Espresso, French press, slow drip, frappemochawaccuccino. Coffee preparation can be baffling—and that’s just in your local Starbucks. There are many other ways coffee is made around the world. Here are seven of them.
Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
Coffee’s origin story is set in Ethiopia, where a goat herder notices his flock is full of beans after eating a certain berry. He tells the local monks, who toss the offending berries on the fire, but then—presumably overcome by the heavenly aroma—decide to make a drink out of them instead. The increased alertness aids in prayer, and the rest, as they say, is a multibillion dollar industry.
Whether that’s all true or not, Ethiopia does retain a unique coffee culture—one in which the famed and elaborate coffee ceremony, conducted by women, remains part of daily life. Details vary, but it goes something like this:
- Burn incense, preferably frankincense.
- Roast green coffee beans over a brazier. Once roasted, grind the beans using a mortar and pestle.
- Add the beans and water to a round-bottomed, long-necked clay pot called a jebena. Bring to a boil.
- When ready to serve, stuff a makeshift filter (horse hair, cloth, or similar) into the neck of the jug, before pouring the coffee into small cups.
- Add sugar (sometimes salt and/or butter) to taste. Traditionally, three cups are drunk.
(For more on Ethiopian coffee, see David Farley’s “Coffeeland.”)
I was lucky enough to participate in similar ceremonies with the local Nubian people around Aswan, in southern Egypt. The procedure was the same, except spices like cloves, ginger, and cardamom were ground up along with the coffee beans. Similar coffee drinking rituals take place in Sudan, too.
At the other end of the spectrum, kopi tubruk, the traditional Indonesian way of making coffee, is about as simple as it gets.
- Set a pan of water to boil.
- Add a tablespoon of finely ground coffee to a beer glass, mixed with sugar to taste.
- As soon as the water is boiling, pour it into the glass and stir well.
- Let the mixture sit for up to five minutes. This allows the coffee grounds to settle, and the drink to cool.
That’s it! The key is to not boil the water for long, or else the brew will taste flat, and to use good quality, finely ground coffee. Oh, and sip carefully as you near the bottom.
The scare quotes are because this brewing method is used all over: in much of the Middle East, North Africa, and the Balkans, for example. (Quickest way to cause offense in Greece? Order a Turkish coffee. Bonus demerits if you are in Greek Cyprus at the time.) This method is quick, unfussy, and results in a brew that is thick, strong, and chewy.
- Add water, finely ground coffee (it should be like dust, and in Arab countries is often flavored with cardamom), and sugar to a long-handled, tulip-shaped pot called (in Turkish) a cezve. Stir well.
- Bring to a boil on medium heat. Watch carefully!
- As soon as it starts to boil/froth, remove from the heat and let cool for 30 seconds.
- Return to the heat until it starts boiling again.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 once more (so the mixture comes to the boil three times).
- Serve black in tiny cups.
The coffee grounds sink to the bottom of the cup as a kind of sludge (like tea leaves, they can be used for fortune telling), and there should be a foamy, creamy layer on top of the drink. A Turkish proverb sums up what coffee made this way should taste like—”black as hell, strong as death, sweet as love.”
Scandinavian Egg Coffee
This is really easy to make, and produces a strong but not bitter coffee. The egg does three things: binds to the coffee grounds and makes them sink, counteracts the acidity of the coffee, and neutralizes some of the chemicals that cause coffee to taste bitter.
- Bring water to a boil in a pan.
- Add coarse coffee grounds to a bowl (one tablespoon per cup of coffee you are making).
- Crack an egg into the coffee grounds, including the shell. Break it all up and mix thoroughly. A couple tablespoons cold water will make this easier.
- Once the water is boiling, add your coffee-egg-shell mixture (be careful that it doesn’t boil over). Stir well.
- Simmer for five minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and add a cup of cold water. This forces the coffee/egg clumps to sink.
- Serve using a ladle. It’s already smooth, so you probably won’t need cream.
Malaysian coffee is brewed in a “sock,” a tubular cloth or muslin filter attached to a handle. The beans are often roasted with butter (or margarine) and sugar, giving the coffee a kind of burned caramel flavor. The famed Ipoh white coffee is roasted without the sugar and is considered a more refined drink.
- Set the filter into a large receptacle.
- Add coffee grounds and hot (almost boiling) water—around half a cup of coffee grounds to a quart of water.
- Let brew for at least five minutes.
- Remove the filter and hold over a cup. Let the coffee drip into the cup.
- Add hot water to the cup to dilute the coffee mixture, if necessary. Add sugar and/or condensed/evaporated milk to taste.
Brazilians don’t drink cups of coffee. They drink cafezinho—tiny cups of strong and extremely sweet coffee. And they drink them all day, everywhere—from gas stations to sidewalks to posh boutiques. This is another method that uses a cloth filter.
- Add water and sugar to a pan that is only ever used for making coffee. Around half a cup of water and one or two teaspoons of sugar per cafezinho.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring a few times to make sure the sugar dissolves.
- Remove from the stove, and thoroughly stir in one tablespoon of finely ground coffee per cafezinho.
- Slowly pour the mixture through the “sock” and into the serving cup. (A paper filter can also be used.)
South Indian Filter Coffee
While India is more famous for its spiced chai than its coffee, connoisseurs claim the kapi made in the southern states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala is some of the best in the world. The secret is patience, boiled milk, and the right equipment.
A South Indian coffee filter is basically two stacked metal chambers. The top one is where you put the coffee grounds and water. It’s perforated, and comes with a plunger and a lid. The bottom one is where you collect the coffee decoction, which will be thick and extremely concentrated.
- Add three or four tablespoons of powdered coffee to the top chamber. The coffee is often flavored with chicory.
- Cover the coffee with the plunger, but don’t push down. Add boiling water. Put the lid on.
- Wait for the concentrated coffee to drip down into the lower chamber. It can take an hour. (People often set their filters up overnight.)
- Boil a pan of milk—around two-thirds a glass per person.
- Once the milk is boiled, and while still hot, add a couple tablespoons of the coffee decoction per person, and sugar to taste.
- Optional: Pour back and forth between pans to create a froth, and to cool the coffee.
Note that some people produce a second decoction after the first. It’s nowhere near as strong, so is kept separate. A quarter cup or so is added to the first milk/decoction mixture.
The better-known Vietnamese coffee is made with similar equipment. But rather than boiled milk, condensed milk is used.
For more on coffee, hitch a ride with David Farley as he travels around Ethiopia to learn about the source of our global obsession.