Ethiopian Cupping Caravan: Day 2


The night previous, the group was asked who was willing to wake up early to head to the ECX in Dilla to assist with setting up the second cupping. Wanting to get my hands on as much as possible I rose my hand, even though I knew I was lacking a lot of sleep. I woke up on Tuesday, February 21, to the sound of birds chirping. A slight headache due to the very light and easily drinkable St. Georges, the local beer. 5 volunteers and David, the guy helping with the organization of the trip, gathered in the lobby/hut of the Fura Institute and headed out to villa at 6:30 in the am. Before setting up we stopped to have breakfast. The breakfast menu consisted of a variety of omelets, and some pastries. A lot of the pastries had Italian names (because of the Italian influence very present all through Ethiopia) and some of our group had “Bambolinos:” a very greasy, but surely yummy, donut. Pretty much every restaurant we were in was equipped with espresso machines, again because of the Italian influence. Seeing this we all requested an espresso, but our guide Alemayo, let us know that espresso in Ethiopia meant half coffee half tea. Instead we ordered buna, the local word for coffee. We all thought our coffee was to be prepared through one of two lever espresso machines, but when our coffee arrived it looked nothing like espresso, and the barista never really used the levers. We are still uncertain as to how our coffee was brewed, but it was bitter, astringent, over extracted, earthy, and simply delicious. Knowing that it was grown and processed less than 1 mile away just made it taste like heaven. I named this cup Coffee Nik.

After breakfast we headed to the Dilla ECX. Dilla was one of the bigger towns we visited, one of the few to have buildings of two or more floors. We had an amazing round of cupping and were joined by some very talented Ethiopian cuppers, one of which was offered an internship from one of the guys on the caravan. After the cupping we broke down and headed down a one way gravel road and meandered down a mountain and through a valley towards the Amaro mountains.

Willem and David had barely explained Amaro so we had no idea what was to happen when we arrived. We pulled up to a building that was bustling with people. None of us knew what was going on but we entered the building that was set up like an auditorium, at least 80 people inside. We walked down the middle aisle and sat in the front row. Apparantly we were expected. In front of us were tables filled with awards and coffee samples, to the side a couple of women were preparing to start the Ethiopian Coffee ceremony, and in the back corner was an assortment of fruits: bananas, mangoes, avocados. Above all this hung a big banner that read “Amaro Gayo Coffee”.

Without really knowing what was going on we set up our cupping in the front. Before we cupped several speeches were given. One of them shook my heart, a woman in the most brilliant dress, told us about her plight for promoting Amaro Gayo coffee. It was simply beautiful. Ashnakech Thomas was a woman native to Amaro, who in her infancy, after being married off, escaped. She escaped Ethiopia with the assistance of merchants on camels. She arrived to Italy and then made her way to London, where she received a college education. Upon her mothers death, she returned to Amaro, and was offered land by the government to make Amaro prosper. Her drive and commitment has made Amaro Gayo what it is today. From being an independent coffee grower she is planning on expanding her out grower union to 13,000 this coming year. This took 15 years of hard work, and in between all of this a myriad of organizations supporting education, health, and agriculture have been formed by Ashnakech. She is, by far, one of the most courageous and dedicated women I have ever met.

After the speeches we proceeded to cup. One coffee jumped at me. It was an natural processed Amaro Gayo coffee that tasted like “calabaza en tacha.” It had a thick creamy body, an astounding sweetness, and just tasted like straight cooked pumpkin or squash. I had never tasted anything quite like this before so I truly enjoyed this coffee. A lot of the coffees on the table had thick bodies but were lacking nuance and acidity. After the cupping we were lead to our rooms, which were the abandoned buildings of the Agricultural Services government branch in Amaro. Before heading to bed however, the town board members and some other locals joined us for a lot of warm beer. We sat on chairs and chatted away. A particular man who was one of the few locals who spoke English became quite drunk and became, well, very funny. “According to our program it is now da time where our guesstesses enjoy and talk about this and that.” We found it funny that it was 10pm, we were all drinking beers, and he was still talking about the program like this was all going according to plan. Conversations about how to achieve acidity in the cup arose, and then after a while we were ready to go to bed.  When we stood though, this man told us not to leave because something was coming. “No no, stay here something is coming.” Something is coming? “You mean like a surprise?” He thought about the question for a second and then replied: “No no, price will be discussed tomorrow.” At this point we were all very confused and had no idea what to expect. 5 minutes later, 3 cases of cold beer arrived. How could we say no? We were happy it wasn’t something else that we were going to have to negotiate the price on the following morning. We drank them all, again all the while possible adverse effects of combining Malarone with alcohol wandered in my mind. Having had a good time we headed down to our rooms. The building I was sleeping in consisted of four rooms side by side, with walls so thin I could chat with the guy at the end of the building. Mike’s door did not lock from the inside so he entrusted his key to me and I locked him in from the outside, agreeing to let him out if he needed to. As soon as I stepped into my room a massive newt ran down the wall. Oh good, I thought, here comes the start to one of those nights. I went outside to tell Mike and we noticed it started to rain. Mike also noticed that the roof of his room was missing a section, and he was pretty sure a bat was living up there. We laughed it off, sprayed OFF all over, and then tried to go to bed. Within 5 minutes we heard a loud thump. Jeff’s bed, two rooms down, had collapsed. Needless to say he was forced to sleep in the van. I woke up the next morning when Mike said “Lalo?” he really needed to leave his room. When I let him out he told me he had not slept at all. It turned out his restlessness was due to a combination of the bat in the roof, the hyenas howling at night, and the seizures from the Malarone, one of the probable side effects. This is when I considered dropping the damn medication, but I didn’t. To make it clear, Malarone is a poison that you take when traveling to areas where Malaria is likely to protect you. However, it is basically very strong malaria poison and has very strong side effects.

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