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from: Eastern Africa

Kahawa (coffee)

First discovered and consumed in Africa, in the Ethiopian province of Kaffa, which lent its name to the plant, its seeds (or beans), and beverages made from them. According to legend, a shepherd noticed his sheep were especially lively after eating a certain plant, he tried it and noticed the effect on himself . . . later, monks in the Ethiopian church consumed it to stay awake during prayers. But early consumption seems to have been not in the form of a drink, but a food: people chewed the beans or mixed crushed beans with butter or fat to form cakes.

Maybe as early as a thousand years ago people in North-eastern Africa and nearby Arabia were using the beans to make a fermented, alcoholic beverage, as well as what is now known as Kawa, Kahwa, Kahwah, Gahwa, Guhwah, Kahawa, and to us, Coffee.

man in comoros

What you need (recipe may be doubled)

What you do (choose either method)

Another African country famous for its coffee tradition is Sudan, where the Guhwah (coffee) is served from a Jebena, a special coffeepot. The secret to preparing Guhwah is to toast the ground coffee in a pan with the spices (usually cloves, among others) before brewing.


Ryszard Kapuscinski

The drinking of morning coffee is an age-old ritual here

The Shadow of the Sun (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001) by Ryszard Kapuscinski, is a collection of nonfiction stories from from Africa. Kapuscinski was a reporter covering Africa between the 1950's and 1990's. This excerpt, from a chapter titled "Zanzibar," tells of the early morning coffee vendor who re-appeared after a coup d'etat.

Yesterday at dawn (which is never pale here, but instantly colorful, purple, fiery) the peal of a small bell resounded in the street. At first distant and muffled, it drew nearer and nearer, becoming clear, strong, and high-pitched. I looked out the window. An Arab was making his way down the narrow street -- a vendor of hot coffee. He had on the embroidered cap Muslims wear, and a loose white djellabah. In one hand he carried a conical metal pot with a spout and in the other a basket full of porcelain cups.

The drinking of morning coffee is an age-old ritual here, with which -- along with prayers -- Muslims begin their day. The bell of the coffee seller, who each day at dawn walks up and down the streets of his district, is their traditional alarm clock. They jump up and wait in front of their houses, until the man bearing the fresh, strong, aromatic brew appears. The morning's first cup is an occasion of greetings and salutations, of mutual assurances that the night passed happily, and expressions of faith that this promises to be -- Allah willing -- a good day.
(Zanzibar)


Other African gastronomical excerpts


Emily Ruete

How highly coffee is esteemed by the Orientals, everybody knows

Emily Ruete (born Sayyida, Princess of Zanzibar) was born in Zanzibar in the mid-1800s. She eloped with a German and had to leave her island home. She moved to Germany where she was eventually widowed. She wrote Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar for her children, to provide them a record of her history. In it she describes life in the Zanzibar royal palace and plantations. In this excerpt she describes coffee in Zanzibar:

Half an hour after the repast eunuchs handed round genuine Mocha in tiny cups resting on gold or silver saucers. In the East the coffee is thick and syrupy, but filtered clear; invariably drunk without milk or sugar, it is taken without any sort of eatables, though sometimes delicate slices of areca nut are provided. The coffee is poured out immediately prior to consumption, which task requires such skill that only few servants are fitted for it. The coffee-bearer carries the handsome pot, made of tin adorned with brass, in his left hand, while in his right he holds only a single small cup and saucer. Behind or next to him an assistant carries a tray with empty cups and a large reserve pot of coffee. If the company has dispersed, these men have to follow the various members, and insure their partaking of the delicious beverage. How highly coffee is esteemed by the Orientals, everybody knows. The greatest care being bestowed upon its preparation, it is specially roasted, ground, and boiled whenever wanted, and therefore is always taken perfectly fresh. Roasted beans are never kept, nor boiled coffee, either, when in the least degree stale, being then thrown away or given to the lower servants.


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