italia

Despite the wide variety of cafes, ordering a coffee in Italy is equivalent to ordering an espresso. Believe it or not, any other coffee type requires a further explanation. Apart from its popularity, Italia is the motherland of the globally beloved espresso machine and the splendid feather signature, cappuccino. 

On average, Sebastiano from Sicily consumes four espresso cups in a day while others can go up to six. “It is more than a tradition, it is a ritual,” he happily says. He confessed to brewing agitation if the day’s intake is less than that,  “[coffee] does become a sort of addiction for us, like an everyday drug.”

An average Italian combines the espresso with any meal of the day in several cases. Quite often, it is accompanied by a complimentary smoke, or sigaretta

At every corner, there is a bar brewing coffee alongside the likes of cornetto, a croissant. An easy way to identify a non-Italian would be an order for a caffe americano, entailing a mug of hot water added to the espresso. By Italian standards, it is the weaker, inferior version.

Prepared with steamed milk and doppio caffe is the famous cappuccino, fairly consumed in the region especially during fall and winter. As per custom, cappuccino should not be consumed after 11:00 a.m. as it is absolutely unsuitable for digestion.

While hot drinks warm the bones in cooler months, common for the summer is the Caffe Freddo, a mix of double shots of espresso with sugar and ice, shaken in a mixer and served with a foam coating layer. For a creamy savour, the Caffe Schiumato is a great choice, an espresso with a bit of foam on top or rather, the Caffe Macchiato encompassing a single shot of espresso with a little bit of milk

. . . .

As seen above, coffee became more than a drink, just like a Louis Vuitton bag, it is a lifestyle. I would call it artistry, a coffee seed`s journey from a five-acre field in the Central of Kenya to an espresso cup in Milan sipped by a tourist from Vienna. Definitively, one major similarity across the coffee culture remains constant. Behind the allure, a farmer toils relentlessly for a daily dose of your favourite cup of coffee.

Nyawira Mithayo is a Journalism graduate with an interest in community activism.

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