PLACE: GEDEO DISTRICT OF ETHIOPIA
COFFEE: ETHIOPIA YIRGACHEFFE CHELBESSA
There are very few places in the world that have struck us like the road to Chelbessa.
As coffee buyers and tasters, Ethiopia Chelbessa is a mecca for us. It’s a washing station in the middle of the lush jungle, and it takes four days to get there, but it’s always well worth the journey.
More than almost anywhere else, the taste of Ethiopian coffee is related to where it comes from – the heirloom varieties specific to the region here date back centuries if not millennia, and taste like nothing else. This is the birthplace of coffee, after all.
Yirgacheffe is a town and a type of coffee. It comes from the Gedeo zone. Once you cross into Gedeo, the landscape becomes lush. It feels mystical – the air is thick with the smell of eucalyptus and people roasting coffee and burning frankincense in a daily coffee ritual, that shows how much coffee is deeply ingrained in the culture here. The closest town is called Worka, which means “golden” in the Gedeo dialect, and this coffee is most-deserving of such a signifier.
To get to Chelbessa, we travel along the bumpy, partially-paved, potholed road (and yes, there is only one road) the air heavy with copper red dust. Along the way, we always stay at the Aregesh Lodge, and from there it takes us about 6 hours to go 60 miles.
People are milling about everywhere, walking alongside the road. We stop often for cattle or goat crossing. We bump, and careen and swerve, we get flat tires. The locals always come out to help when this happens, or in one case, invite us to join in a game of pick-up soccer.
When you arrive at the gates of Chelbessa, which sits in a bowl-shaped valley, surrounded by lush coffee farms and jungle, there’s always a feeling of stumbling upon something secret. It feels like you’ve gone way back or way forward in time. Like people have been living this exact way for hundreds of years.
There’s always a coffee ceremony when we arrive, adding to the frankincense smell in the air, which they burn during the ceremony. The coffee is roasted on the spot, ground in a mortar and pestle, then boiled in water, poured back and forth to settle the grounds, and served strong in a small ceramic cup. (We’ve learned the hard way not to drink it after 3pm to avoid psychedelic dreams.)
Every house in this region is unique: the inhabitants paint the shutters and doors with singular bright and geometric patterns, speaking to the expressive nature of the people that live here. There is a bright spirit among them. And it seems that like the terroir, the ancient heirloom varieties, and the careful processing, that this, too, shines through in the cup.
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