Ethiopian coffee under the railway tracks

IT WAS FROM ETHIOPIA that historians believe coffee beans were first exported to Yemen, where they were roasted and processed into what we would now recognise as a coffee drink. The earliest recorded use of coffee beans for brewing the drink was in 15th century Yemen. However, soon the drink spread to other parts of the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey, and Persia. By 1600, it had reached Europe. Today, the 13th of April 2023, we were strolling along Shepherds Bush Market, which runs alongside the elevated railway tracks along which trains of the Hammersmith & City and Circle Lines run. The tracks run high above the market supported by brickwork arches. Some of these arches have been used to house shops and in one case an interesting café, which opened in 2020, just before the first of the covid19 lockdowns.

The café is called Delina and is run by Ethiopians. Beautifully decorated with Ethiopian textiles and other artworks, this place offers Ethiopian fare including coffee from Ethiopia. Customers can have their coffee prepared in various common ways such as, for example, Americano, espresso, and latte. I asked whether I could try coffee the way it is drunk in Ethiopia and was given the choice of coffee flavoured with cardamom or with ginger. I opted for the latter because once, many years ago, I had drunk coffee with ginger (and other spices) in a tiny coffee shop next to a mosque in Fort Kochi (Kerala, India), and liked it.

The lady working behind the bar first collected a ‘jebena’, which is ceramic container with a cylindrical base, a handle, and a long neck with a pouring spout. She washed it out and then placed it on a glowing charcoal to both dry it and heat it. Meanwhile, she prepared some coffee in the espresso machine, and filled a small jug with it. To this she added some ginger powder and stirred the mixture well. Carefully, she poured the ginger coffee into the heated ceramic container. Then, she loaded a small tray with the following: the ceramic container and a woven stand to support it upright; a tiny coffee cup with no handle; a bowl of sugar; and a small circular holder containing lumps of smoking incense. She explained that in Ethiopia it was believed that drinking coffee whilst being bathed in incense fumes enhanced the enjoyment of the beverage. There was enough coffee in the jug to refill the tiny cup or bowl about five times.

In Ethiopia, the coffee is usually first roasted in front of those who are about to enjoy it, ground with a pestle and mortar, and then brewed with water in the jebena being heated on charcoal. Then, it is poured into the tiny cups through a filter made with fine filaments. Although Delina has an electrically heated pan for roasting coffee beans, I imagine that roasting a fresh batch for one customer was considered too much work. I can imagine that when the place has a group of Ethiopian customers, shortcuts cannot be taken and the beans are freshly roasted for them.

As for the coffee laced with ginger, it was enjoyable. I could not taste the ginger, but I could feel it in my throat as I swallowed it. Years ago in Fort Kochi, we had been told that it was believed that ginger coffee was beneficial for the throat. Would I go to Delina again? Yes, I would. Despite the trains rumbling overhead every few minutes, the place has a delightful and visually satisfying ambience, and friendly staff. It also serves Ethiopian food, which we have yet to sample.

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