For a Fresh Metaphor on Coffee, Add Cardamom to your Brew

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For a fresh metaphor on coffee, I add cardamom and cloves to my brew. The spices’ impact is obvious from the moment the hot water hits the beans. Vegetal and sweet and floral: I drink my coffee newly alert.

I first tasted spiced coffee at a stand at Smorgasburg, Brooklyn’s food flea market. The operator — Bunna Café an Ethiopian restaurant in Bushwick — promised Ethiopian coffee made authentically with cardamom and cloves. I sipped timidly. But soon I was slurping at the drops between the melting ice cubes. The coffee was barely sweet, simultaneously light and rich. Bunna’s twist on my favourite summer coffee reinvigorated my reaction to iced coffee.

That’s what Bunna wants. The restaurant frequently holds coffee ceremonies to acquaint customers with the Ethiopian mindset. Coffee is crucial to Ethiopians. It is a key export, daily ritual and cultural touchstone. The coffee ceremony welcomes guests, fueling conversation as the beans — toasted immediately before serving — are subject to three rounds of brewing. From plastic cups of iced coffee to cultural events, Bunna presents Ethiopian culture as a fresh metaphor on coffee.

But adding cardamom to coffee isn’t a new habit, nor is it uniquely Ethiopian. Cardamom-growing countries — from Thailand to North Africa — infuse it into their coffee to refresh their brew. But the spice’s high price tag reserves these preparations for unique occasions and special drinks. Sometimes entire pods are ground along with the beans, other times they are left whole and chewed as a breath freshener while sipping. The resulting coffee may be drunk black, with sugar or condensed milk. Since a single pod will transform a pot of coffee, the brewer may share their wealth without being ostentatious. Like the coffee ceremony elevates the daily rite of coffee drinking, including a new spice in a cup retrains the taste buds, forcing a re-examination of the daily ritual of coffee drinking.

If you have coffee and cardamom, you too can celebrate. Choose your coffee — Ethiopia, as the birthplace of coffee, has more indigenous varietals than other coffee growing regions.[1] Just before you dump the warm water over those grounds, add the spices. You need less than you think. Then brew. And smell: slightly musty, floral, and warm. Drink. It’s coffee, but there’s something else. There’s a fresh metaphor.

[1] Freeman, J., 2012. the Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee: Growing, Roasting and Drinking, with Recipes. New York: Ten Speed Press. pp. 22-23.

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