The Very Best Cup in the World


Coffee is the social glue of Ethiopian culture. You don’t just pop in for a quick cup at a friend’s house. The coffee ceremony is to these people what the tea ceremony is the Japanese.

Wild coffee is still gathered in the highland forests: Ethiopia is where coffee originates and wild coffee is the very best, I promise you that. First the beans have to be roasted over a charcoal fire in a metal urn. That takes about half an hour. All the while into another pot with coals frankincense is thrown and the smoke from that fills the room.

When the beans start to toast they have to be tended carefully, because that is when you determine whether you want a light, medium or dark roast. Dark is the only way here. When the beans are all blackened the roasting pan is taken off the fire. A tall clay coffee pot filled with water is put on the fire while the beans are spooned into a stone mortar and pounded extremely finely using a metal, crow-bar looking pestle.

This takes up to 10 minutes, all the while the frankincense is replenished. Personally I thought the smell of roasting coffee beans was adequate, but you cannot change a culture that is at least 4,000 years old. Frankincense, myrrh as well as coffee was exported from here to Egypt and Persia as far back as 2,000 BC, it is written.

The best cup of coffee we have ever had – a coffee ceremony at Mountain View Hotel in Lalibela. Ethiopia. Copyright Roger and Pat de la Harpe

The best cup of coffee we have ever had – a coffee ceremony at Mountain View Hotel in Lalibela. Ethiopia. Copyright Roger and Pat de la Harpe

The finely ground coffee is then spooned into the coffee pot and left to brew for a few minutes. It’s nearly time. However, you cannot serve coffee on its own. A platter of chachabessa – chapatti like flat bread – is passed around. It in turn is served with a spicy barberry sauce.

While we were staying at the Mountain View Hotel in Lalibela (we went there with Vast Ethiopian Tours), hotel manager Moges Fentaw invited us to participate in the coffee ceremony in the dining room, before the other noisy guests filled the room and proceeded to gulp down the day’s brew.

We were also treated to the special, first brew – there would be a second and a third fill for the punters, but that first one is the piece de resistance of the coffee world. It was not bitter at all, as we had expected it to be, with a hint of dark chocolate.

This is how it’s bean done for thousands of years, and no upstart cup served in Milan, Seattle or Cape Town comes close.

This article was published by African Icons – Read the original here.


African Icons logoAfrican Icons is a book project, the seed for which was planted about three years ago, when David Bristow sat down with Roger and Pat de la Harpe over a glass of wine with the idea of doing something really momentous together.

‘We reckoned that our combined talents and experience, as well as the fact that we have worked well together over the years, would be key to success,’ says David. ‘Sometimes a penny drops, sometimes you have a great idea in the middle of the night. Africa’s 21 top icons was one of those ideas: to do the best book ever on the best places on the most alluring continent on earth. And to make each copy a work of significant art and craft, from photography and writing to the handcrafted binding. Join us on this grand adventure.’

For more detail you can visit the African Icons website and follow the blog.


About Author

Armed with nothing more lethal than a Journalism honours degree from Rhodes, David Bristow started his writing career as a news hound in Johannesburg in 1981. However, following the success of his first book 'Mountains of Southern Africa', he decided to head for Cape Town to read for a masters degree in environmental sciences, to better understand the natural world. From 1993 to 2006 he was editor of 'Getaway' travel magazine. Bristow has written some 20 books to date including 'Drakensberg Walks', 'Best Hikes in South Africa', a wildlife encyclopedia and 'The Natural History of Southern Africa'. Published in 2013, 'Africa’s Finest: The Most Sustainable And Responsible Safari Destiations In Sub-Saharan Africa And Associated Indian Ocean Islands' is the result of four years of research across the continent. 'Riding the Spine of the Dragon' is his recounting of a recent mountain biking across South Africa and Lesotho. He is currently working on 'African Icons', a big book on 21 bucket-list icons of Africa, to be self-published in early 2015. Although he claims to prefer riding his mountain bike, surfing and hanging out with his family on a marina near Muizenberg to working, he still pursues a career as a travel and nature writer and specialist tour guide, running Racontours specialist touring company (

1 Comment

  1. Ethiopia

    A countless- splendored culture

    Ethiopia, The origin of all living things, the origin of all human kind, and the origin of the first civilization; Very little is known, very little has been studied so far and a great deal more to be studied, to be excavated, and to be rediscovered.

    Ethiopia is a country of great antiquity and an amazing beauty of its cultures, landscapes, monuments, architecture, wild life and its rich and colorful history are brought to unforgettable life through. It’s rolling mountains, breath-taking landscapes, agreeable climates, endemic wildlife, diverse cultural heritages, hospitable people; artifacts…could make the nation a fascinating destination.

    Ethiopians are among the most hospitable people in the world. To attend a town fiesta is to be welcomed in every home.
    Don’t travel just to see the landscape in the Ethiopian. It is true that the view in Semein & Bale Mountain and Ertalle Volcano is a majestic cone. But don’t miss meeting the southern Ethiopia peoples.
    Attend a tripe fiesta with them. You not only get to know the Ethiopian, you get to know how it is to be an Ethiopia.

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