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Around the World in a Cup O’ Joe

Coffee, cup of joeHow do you like your coffee? Do you take it with milk or sugar, or perhaps some chicory root?

As the world’s second most traded commodity after petroleum, it makes sense for people to like their coffee in many, many different ways.

In a quest to learn more about coffee around the world, I headed over to the Multatuli Roasterie in Kingston to speak to our resident expert, Richard Ottenhof. He is the owner of Kingston’s Coffeeco cafes, as well as Multatuli Coffee Merchants, which supplies a variety of roasted beans to nearby cafes, restaurants, stores, and at one time, the House of Commons.

According to Ottenhof, North Americans have Starbucks to thank for teaching us how to drink good coffee. More specifically, the story goes back to a Dutch-American immigrant named Alfred Peet. Peet brought Dutch roasting and brewing methods to The United States in 1966 after seeing that Americans were still drinking rationed coffee from WWII. He opened his own store and roastery, and taught his technique to some guys named Jerry Baldwin, Zev Ziegl and Gordon Bowker. These guys took it to Seattle in 1971 and opened the first Starbucks Coffee shop.

In addition to being an important member of the local coffee community, Ottenhof is interested in coffee traditions from around the world. He even dabbles in faraway methods – making himself a daily Turkish-style coffee in a traditional ‘Ibrik’. According to Ottenhof, in order to truly appreciate coffee we need to appreciate its global history and diverse consumption practices.

One interesting coffee that Multatuli roasts is called the Monsooned Malabar. In the mid-1800s, coffee beans from India would travel many months by sea to Europe. While on the journey, monsoon season would expose the beans to high humidity and sea winds, resulting in unique flavour characteristics. Today, Monsooned Malabar coffee replicates these conditions by storing the beans in wooden warehouses for 3-6 months during monsoon season before sending them our way.

Most of us are familiar with Italian espresso. In Italy, espresso is strong, bitter, and drunk while standing at a bar. On average, it takes an Italian about 7 seconds to finish it off. One time while in Italy, I made the mistake of asking for my coffee to go – this got me a plastic Dixie cup covered in tin foil, and an unimpressed look.

By contrast, Danish style coffee tends to be high in acidity, low in bitterness – a totally different flavour from the espresso we know. While many Europeans find it unpalatable, the Danes are the highest per-capita coffee drinkers in the world, consuming about 12 kg/year (compared to 5.9 kg in Italy). Canadians, by the way, aren’t so far behind.

In Ethiopia, the traditional coffee ceremony is still considered a cornerstone of community hospitality. The beans are roasted by hand over a fire in a traditional roasting pan called a ‘brazier’. Then, the beans are ground by hand, and added to a ‘jebena’ with water, and boiled for brewing. The coffee is then filtered through a comb made of horsehair and served in multiple rounds, based on seniority. Despite the popularity of Western-style cafes in urban areas, it is still common to prepare coffee in this way at home.

From Morocco to Saudi Arabia, coffees are often flavoured with spices like cardamom, saffron, nutmeg, anise and cloves. In fact, many of the common coffee flavourings we see nowadays – hazelnuts, vanilla, cinnamon – stem from centuries old traditions. As one story goes, Alpine monks added hazelnuts to their coffee to add nutrients and flavour.

In Hong Kong, coffee is mixed with traditional ‘milk tea’ (usually black tea with condensed milk) for a popular drink called Yuanyang. You can drink this hot or cold, and even order it at McDonald’s or Starbucks chains.

Or, if you want to get completely out of your coffee comfort zone, try ‘koffeost’ – a Finnish drink that involves melting a type of curd-style cheese in your mug.

And of course, the list goes on and on.

So next time you’re sipping your coffee, consider all of the millions of people doing the same – perhaps with a stick of cinnamon, a hint of clove, or a scoop of squeaky cheese.

Thanks to an agent and canned muffins for the photos used in this post.

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One thought on “Around the World in a Cup O’ Joe

  • November 12, 2012 at 8:45 pm
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    In Montreal, another small coffee-roasting company with a Dutch name, Van Houte, brought many to appreciate the rich flavour of a good cup of coffee. Now it operates coffee shops with breakfast and lunch menus. The Van Houte coffees can be found in Kingston at some grocery stores.

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