Coffee – what would mornings be without it? Or cakes too? I am thankful that coffee – good coffee – makes my mornings, and occasionally afternoons as well.
I didn’t take to coffee until I was a student in Tokyo and got introduced to kissaten culture. Kissaten, literally smoking and tea shop/s, were then at their heyday. There was such a proliferation of coffee shops that each made every effort to stand out: whether it was the choice of music (classical, jazz, folk) or the cakes and other light meals they served or the thickness of their doorstopper toast or the elegance of their cups. One thing was standard, and that was the high quality of their coffee. Coffee was starting to come in from all over the world through the trading companies, and coffee beans from Indonesia, Colombia, Guatemala, and even as far away as Yemen featured on the menu. The most expensive and sought after coffee was Blue Mountain from Jamaica. Even today, Japan buys in advance almost 2/3 of the entire Blue Mountain crop every year. And that’s the reason it’s quite difficult to source Blue Mountain elsewhere and makes it even more pricey. Once when the children were small, they saved up their allowance for months to get me Blue Mountain and a small coffee mill for my birthday. Bless them and I thank them profusely for their thoughtful present!
In Bonn, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Blue Mountain being sold anywhere, and I was content to buy organic Arabica from Chile or Guatemala from Tschibo. That was until I came upon a coffee roaster in Old Town (Altstadt). I had passed by Kaffee Kontor many times on the way to Eislabor, the artisanal ice cream shop on Maxstrasse. On the window display were the same Japanese siphon coffeemakers that were standard in the Tokyo coffeeshops of my youth. There was no sign outside, and I had always assumed it was a wholesaler. My curiosity got the better of me one day and I went in. It was like being transported to the early twentieth century. A huge coffee roasting machine dominated the room, and sacks of coffee lined the walls. A working antique cash register sat in front of a tall display case. The aroma of freshly roasted coffee was intense.
There were not too many coffees, a good sign. There were three Ethiopian coffees: Yirgacheffe, Sidamo, and Elan Amaro Gayo. There were also a few South American ones. I chose to go with the Ethiopian, as I’d never had the opportunity to taste any from the homeland of coffee, though I had read of Yirgacheffe. I am really thankful that I did. Elan Amaro Gayo is the one coffee I have had which has delivered on its promise. The label said: deep chocolatey quality, with blueberry and raspberry notes, sweetish. It has been my favourite ever since. Sometimes I alternate with Sidamo, which was awarded Coffee of the Year in 2013 by the German Coffee Roasters Guild. But what I appreciate most about Elan Amaro Gayo is that it is exported by a woman, the only female Ethiopian coffee exporter, and that 80% of her coffee is picked by women.
From my fieldwork in Imugan, in Nueva Vizcaya in the Philippines, it was evident to me that women are among the specialist farmers in highland areas, whether in the Philippines or elsewhere, and they make the best coffee pickers as they are meticulous in picking only the truly ripe berries, which makes for the best coffee bean quality.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to drink this wonderful Ethiopian coffee, exported by a woman, picked by women, and roasted by a woman here in Bonn Old Town. To Christiane Hattingen, licensed coffee sommelière, I am additionally thankful for the small corner at the back of the roastery. There I sat one afternoon reading my Kateigaho, thankful to be transported back to Japan through this lovely magazine, and where I enjoyed exquisite cappuccino that came with a more-ish cube of pistachio white chocolate cream in a pistachio-glazed cup. I am so looking forward to Christiane’s coffee workshop next Sunday. As places are limited to 8, I am thankful that I was able to get in too.