This stimulating liquid that millions of people around the world drink, preferably in the morning, has a long tradition that continues to this day “When you drink a cup of coffee, ideas come and go like an army”, Honoré de Balzac once wrote of his realistic novels.
For many, this drink prepared from the roasted and ground beans of the coffee plant will be essential in their mornings to function. The truth is that its acidic properties do our teeth a disservice and its stimulating effect does not affect the quality of our sleep either, but even so, today many still consider it a real pleasure to taste it alone or in company. each morning a little of this magical concoction that is widely consumed. There are also many studies that associate it as a powerful ally when it comes to losing weight.
But beyond this, what are the cultural and anthropological rites that surround this caffeinated drink? After all, it is a product that is consumed socially in all countries, so being together around a cup of coffee is the perfect excuse to extend a good conversation either in the afternoon or at the morning. Although originally associated with Colombia, since the discovery of the new continent, it is actually native to the province of Kaffa, in the highlands of Abyssinia, now Ethiopia, where its plant grows wild.
Its stimulating qualities were well known by the tribes of this region in the eleventh century and little by little it spread to the east in Arabia, from where it would spread to the rest of the world. Perhaps that is why Bob Dylan’s legendary song on his album ‘Desire’ has that Arabic cadence, in which he keeps asking for “one more cup of coffee for the road that goes down to the valley”. “A cup of coffee may seem like something very simple and ordinary, but its existence comes from many geographical points that give it different aromas”.
Precisely a Filipino anthropologist named Gideon Lasco traveled to the regions where coffee was born and learned all the steps of its preparation, because after all it is a product that we consume when it has already been previously prepared, being marketed in its most of it already ground or in water-soluble sachets. “I started to prepare my own coffee, from the grinding of the beans to its preparation, something that I had not done before”, he says in an interesting article published in the magazine ‘Sapiens’.
It is more than just a drink
As an anthropologist, he wondered about the social life that brought coffee together, why along with water and tea it is the most consumed beverage in all parts of the world. Without going any further, it is a product that is served in specially decorated places dedicated specifically to its consumption.
Many times we don’t just say “bar”, but “cafeteria”, just as many multinationals in the service sector have succeeded in recent years selling it as a star product: Starbucks is the most notorious example, whose establishments make an implicit effort to differentiate themselves through of the music, the decoration and the placement of the tables. Everything to provide an experience whose center is coffee.
An Asian man roasts coffee beans in a large pan. (iStock)
“In the Philippines, as in other parts of the world, coffee shops represent what anthropologists often call a ‘third place,’ as it sits somewhere between the workplace and home, neither fully private nor fully public. Gideon asserts. “These spaces offer their regular customers a sense of familiarity, comfort, and even coziness”.
Shortly before the pandemic, the anthropologist traveled to the city of Gondar, in northern Ethiopia, to learn more about the epicenter of the coffee boom and expansion. “It was in the days that followed, when we arrived in the Simien Mountains, that I began to appreciate coffee as a source of comfort and warmth on the frigid days of those rugged peaks”, he comments. “At the beginning of the day, our guides would prepare it along with a light meal. At the end of our daily 15-20 kilometer walk, the coffee would make an appearance again while we waited for dinner”.
Gideon made it to Addis Ababa, the country’s capital, where he discovered traditional shops and restaurants where women dressed in local folklore clothes performed the ‘buna’, which is the name given to the ritual of grinding coffee and roast the beans before making the drink. “What surprised me was the diversity and variety of coffee types in the interior of the country, in each region and district”, he continues. “I did not pick up the adjectives that people used to describe each of the varieties, but I was able to appreciate the fruity aromas and floral flavors that Ethiopian coffee is known for”.
Ethiopian women and girls collect and separate the beans from the coffee plant. (iStock)
Being originally from Ethiopia, this African country is taking advantage of and developing its native coffee industry, trying to extend it to international trade. Now, the pandemic has interrupted the economic progress of the region based on this product, but Gideon assures that once it is over, it will return to improve the living conditions of its population and its workers.
“A cup of coffee may seem like something very simple and ordinary to you”, concludes the anthropologist. “But its existence is based on numerous geographical locations of diverse flavors and brewing techniques. Every sip of coffee I drink in the Philippines comes from Ethiopian beans ground in a US factory, packaged in a glass bottle made in Japan, and blended with milk from local cows.
For this reason, it is advisable to stop and take a break from the routine to pay attention to that pure and bitter aroma that stimulates our minds and is so installed in our daily lives.