“When you have a cup of coffee, ideas enter and march like an army”, wrote Honoré de Balzac in one 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 not do a disservice to our teeth and its stimulating effect neither to the quality of our sleep, but even so many still consider today a real pleasure to taste alone or in company every morning a little of this magical and widely consumed concoction.
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?
At the end of the day, it is a product that is consumed in all countries in a social way, so being gathered around a cup of coffee is the perfect excuse to extend a good conversation either in the afternoon or in the evening. the morning.
Although its origins are associated with Colombia after the discovery of the new continent, it actually originates from the province of Kaffa, in the highlands of Abyssinia, present-day Ethiopia, where its plant grows wild.
Its stimulating qualities were well known to the tribes of this region in the 11th century and little by little it spread eastward into Arabia, from where it would spread to the rest of the world.
Perhaps that is why the legendary Bob Dylan 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 at the end of the day it is a product that we consume when it has already been previously prepared, sold for the most part already ground or in water-soluble sachets.
“I began to prepare my own coffee, from the grinding of the beans to their preparation, something that I had not done before,” he says in an interesting article published in the magazine’Sapiens’.
Something more than a drink
As an anthropologist, he wondered about the social life that I brought together coffee, why together with water and tea it is the most widely consumed beverage in all parts of the world. Without going any further, it is a product that is served in specially decorated places specifically dedicated to its consumption.
Many times we do not simply say “bar”, but “cafeteria”, as many multinational companies 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.
“In the Philippines, as in other parts of the world, coffee shops represent what anthropologists often call a ‘third place’, as it is somewhere between the workplace and home, neither totally private nor totally public”Gideon asserts.
“These spaces offer their regular customers a feeling of familiarity, comfort, and even comfort.” 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 following days, when we reached the Simien Mountains, that I began to appreciate coffee as a source of comfort and warmth on the freezing days of those rugged peaks,” he relates. “At the beginning of the day, our guides would prepare it along with a light meal. At the end of our daily walk of between 15 and 20 kilometers, the coffee would make an appearance again while we waited for dinner.”
Gideon reached Addis Ababa, the capital of the country, where he discovered traditional shops and restaurants where women dressed in local folklore performed the ‘buna’, the name they give to the coffee ritual by which the coffee is ground and roasted. grains before preparing the drink.
“What surprised me was the diversity and variety of types of coffee in the interior of the country, in each region and district,” he continues. “I didn’t get hold of 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.”
Being originally from Ethiopia, this African country is taking advantage of and developing its indigenous coffee industry, trying to extend it to international trade. Now, the pandemic has interrupted the region’s economic progress 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 very simple and ordinary to you,” concludes the anthropologist. “But its existence is based on numerous geographical points of various flavors and preparation techniques. Every sip of coffee I take in the Philippines comes from Ethiopian beans ground in a US factory, packed in a glass bottle made in Japan and mixed with milk from local cows.”
Therefore, it is convenient 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.