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Queen of Sheba has ceremonial coffee
BY DAVE CATHEY email@example.com | Published: January 24, 2011 | Modified: January 28, 2011 at 9:25 am
If ever there was something in our culture worth making time for, it's an Ethiopian coffee ceremony at Queen of Sheba restaurant. Call at least a day in advance, and scrounge up $25 to take your friends and family to a place wrapped in a wreath of incense, traditional music and fresh, hot coffee.
Why the fuss? Two reasons. First, there's a highland in the southwestern Ethiopia known until 1995 as Kaffa. The arabica bean was born there, gradually spread to the Arab world, migrated into Europe and eventually shipped to the Americas in the early 1800s. The other reason, according to Queen of Sheba's queen of coffee, Mulu Tesfay, is much simpler.
“We don't have a lot of entertainment in Ethiopia,” she joked.
Mulu dropped green coffee beans into a metal pot over an open flame and shook them until they blackened. As oil rose to the surface, the unmistakable coffee aroma filled the room. When asked how long it takes to roast the beans, Mulu was succinct.
“I just know.”
That's because she's been roasting beans in this manner since she was a little girl.
“When the men come home from working in the fields, everyone gathers around for coffee,” said Queen of Sheba restaurant owner Mimi Younis.
Mimi and cousin Mulu, who both dressed in traditional attire for the ritual, said coffee brings the family together for review of the day.
“Most people don't have a dining table big enough for everyone,” Mulu said. “So, we gather for coffee. Everyone sits and pays attention. No running around.”
Popcorn is paramount to the ceremony's start.
“We eat popcorn every day in Ethiopia,” Mimi said. “When it's time to start, we toss it around. It's like an offering to the angels.”
Once blackened, the beans are ground. Mulu said fresh ground coffee should be a medium brown — not unlike cocoa powder. Mulu spooned the coffee grinds into a rustic, long-spouted coffeepot containing water. When asked how much, Mulu shrugged and gave a familiar answer.
“I just know.”
A crude, wooden cork-like implement tops the pot, acting as percolator. Once the boiling begins, Mulu's skills are put to the test as she deftly negotiates the angering coffee.
“If you wait too long, the coffee will shoot everywhere,” she laughed.
Lowering the heat, Mulu dropped bits of sugar into small cups in a traditional coffee service. Coffee was poured into each cup and passed around in saucers. The result was a remarkably balanced and tasty cup of coffee. With each sip, I felt the grip my iPhone has on me loosening. The therapy in the practice is palpable.
If nothing else, the caffeine will prepare you for your return to the fast lane.