Natalia Naman Temesgen: Coffee brings us together

May 17, 2014 

This morning, I drank a cup of coffee. Odds are you did too. Last year's annual survey by the National Coffee Association found that 84 percent of Americans drink coffee, and more than 50 percent of us do so daily.

What's the hype all about? Well, the hype, for one thing. The caffeine boost that comes in a small cup (or two, which is the average amount that U.S. coffee drinkers down a day) is just enough to bring the world into focus and get the croak out of our voices. If we're honest, simple addiction is responsible for much of our regular use.

There's the cultural factor, too. Students drink coffee to cram for exams, professionals strategize with Starbucks in the boardroom, and artists like myself sip in coffee shops while we muse. Many of my one-on-one meet-ups, for business or pleasure, begin with this question: "Want to get coffee?"

Coffee is big, global business.

Last week, the global snack giant Mondelez International announced plans to combine its coffee business with D.E. Master Blenders to create a company with annual revenue of more than $7 billion. The combined company, to be called Jacobs Douwe Egberts, would be the second-largest coffee company on Earth.

The rise of coffee popularity around the world can seem strange. Even in China, India and the UK, where tea is a cultural staple, coffeehouses are on the rise to the point that teahouses may soon be a thing of the past. So seriously -- what's the big deal with coffee?

My husband was born in Eritrea, a tiny country in the Horn of Africa that traces the Red Sea. On the map, Eritrea looks to be sitting on the back of Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. As I got to meet his family, I realized that coffee is fundamental to their community. And they don't drink Maxwell House. This is rich, strong, earthy stuff.

The coffee ceremony is one of the most recognizable parts of Eritrean and Ethiopian culture. Coffee is offered when visiting friends, during festivities, or as a daily staple of life. It features the burning of frankincense and is served in multiple rounds, propelling the conversation on for hours at a time.

Enjoying a coffee ceremony with my husband one Sunday afternoon on a porch in Boston, I realized that something very local and international was happening at once. For while most American coffee drinkers don't roast our coffee fresh or burn incense while imbibing, we do sip, sit and talk just as they do in the country that made it famous.

There is something inherently communal in a pot of coffee. The smell of it in the morning wakes up a house and brings them together in the kitchen. I would go so far as to argue -- notwithstanding my addiction to the stuff -- that coffee's ability to spark genuine fellowship is enough to make it worth drinking regularly. Who's up for another cup?

Natalia Naman Temesgen is an independent correspondent. Contact her at nataliadian1@gmail.com or on Twitter@cafeaulazy.

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