Almost everywhere I went in Ethiopia, someone was handing me a tiny cup of high-intensity coffee. According to legend, coffee was discovered in Ethiopia when a herder near the town of Kafe noticed his goats got really excited from eating the berries of a certain plant. So he tried it and felt the caffeine buzz. Local monks condemned the coffee beans as “the Devil’s Fruit,” but after flinging them into the fire, the aroma of the roasting beans changed their minds. In the 15th century the beans were exported to Turkey, where the drink we know today was invented.
Our group of American journalists experienced several abbreviated versions of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony, in which grass is spread on the ground to bring in the outdoors. The beans are roasted and then served along with popcorn or a giant loaf of bread that is traditionally cut up by a man.
Outside of the family planning conference in the African Union center was a “village” of exhibits, but we never got past the coffee tent, complete with a basket of coffee flavored condoms!
Unlike most of Africa, Ethiopia was never colonized. Italy occupied Ethiopia for a while, and as a result the Ethiopians do a good job with macchiato and cappuccino. I can honestly say I had the best macchiato of my life at the 1920s vintage Tamoca coffee shop. Unfortunately they had run out of beans for sale to take home as gifts.
Traditional Ethiopian food is served on a giant pancake of spongy sour bread called injera. It’s used to scoop up a variety of tasty mixtures. Most are meat-based but there are good choices for vegetarians as well. Read my review of a cultural restaurant here. I skipped the raw meat dishes like kitfo, but judging from the open air butcher shops all over the city, it’s the local treat.
Vegetarians can ask for a meatless “fasting plate.” Orthodox Christians have long lived side by side with Muslims in Ethiopia. Although the local wine did not impress, you’ve gotta love a beer named after a saint!