May 27, 2011

The Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

If you are a coffee lover, this is one of the most enjoyable events you can attend, be it at someones home, or in an Ethiopian Restaurant. I was fortunate enough to participate in the ceremony in one of my favorite restaurants, Mesob, in Montclair, NJ. The coffee is taken through its full life cycle of preparation in front of you in a ceremonial manner. Coffee is called 'Bunna' (boo-na) by the Ethiopians.

The ceremony starts with the woman, first bringing out the washed coffee beans and roasting them in a coffee roasting pan on small open fire/coal furnace. The pan is similar to an old fashioned popcorn roasting pan and it has a very long handle to keep the hand away from the heat. At this time most of your senses are being involved in the ceremony, the woman shakes the roasting pan back and forth so the beans won't burn (this sounds like shaking coins in a tin can and reminded me of making jiffy pop popcorn as a child), the coffee beans start to pop (also just like popcorn.) When finished roasting,  the preparer takes the roasted coffee and walks it around the room so the smell of freshly roasted coffee fills the air.

The roasted coffee is placed in a small household tool called 'Mukecha' (moo-ke-ch-a) for the grinding. Most restaurants at this time incorporate modern coffee grinders into the process, but some still use the traditional method. That method is to use a mukecha, a heavy wooden bowl into which the beans are placed. A wooden/metal stick called 'zenezena' is then used to crush the beans in a rhythmic up & down manner. (Think pestle and mortar.)

The crushed powder is then put into a traditional pot made out of clay called 'jebena' (J-be-na) with water and is boiled in the small open fire/coal furnace. Again the boiling coffee aroma fills the room,and the coffee is served in small cups called 'cini' (si-ni). Most usually these are the small Chinese tea cups found in most Chinese tea sets.

As you sip your first cup of coffee, you've gone through the full ceremonial process of the washing, the roasting, the grinding, and the brewing culminating with service and consumption. By now, the process is finished, but traditionally, Ethiopians will partake of at least a second serving and sometimes a third.

The second and third serving are important enough that each serving has a name, first serving is called "Abol;" second serving is "Huletegna"and third serving is "Bereka." The coffee is not ground for the second and third serving, a portion of coffee powder is left on purpose for these two ceremonies.

Ethiopian Coffee

Beans from Sumatra have always been highly prized not only because of their full flavor, but also because of their distinct appearance. Sumatran coffee beans, when green, are often asymmetrical in shape and have a deep aquamarine tint. Beginning in the 18th Century when the popularity of Sumatran coffee rose significantly, the unique shape and hue helped European merchants recognize authentic Sumatran coffee beans.

However, Sumatran coffee's distinct appearance isn't the only factor contributing to the coffee's uniqueness. The unusual drying techniques employed by Sumatran coffee farmers also contribute to the coffee's distinctiveness. These techniques involve an extended period of the coffee bean's exposure to the pulp of the berry after the berry has been harvested—a process which is believed to produce deeper tones in the brewed coffee.

Ethiopia produces some of the most unique and fascinating coffees in the world. The three main regions where Ethiopia coffee beans originate are Harrar, Ghimbi, and Sidamo (Yirgacheffe). Ethiopian Harrar coffee beans are grown on small farms in the eastern part of the country. They are dry-processed and are labeled as longberry (large), shortberry (smaller), or Mocha (peaberry). Ethiopian Harrar coffee can have a strong dry edge, winy to fruit like acidity, rich aroma, and a heavy body. In the best Harrar coffees, one can observe an intense aroma of blueberries or blackberries. Ethiopian Harrar coffee is often used in espresso blends to capture the fine aromatics in the crema.

If you are a coffee drinker, seek out an Ethiopian restaurant near you. Not only is dinner spectacular, (be ready to eat with your hands. Forks are optional!) and an experience, the coffee is a must!

Bon Apetit!

April 17, 2011

Priceless gems found in Key West, Florida: "The Southernmost Hotel Collection"

I have had the good fortune to have traveled my entire life. I've visited exquisite locations, stayed at fine resorts & hotels, enjoyed many fabulous gourmet meals, and well, to put it bluntly, have become intolerant to mediocre and insistent on quality, stellar accommodations and service. I will easily admit being a food and travel snob.

Now don't misunderstand me. I'm not talking about a "Can't wait to visit with Biff and Buffy in the Hamptons... dahling" type of snob. I mean that when I travel, spending hard earned money, I'm looking for those hotels and restaurants that "do it right," taking the time to provide the best of accommodations, service and experience. There is nothing worse than booking a vacation, traveling 1000's of miles, only to find that the hype of the brochures and resorts website that determined your decision, must have been describing some "other" resort or locale. I'm sure at least once in your life you have had that experience. I know I have. So, as I have been wont to do with Kitchen Rap, when I find a resort that hits all the marks, consistently, at the top of it's game, I write about it.

The Southernmost Hotel Collection, located in Historic Old Town, at the end of famed Duval Street, at the very tip of Key West, Florida, (yup, the same place you've taken all those pics if you've ever visited Key West) is one of those resorts.

When most think of Key West, they think of all crazy and wonderful things available, from the eclectic to the bizarre. From the Hemmingway House, to the restaurants like Jimmy Buffet's Margharitaville, or the famed  bars such as Sloppy Joes, to the dozens of fine art galleries along Duval Street, it's beaches, or it's fishing and boating activities in crystalline tropical waters, Key West has it all.

Smack dab in the middle of all this is The Southernmost Collection. My recent stay was everything I could have hoped for and more from a trip to this tropical paradise. The collection, consisting of The Southernmost HotelSouthernmost on the Beach and Key West's only award winning, luxury oceanfront bed and breakfasts, The La Mer Hotel & Dewey House, meets the expectations of any and all travelers, whatever their budget. The B&B's are quaint, luxurious and quiet, just like you would expect. The Hotel, right smack dab in the heart of Old Town is a great home base while you explore all Key West has to offer, and Southernmost on the Beach rivals any Caribbean resort I have ever been to.

I stayed at Southernmost on the Beach, on the edge of the Atlantic. My accommodations were immaculate, the service made me feel like a VIP, and in a location that, well, once ensconced in my room with it's huge veranda and views overlooking the water, made it hard to fathom I was still in the States. This resort has it all and does it right my friends. I had a wonderful time in what the resort describes as 'oceanfront elegance meets Old Key West charm'. I would have to agree.
Waking each day to a Key West Sunrise, having coffee on the veranda, while listening to the gentle caresses of the waves, set the tone each and every morning for a true tropical vacation. This particular resort was voted one of Trip Advisor's Best of the 2010 and was voted one of its 10 Best Romantic Hotel destinations. With its own beach, ocean side pool, this my friends was fantastic place to stay and I highly recommend it.

One of the great things about the resort, is the Southernmost Beach Cafe' Restaurant, located on South Beach, surrounded by the Southernmost Hotel Collection properties, offering oceanfront dining. While keeping the casual atmosphere of a 'beach restaurant,' there is nothing casual about the quality fare coming out of the kitchen. Led by Executive Chef Ben, from breakfast to dinner, this eatery is putting out gourmet food at it's best.

For me, once I find a place I can count on for all the things I look for in a vacation and stay, they are rewarded with my loyalty. To that end, if you find yourself in Key West, you cannot go wrong with any of the Southernmost Collection's properties. And when you get to this little spot of paradise, stop by the Beach Cafe Bar located mere yards from the water You never just might see me there...

Southernmost Hotel Collection
1319 Duval Street • Key West, FL 33040
Reservations 800.354.4455 or 305.296.6577