Camel wandering through nature reserve in Ethiopia

Coffee and Culture: How Coffee Can Help Us Understand Different Cultures

Coffee is enjoyed by people all over the world. It is often seen as a way to start the day, but it can also be a great way to connect with others and learn about different cultures.

The Cultural Significance of Coffee

Coffee has a long and rich history, and it is deeply embedded in many cultures around the world. In some cultures, coffee is seen as a sacred beverage, while in others it is simply a part of everyday life.

The way that coffee is prepared and consumed can vary greatly from culture to culture. For example, in Italy, coffee is often served as espresso, while in Turkey it is served as Turkish coffee. In Ethiopia, coffee is often roasted over an open fire and served with spices and called a “coffee ceremony”.

How Coffee Can Help Us Understand Different Cultures

Coffee can be a great way to learn about different cultures. When we travel to a new country, we can visit a coffee shop and order a cup of coffee. This is a great way to start a conversation with the barista and learn about the local culture.

We can also learn about different cultures by reading about the history of coffee in different countries. This can help us to understand the cultural significance of coffee and how it has shaped the cultures of different countries.

Here are some specific examples of how coffee can help us understand different cultures:

  • In Ethiopia, coffee is considered to be a sacred beverage. It is believed that the coffee plant was discovered by a shepherd named Kaldi, who noticed that his goats became more energetic after eating the berries from the coffee plant.  But maybe someone switched his ‘normal’ goats with screaming goats overnight??  I remember the first time I travelled to Ethiopia for work. We were driving out of Addis Ababa to visit a project site, and all of a sudden the driver pulled off to the side of the road before we had really even gotten out of the city. I was very confused.  But, I am happy to report that we stopped for coffee at a tiny little side of the road shop that had a dozen cheap plastic chairs and piping hot coffee in tiny traditional cups.  I fell in love.
  • In Turkey, coffee is often served in small cups called "finjans." The coffee is brewed in a special pot called a "cezve" and is served with sugar cubes.
  • In Italy, coffee is often served as espresso. Espresso is a strong, concentrated coffee that is made by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee beans.  Just make sure that on your way to get your espresso you drive a vespa, because that just seems right.

How to Use Coffee to Connect with Different Cultures

If you are interested in learning about different cultures, coffee can be a great way to connect with people from different parts of the world. Here are a few tips on how to use coffee to connect with different cultures:

  • Visit a coffee shop in a different neighborhood. This is a great way to experience a new culture and to meet people from different backgrounds.  When I lived in Washington, DC, I frequented Sidamo, a small Ethiopian coffee shop (that also happens to have delicious food). They even roasted the coffee in the middle of the shop and it added a nice touch to the atmosphere.
  • Talk to the barista. The barista is a great source of information about the local culture and about the coffee that they are serving.
  • Ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask questions about the coffee or about the local culture. People are usually happy to share their knowledge with others.  You may or may not get this at your local big chain coffee shop, but smaller shops are part of the third wave coffee trend and likely have way more to tell you about the coffees they serve…perhaps more than you want to know 
  • Be open-minded. Be willing to try new things and to learn about new cultures.  I will readily admit that I am a creature of habit and operate on the principle that if I liked it once, I am happy and content to just get the same thing over and over.  But rarely in life have I regretted trying something new or branching out.

Whatever you do, just keep yourself in a place to be curious.  Observe, ask questions, try new things.  This will help you to better appreciate and enjoy the massive world around you!

What do you think?  How have you learned about new cultures and countries through coffee?  Or, what was your favorite experience enjoying coffee in a new place?  Leave a comment…and while you are at it, I have a delightful Ethiopian Sidamo that I am roasting right now with notes of Brown Sugar, Dark Chocolate & Floral with a Medium Body and a Low Acidity. Come buy a bag!  Use promo code "Sidamo15" to get 15% off your bag. Hurry up as the promo expires Cinderalla style on August 21st!

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