[Ed. note: This is a post that I wrote over a week ago and tried to post to the blog from Ethiopia. But my connection was so lousy that it got lost in the ether. I think it's a good story though, and ends with a nice coffee, so I'm re-posting it. This is the Coffee of the Week entry for two weeks ago.]
Well Saturday I slept in late and had coffee in bed. I had a shower, a shave with a fresh razor and hot water, and a haircut from a genteel barber with salt-and-pepper hair. I got some fresh band-aids on my annoying minor cuts. I got my shirts all ironed, and I got all my various electronic devices recharged. I had a coke and a sandwich and fries poolside, and another cup of coffee and a Cuban cigar sitting on the balcony and reading The Charterhouse of Parma. I had a right American whiskey (not the counterfeit gasoline stuff that's everywhere in this country) at the hotel bar with some fellow faranji coffee people, and talked to some interesting expatriot Brits. I felt right civilized.
Three days ago, however, I was a bit deeper in the muck. Our trip around Hararge province got bogged down the last two days. Constant rough offroad driving had cost our two vehicles four tires in three days. Then my traveling companion fell ill. It's ironic that it was him and not me... he grew up in this country and I did not. I should be the one with the senstitive foreign stomach. But I think for that reason, I take extra precautions with what I eat and drink; it usually saves me (but, ugh, not always).
Anyway, with my buddy bedridden and miserable, living off of bottled water, rehydration salts and glucose solution, I was left to maunder about in the town of Asebe Tefari for two days. "Asebe Tefari," I'm told means "The Dream of Tefari" or "The Place Tefari Thought About." The Tefari in question here is the famous king Ras Tefari (later the emperor Haile Selassie), from whom the religion Rastafarianism derives its name. Incidentally, the relationship between Jamaicans and Ethiopians is fascinating. To Rastas this is the holy land, the birthplace of God's incarnation. But the Ethiopians themselves seem only vaguely aware of — and often just amused by — the Jamaicans obsessed with their country.
Asebe Tefari is a fine place, but it's not the kind of place you want to get stranded in. Communication is spotty, foreigners stand out like sore thumbs, and there's not much more to eat but goat meat. When my companion decided he was ready to move on to the city of Nazret (Nazereth) and their quality hospital, I was eager.
We drove the few hundred kilometers west to Nazret on a wobbly wheel that barely got us there. In fact, the tire went flat and we were riding on the rim just as we pulled into town. Either really great timing or really horrible timing, depending on your philosophical point of view. I got the spare on the truck with the help of some local kids, then got my friend to the hospital. I spent a few hours around Nazret drinking Coca-Colas and meeting friends. It's much cooler and greener than Asebe Tefari, and seemed cleaner. The "gomista" (tire-fixer) showed me that our tire was completely shot, the threads were splayed and coming undone. So we rotated the spare onto the back (front-wheel drive SUV) and put the "good" tires up front. My friend emerged from the hospital with a prescription and looking a little better and more hopeful.
From there it was just two hours back to Addis Ababa, through the central mountains and then the rather dismal exurban industrial center of Debre Zeit with its black smoke and hundreds of diesel trucks; and finally the chaotic traffic of Addis Ababa itself.
Well, all's well that ends well. My friend is well on his way to total recovery. The car is safely returned to its owners, and I'm here in Addis Ababa in a comfortable room with clean shaves and whiskey and computers and what-not. In fact, I even had a time to have Coffee of the Week.
Yes, on Friday afternoon I visited my friend Rachel Peterson and Daniel Mulu where they were teaching a Q-Grader course for CQI, with Manuel Diaz. (Daniel is an old friend from here in Ethiopia, and Rachel is of the Hacienda la Esmeralda Petersons of Panama — longtime readers will recall I did a cupping event with here famous geisha coffee in New York City a couple years back.) While some students were taking their exams, the staff kindly made me a cup of coffee...
It came in the little demitasse cups that are de rigeur here, and it had a very strange and different taste, and the aroma of gingerbread. Everyone looked at me strangely and asked me what I thought, concealing smiles. I told them in all honesty that I thought it tasted fantastic, but it had a strange taste I couldn't identify.
Turns out they had made the coffee with rue, which is a common practice here. Just a little bit of the stem of the rue plant, broken open to release the flavor, then soaked in the already-brewed coffee for a short while as it cools. A subtle flavor, and very unique. It's like the intersection of ginger, lemongrass, and tea rose, with a slight sweetness to it. In Ethiopia it is called tena adam.
You already know that I normally avoid doctoring my coffee. I take it with two ingredients: water and coffee. But there was something very nice about this little cup of rue-coffee. It was like the capper to a hell of a week, and felt like a well-earned cup of something exotic, sweet, and relaxing.
Rue-infused coffee, safely consumed in the confines of civilization: my Coffee of the Week.