It was long before I liked the bitter taste of the brew beans laced with just a hint of sweet cream. It was long before I craved the buzz of caffeine running through my veins in order to wake me up. It was long before my daily steamy cup warmed my hands on foggy San Francisco mornings. It was long before any of this that I loved the smell of coffee.
Whether roasted, ground, or already brewed the aroma of those beans would send me into heaven. The smell often tricked me when I was younger and did not have quite as developed taste buds to try coffee plain. It never went well. Eventually, in my mid 20’s I learned to appreciate a good cup of coffee. From then on it has been a never-ending love affair that I even dragged my husband into.
Imagine my joy to be traveling to the birthplace of coffee. East Africa holds an oasis of coffee bean plantations. Coffee trees produce their best beans when grown at high altitudes in a tropical climate where there is rich soil. That can be found between latitudes 25 degrees North and 30 degrees South. The school in Tanzania had a coffee plantation across the road. The Uganda farm I worked at had fully grown coffee beans plants on site and even had a ceremony handing out seedlings to the community. I was surrounded by freshly grown coffee. Oh the excitement to taste such fresh coffee.
Except I never did. The way coffee is drank in East Africa is along the lines of instant coffee. You grind up the beans and put them in hot water in your cup. It will give you the buzz you are looking for, but probably not the taste you were craving. Even the “brewed coffee” is the ground up beans (usually pounded by hand, not as coarsely ground as you would put in your coffee maker) in a hot water pot and the ground filtered out as you pour. Some people say it is the same thing as brewing coffee in a coffee pot. But, it did not taste the same. Maybe it is similar to the Guinness phenomenon that makes the beer taste so different and so much better in Ireland, supposedly due to the water supply that the brewery uses. Maybe the water (that you have to boil to drink) in East Africa just makes the coffee taste different. Or maybe, I have just become too hipster to drink “real coffee.”