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Oct 21, 2008 11:28 AM

Ethiopian coffee service - all fresh roasted and everything

Alright. So, I was at Merkato, with my buddy Jeff, doing a working lunch. Since we're both actual semi-professional philosophers (this means graduate student and TA), and both work sort of in the space of political philosophy, this means that we can spend two hours bitching about politics and then call it a working lunch.

Anyway, TANGENT #1: I have previously written about Merkato for excellent kitfo sandwiches - raw beef. Jeff introduced me to their fried trout. Smokin'.

Since we're "working", we go for coffee. Ethiopian coffee, $10. Order it early, because they ACTUALLY ROAST THE COFFEE right then and there. (This used to impress me more, before I started roasting coffee myself and realized it takes about 5 minutes, but still: it's pretty freakin' cool.) If you have one of the Nice Ladies, she'll bring out the ladle of freshly roasted, smoking coffee and wave it around in front of you to tantalize you. She'll then wander around the restaurant, with a mysterious smile on her face, tantalizing other customers with the smoke.

Five minutes later, you get the Coffee Service Tray: it's a wooden box, with a VERY LARGE jug, two teeny little white-and-blue china cups, and a brazier of frankincense, smoking away.

The coffee is damn fine. It's grounds-in - like turkish coffee. And spiced. It's definitely ethiopian beans - it has that High Mountain Zing (kind of like the high-lonesome sound, but in citrusy, coffee) - that high, almost red-wine-like-but-an-octave-up note. When I make good ethiopian beans at home, it tends to be pure zing - winey and citrusy. Here, with the grounds in the jug, and all the spices, it's meatier - dark and intense and syrupy and spiced.

I normally don't sugar my coffee, but this stuff benefits from a little sugar.

It's intense. It's intense in flavor. It's intense in density. If regular coffee is like wine, this stuff is like brandy. There's a lot of it. It's easy to drink cup after cup, because they're very small, and you have, like, a liter jug of the stuff next to you. And there you are, caffeinating yourself, sugaring yourself, with this frankincense brazier blaring away next to you, all smokey and stuff, and, frankly, you start to feel seriously, seriously drugged.

That night, I was up until about 5 AM.

We didn't even drink all of it.

I have, in fact, never drunk all of the jug.

The next time I went, I went with two other people. We got the same jug, had about 10 little cups each of coffee, and on the way back were so shakey and wired that we actually had to go home and fire up my little home gym and work out for an hour before dinner, to get some of the screaming lightning jazz out of our system.

So: it is excellent. It is a cultural and spiritual experience. Be careful, though - the little cups are deceptive, it's delicious, and, whiling away a pleasant hour talking about politics - I mean, "work" - or whatever, and you may accidentally caffeinate yourself into another dimension.

I have had ethiopian coffee at two other places - the old Red Sea, and the market just up the street. Both are good, neither is fresh-roasted. Other places for the service? I think I've smelled fresh-roasting coffee elsewhere in Little Ethiopia, so it's got to be around. Ideas? Comparisons?

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  1. Great stuff as always !

    I've never had the ethiopian coffee service, so this is really interesting. Speaking of roasting at home, I've only done it once in the house, because I made the mistake of roasting an hour or two before bed, and I swear the aromas/fumes kept me up half the night. It was like a contact high :-)

    3 Replies
    1. re: mikester

      I wrote an article about home coffee roasting a while ago for I roast in the morning. I use a popcorn popper.

      Here, they use this awesome thing - it's like a cast iron ladle. My early experiments with coffee roasting involved a cast-iron pan - let me tell you, it's a pain in the ass. The coffee you get from cast-iron is a little more direct and primitive and... well, roasty, then stuff done in a commercial rotating drum/Jiffy air popper.

      Luckily, Merkato lets you taste cast-iron roasted beans without freaking destroying your wrist by freaking tossing freaking beans in a freaking heavy cast iron pan for 12 freaking minutes.

      1. re: Thi N.

        Thi, your link doesn't seem to work.

        I don't usually prefer ethiopian beans (I like the more mellow taste of pacific coffees) but I'm intrigued by your description of ethiopian coffee. Do they offer any milk or cream, or is that frowned upon, as with turkish coffee?

        1. re: a_and_w

          No milk, no cream... but I don't think you'd want it. For some reason, the thought instinctively fills me with horror. Not for any cultural-purity reason. Just... I don't think it would work. The first thought that pops to mind is "like rolling sashimi in heavy cream."

          It's not mellow, but it's not high and zingy like ethiopian - it's more balanced. Spicing fills out the flavor profile. Closest flavor relative would be, say, a Peet's Major Dickinson's - intense-but-balanced.

    2. Wow. I love Ethiopian food and I drive down Fairfax Ave. all the time. I am totally going to this place. What a great post.

      1. Fassica, in Culver City, has the fresh roasted service (along with the best Ethiopian food around in my opinion) though I've never had the coffee as I can't handle the caff.

        1 Reply
        1. re: sku

          That's in the spot Red Sea used to be, right? I loved Red Sea... any idea if Fassica is by the same owners?

        2. Indeed, you should order it as you are ordering your food. I used to order it after the meal at Merkato and at Messob, and it was not a problem, but once at Merkato they reluctantly took the order and then, as we were waiting, the waitress, as she walked past our table every few minutes, kept telling us that they had not started on our coffee yet. We left, coffeeless :(. And at Rosalinda's they refused to serve us coffee without a meal.

          1. Just curious- did you eat anything in particular with this wonderful sounding coffee like a sweet?