Journalist Kathleen Pierce posted this piece on her blog Bistro Broad after attending our traditional Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony at our Fort Point Boston location on February third 2012.
A ceremonial cup
In coffee we trust, has been my mantra since I learned to talk. You don’t have to hail from Portlandia to consider the almighty bean a Godsend. It goes without saying that brewing coffee should be a religious experience, not a mindless, one-button Keurig hit. So when the invitation to attend a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony at Barrington Coffee arrived, I considered it an honor and cleared the decks.
Inside the months-old cafe in Boston’s rapidly gentrified Fort Point Channel neighborhood, this squeaky clean space was getting an exorcism, blessing and purification in the name of Java. I took a seat on a burlap sack in the middle of the cafe with company founder Barth Anderson sitting Indian-style to my right. Three eager employees, two baristas and a roaster joined us at the makeshift altar to arabica.
The grand priestess was Tigist, a beautiful Ethiopian woman clad in pink, bangles and presiding overbuna a typical coffee ceremony from the birthplace of coffee. Over the course of two hours she roasted green coffee beans until they turned deep brown and smelled like popcorn. She then brewed three varieties laced with sugar. Forget the Spanish siesta, Ethiopians take time each day to gather round the coffee urn. To this advanced African culture, coffee is a sacrament and the end-result is not slugged down in a paper cup on the way to work.
The first brew, percolating in an ebony kettle, was called arbol. As velvety as Mayan drinking chocolate, it imparted a deep, coffee flavor from the jungle. Between rounds, the coffee queen burned Frankinsence and resin in a chalice to heighten the moment and clear the air. You won’t see that at your corner Starbuck.
Tona, the second serving, was akin to an Americano, yet more nutty and nourishing. Tigist passed tiny, ornate cups around and we shared sips making the ceremony feel less like stagecraft and every inch an authentic experience. To Ethiopians, making coffee is as important as drinking it. By participating in this mindful experience I began to feel closer to the beloved beverage we consume daily, yet know so little about.
Although the cafe was buzzing with iPad-toters ready to start the weekend, the energy did not damper the ceremonial spirit. By the time the third and final batch (baraka) was passed, we were a little chatty and I for one was secretly glad it had become a watered down, deli-style affair.
I salute this Berkshire beanery for trying something new and just a little risky in staid Beantown. When you’re ready for a real cup, stop in for a single-origin brew like Ethiopian Tuktant. The message is clear drink less, drink better coffee. With Barrington Coffee opening its first Boston cafe, that just got easier.