The man bringing Ethiopian coffee culture to London

6 hours ago

By Lydia Wilson, BBC News

BBC Coffee shop owner sat in his shop.BBC
Yared Markos moved from Ethiopia to England in 2000

How often do you think about where your coffee actually comes from?

We are a nation of coffee lovers, slurping about 98 million cups every day according to the British Coffee Association, yet coffee’s diverse culture is often overlooked.

Yared Markos, known locally as ‘Markos’, opened Kaffa Coffee in Dalston after he could not find authentic Ethiopian coffee in London, despite his home country being the birthplace of the bean.

He said: “What I believe is that there is something missing culturally.

“Walking around, wandering around in London especially, I was looking for something similar to my culture, or even an Ethiopian establishment and to be honest there was none.”

d11a9ff1a9.jpgYared Markos and Almaz Haile stand in front of the coffee shop
Markos runs Kaffa Coffee with his wife Almaz Haile

Markos set up Kaffa Coffee in 2004, despite having no support and living in temporary accommodation at the time.

He wanted to create a space that was centered around “recognition” for lost Ethiopian history.

Twenty years and a lot of lattes later, Kaffa Coffee is a bustling spot among locals.

The shop front proudly showcases his family’s heritage and Ethiopian artifacts are scattered throughout the establishment.

“Kaffa is a region name,” he said.

“It was a big kingdom around the 9th until 12th century, Kaffa was one of the indigenous people in Ethiopia.

“The coffee name comes from Kaffa.

“But people don’t know this, people in England don’t study Ethiopian history.”

The-man-bringing-Ethiopian-coffee-culturEthiopian food
The shop serves traditional Ethiopian food alongside coffee

He regularly hosts community events like traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremonies, live music and parties, and holds a special reservation every Sunday for those in need of food.

“This success is purely through hosting people and sharing our culture,” he said.

“You don’t have to go to university to know if someone’s smile is real or not -naturally you just notice.

“People notice that this is real.”

He added: “New coffee shops will open and people go there, do a bit of work and have a coffee.

“But they are coming back.

“They say ‘No, no, no Markos, you’re doing something different, I feel it’ and they start noticing that the coffee shop is not only a coffee shop, it’s about recognition and being part of a family.”

The-man-bringing-Ethiopian-coffee-culturCoffee beans
Markos uses wild beans to roast his own coffee blend

Coffee historian, author and podcast host Jonathan Morris said his in-depth research into the bean’s past had greatly enhanced his experience of the drink.

“The way we experience our food and the way we experience our drink, we tend to get more out of it as we come to understand it,” he said.

“So you might like your coffee but you might find it more interesting and appreciate it more if you know where it comes from and if you know how it arrives and that history.”

He added: “I like to taste different things, but I like to know why I’m tasting them and how they were grown and how that relates to the history of coffee.

“Once you start digging into coffee, you never really stop.”

The-man-bringing-Ethiopian-coffee-culturMarkos stood in front of his coffee shop
Markos hopes to share his culture with as much of London as possible

Despite being half way across the globe, Markos hasn’t forgotten his roots.

The coffee he roasts and sells in Dalston is ethically sourced from Ethiopia.

“I have a family coffee farm in Ethiopia.

“I got it from my grandmother.

“It’s organic, wild coffee.

“The tree is just over 100 years old.

“It’s not a farm, it’s an extension of the community.”

Markos supports the surrounding village by buying them essential equipment like water pumps and tools needed for coffee production.

He hopes to continue “blending culture through coffee” for many years to come.

“Coffee is not just food,” he said.

“It’s a way of life.

“It’s like human petrol.”

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