Monday, July 11, 2011

Coffee with Shua....the best way to enjoy a cup of joe

Coffee Maxine?
Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, at least according to PEET's Coffee...and Eritrea is the same, but different.  Eritrea is next door to Ethiopia, and at one time was part of this large coffee nation.  But Eritrea was also a colony of Italy after world war 1 for many years...mix those two coffee drinking cultures together and you come up with a wonderful cup of joe!  It is not just a cup of something that has the aroma of wealth, but it is a cup which is made with tradition.  A tradition that invests in the development of friendships, and family relationships, not just the black gold.

There is never a quick cup, and in fact we are always offered three cups in series, the first is the strongest, the second a little less so and the third follows in the strength of a good cup of Peet's coffee.  But I get ahead of myself, this is the story about Shua, and how she became my friend.
Shua is Reggatt's mom who is visiting from Eritrea.  She speaks her native language and a little bit of Italian....I speak French and Japanese, so no, we don't really talk, at least not with words.  But just about every morning when I bring little Margo over for a play date, Shua will greet me with the 'becks', you know the little kisses on each cheek.  I always give three, just like I learned from my french mom.  She smiles brightly and then asks if I want some coffee.  And no it is not in English, but with gestures and kindness, and sometimes an interpreted message from her son-in-law Tee.   

I remember the first time Shua made me coffee.  Out came the green beans, poured into a little tin pot attached to a long metal handle.  The stove is turned up, with the flames dancing against the pot, and I hear the shh, shh, shh, sound of the coffee beans being tossed to and fro; almost like a rhythmic dance that lulls you to sleep or brings you an extra moment of relaxation.  Next I hear the pop and crackle of the beans as they become darkened, to whatever flavor Shua deems is best.  Suddenly she glides about the room presenting the darkened beans, still roasting in the pot to be smelled.  I brush the smoke gently towards my nose and sniff, oh my goodness this is a lovely rich aroma.  Shua presents the treasure to the all of the adults in the room and finally even to the children.  Each person provides that suttle glance of approval, and the next step continues.
The beans are poured out upon a woven mat shaped like a large rounded leaf and then carefully placed in the grinder.   The clay pot, is preheated with hot water prior to adding the ground beans, and once filled with the grounds and water is placed over a low fire to just stew.  About 10 minutes later, Shua begins to pour the black gold, into little espresso cups.  Some will add a bit of sugar, others some cream, but I love it straight.  And soon, I am saying 'Taroom', after the very first sip.  This is the traditional comment one must make if the coffee is good.  Silence, means the coffee does not hit the spot, then the preparer must go through the process again, without saying a word.  It is understood, serve your best, and if it is not to the liking of your guest, whether that is your family member or someone like me, start all over again.  But Shua is an expert, she never has to start all over again.

Shua also serves her best in life.  I see it as her children have grown and moved to other countries to live...I see her best in the life of Regatt her daughter and Shua's two grandchildren, Soli and Abbi.  I watch her care for her husband, Abraham, with kindness.  Shua is gentle and kind, and I see that every time we greet one another, and share a smile between each other, and those little becks. 

Before her departure from out neighborhood, off to stay with one of her children in another state, Shua provided me with the Eritrean traditional coffee ceremony.  I have attended a few Japanese tea ceremonies with my friends while in Japan, and this peaceful ceremony provides the same sense of beauty and grace I had observed many years ago at one of my student's home. 
There is a special table, covered in carvings and beans, that is set up over a piece of floor covering.  The incense is lit, and the process begins,  Shu, Shu, Shu, Shu, start the beans, roasting in the pot.  I am invited to smell the aroma of the roasted beans, and soon, they are ground and placed in the pot.  We wait, and smile, and I take photos so I will not forget...and then we drink.  We laugh, and talk a little bit, but mostly we sit and enjoy the moment.  Yes the little girls, are running around, but that does not matter. Here on the mat before the table is Shua, and the coffee.  "Taroom", Shua, "Taroom" for your friendship.

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