• Ethiopia,  London,  The Bean,  The Bike,  United Kingdom

    Ubuntu: The spirit of coffee

    Of all the insights that I have gained into coffee culture on the trail to Ethiopia before returning back to the whirlpool of London life, there is one softly spoken truth that endures. It is a universal truth that runs through the coffee trade and culture like a golden thread, connecting every stage of its complex supply chain from field to cup. It is a philosophy that cannot be fully expressed in books, research papers or from the good intentions of policy-makers. Its application cannot be taught out of a school textbook. Neither can it be bottled, packaged or commoditised in the interest of profit. It transcends all these things;…

  • Ethiopia,  The Bean,  United Kingdom

    Trading seeds of change

    Born in the Oromia town of Warra Jarso, 175kms north of the capital Addis Ababa, Abiyot Shiferaw was brought up with his two sisters and four brothers in a happy family environment. Like all Ethiopians, they celebrated special occasions by holding a traditional coffee ceremony. From an early age, Abiyot had a strong sense of fairness but saw injustice all around him. He saw how his fellow countrymen and women did not have access to clean water or could not pay for basic medical treatment. He observed how children were denied an education because their parents couldn’t afford to send them to school. He witnessed state-sponsored corruption at the hands…

  • Ethiopia,  The Bean,  The Bike

    Road to Lalibela

    You can understand why King Lalibela wanted to establish his ‘New Jerusulem’ in the back of beyond. Reaching the holy town is a journey in itself. Nearing the final leg of my ‘Tour de Ethiopique’, I set off at daybreak from the junction village of Gashana to get some kilometres behind me before reaching the fabled ‘pista’ that I knew lay in wait before me. Affectionately termed by Ethiopians as a road without tarmac, the ‘pista’ is by all intents and purposes a ‘road’ surface consisting of rubble, volcanic detritus and infinite quantities of dust. Riding it on two wheels is little like skiing without poles; it’s a controlled fall,…

  • Ethiopia

    Eat sleep cycle

    Once the circadian rhythms of cycle touring fully set in, it’s the simple things that take on a special significance: The honey-dew light of daybreak as the early morning sun spreads its golden wings over a jagged table-top horizon; an aromatic stove-brewed espresso with the restorative power to clear the mist of a dream-state mind; the perceptible physical gear change of aching leg muscles as they burst back into life again; encounters with sprightly, giggling groups of children as they make the long walk to school; starbursts of luminous green aloe lining the roadside verge; the faltering flight of butterflies that pass miraculously through a blur of spokes in a…

  • Ethiopia

    On Her Majesty’s Disservice

    It took three attempts to face the stonewall of ambiguity at the Sudanese Embassy to realise that there is more chance of a camel passing through the eye of a needle than getting a transit visa cleared by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA). I don’t know whether they suspected that I was some kind of spy-on-two-wheels but I wouldn’t make a very good one considering my predictability for frequent coffee stops. The one saving grace is that the Sudanese authorities had the courtesy of being consistent in their ambiguity which is more than be said of their British counterparts. After liberating me of fifty beans sterling for the privilege…

  • Ethiopia

    The Hyena Man of Harar

    The first sign of their arrival is the brilliant, luminous green orbs that beam back at you in the dead of night. Blinking and darting in the darkness, they come steadily closer in the feint light of a hand torch. At first, their steps are tentative, nervous even. But as the fetid smell of raw meat fills the night-time breeze they grow in confidence – and numbers. Holding a woven basket containing strips of sinew from the local butcher, the wide-eyed man sitting before us calls to them in a high pitched tone. He falls into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. Consumed in a momentary state of hysteria, he calls…

  • Ethiopia,  The Bean

    Farewell Coffee Ceremony

    The Coffee Ceremony is so deeply woven into the cultural fabric of Ethiopian life that it unites the country, even more than football does. In Ethiopia, coffee is the ‘great leveller’. It binds the many different ethnic groups together like glue; Christian or Muslim, rich or poor. More than a coffee break, the event can last for hours as an opportunity for people to come together and share news in a relaxed setting. The traditional custom is an expression of respect to elders or guests, and a holiday or special occasion is never complete without one. An elaborate extension to Ethiopia’s warm sense of hospitality, the coffee ceremony is a…

  • Ethiopia,  The Bean

    In the Footsteps of Kaldi

    Determined to get to the bottom of the  legend concerning Kaldi and his Dancing Goats, the coffee trail pointed me in the direction of the hallowed ground of Keta Muduga; conveniently situated just a few kilometres away from Choche village. It is said that all those centuries ago, the Abyssinian goat herder took his flock there to graze. The ‘proof’ of the matter can be found in the earth said my guide, Ahmed, who agreed to show me the Arabic ‘inscriptions’ carved into the rock surface that I had heard so much about. He told me how the history of Kaldi had been transmitted down the generations by his forefathers.…

  • Ethiopia,  The Bean

    Kaldi (his dancing goats) and the Origin of Coffee

    In Ethiopia, the origin of coffee depends on who you speak to, and where they come from. The legend of its discovery that still endures today is that of Kaldi. For such an important find, the story has an unlikely cast of characters that include a goatherder, his wife, a monastery of monks, and a troupe of dancing goats. Here is just one version of that story: A young Abyssinian goatherder named Kaldi – or Kalid as he was known locally – who lived around the year AD850 noticed to his amazement, that after chewing the bright red berries from a certain tree, his goats pranced around in an unusually…

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