Konch Magazine - Abidjan Here I Come 08/09 Part III

Blog- drinking Turkish Coffee              


I never thought I would say this, but I am jonesing for Starbucks.  Not really, I still feel politically incorrect to admit and a bit guilty to confess, but I need a cup of coffee. Here I am in Cote d’Ivoire, the country that has the 3rd biggest coffee production in the world after Brazil and Thailand and still there is not a decent cup of coffee to be found.  I went to a four-hour board meeting today and we drank Nescafé.   I just looked it up on Wikipedia and this country is known for coffee.  Maybe I am a coffee snob, but maybe I am just being logical. It seems illogical that here in the number one producer of coffee in the continent people still drink only one brand of coffee and it is instant.  Nescafe. 


When I was in Zimbabwe 10 years ago I was not able to find ground coffee beans anywhere. All I could find were instant coffee and tea.  I got accustomed to the tea and began to crave it at 10:00 am and 4:00pm just like the British.  I was always hungry in Zimbabwe and the sugar and caffeine in the tea became like some kind of sustenance for me. 

Here is a funny thing, when I left for Zimbabwe I asked my sister to buy me one thing.  It was a one-cup drip coffee filter for a cup. Not the cone shaped one, but the one’s that don’t need a filter.  I was really into being environmentally aware at the time. I could not describe what I wanted in words. It was kind of hilarious because we had no phone and I could only contact her by email.  To use email I had to catch the public bus to KweKwe- the nearest town- and the go to an Internet café, which cost about 3 US dollars to use for 15 minutes.  I spent so many hours just trying to communicate with her what I wanted. She is not a coffee drinker- but rather a tea enthusiast, so the communication often went like this. Me: “You know how you need to have that one cup of coffee in the morning?” Her  “No…. “  Meanwhile I was not able to find coffee beans anyway, and I slowly got used to drinking Nescafe. I think I should pause to tell you that I am a coffee lover. I don’t drink much coffee, but I drink coffee every day.  Without it, I am lost. I need my 1-cup of coffee. I have gone through many phases of coffee drinking, but I have always had my little coffee filter that I could balance on my mug to drip one cup for myself.  I rarely used a coffee pot and for a while I was too poor to buy expensive coffee much less take out coffee.   As a socially aware person and political activist, I spent many years boycotting Starbucks, but eventually with my daughter began to engage in the treats of Starbucks mochas.  My sister never found that filter. She came to Zimbabwe strapping close to $3000 US dollars on her person and with about 6 different coffee filters and makers in her suitcase. Of course by the time she got to Zimbabwe, I had been living there for 6 months and I no longer had any illusion that I would find a coffee bean.


So now I find myself in Abidjan, one of the world’s biggest coffee producers, and when I walk down the isle of the grocery store I do not see rows and rows of coffee as I would in any US Safeway. Instead what I see is Nescafe.  There are only premade coffee and chocolate drinks here. All the chocolate is imported from the US, Brazil, Canada and England.


I am in a country surrounded by coffee with no coffee. In fact, there is even a coffee tree right outside my window at the school where I teach. I can watch it grow every day-producing coffee beans.


Because of my previous experience in Zimbabwe, this time I was sure to bring my coffee filter from home.  And to boot the day before I left I asked my daughter to go to Safeway and get me some pre-ground Pete’s coffee just for good measure.  I also brought one bag of Hawaii’s Lion Macadamia Nut coffee. I was completely horrified then to open the Pete's and discover my daughter had not read carefully and had brought whole coffee beans.  I now find myself with a bag of beans in my freezer but no way to grind them.  


I have considered buying a food processor but cannot get myself to pay that cost. So I have begun my search once again for coffee beans in the land of coffee. The teacher downstairs from me, who last taught in the Congo, also brought her coffee beans from America. I keep trying to imagine it. Like diamonds, like gold, like many of the natural resources found here, there are two options. Either they are mined and exported never to be seen again, as in Zimbabwe and South Africa, two gold and diamond producers where most African cannot buy a gold ring for a wedding. Or the product follows the same colonial pattern of hundreds of years ago in which the resources are mined here, sent to Asia or somewhere to be manufactured and then sent back here to be sold. It reminded me of when I was in Zimbabwe and my exchange teacher, called me ecstatic about finding a 10K gold ring a JC Penny.  Being from Zimbabwe- number one producer in gold, he never could find or afford a wedding ring for his wife. His exchange afforded him the opportunity to reclaim that gold.


So here I am, and I cannot find coffee. I finally thought I did, though. I found a blue bag of ground coffee. I was elated. I promptly bought it and rushed home to brew it. When I opened the bag, I discovered it was Turkish coffee, a whole new experience of flavor and texture. At first, I was a bit shocked.  It is imported from Turkey.  And so fine, I can barely brew it in my politically correct coffee strainer, but it will have to do. It has a good flavor.  It is strong and rich. I am learning to drink Turkish coffee in French speaking Cote d’Ivoire.