Majida Rashid

An image of sunshine and laughing with friends comes to my mind when I think of coffee. Time stops for me when I'm actually sipping the hot brew with or without friends.

My initial meeting with this wonderful beverage is unforgettable. I was standing in the dining hall of the YWCA in Nairobi, Kenya, and looking, for the first time, at the Christmas dinner spread over a crisp white tablecloth that covered a long teak table. The huge glass windowpanes, opposite the table, revealed beautiful African yellow irises that bordered the manicured lawn. My love of irises intermingled with the wonderful strong nutty aroma of something, which I later learned was brewed coffee, and sank in my memory forever.

When I left Pakistan we only had Nescafe's instant coffee. It was made at home and on special occasions because Pakistan is a tea-drinking country, a habit instilled by the British occupiers of the subcontinent India. I stayed away from Pakistani coffee because it was too sweet, though I loved the froth on the top.

At the YWCA I took the food and then poured my first ever brewed coffee from a stainless-steel pot. A laminated sign next to the pot read, "Never boil coffee.

"What should I do if the coffee gets cold," I asked the Kenyan chef who was standing by the table.

"Either make fresh or keep it warm, away from the flame," the chef said.

It's believed that Keffa, in the southeast region of Ethiopia, Kenya's neighboring country, is where a shepherd named Kaldi noticed that his sheep became playful after eating red berries of a certain bush. He started chewing the beans and felt elated.

The word spread fast and Sufi dervishes of Yemen used the berries to stay awake during their nightly meditations. Sufism is a spiritual aspect of Islam. The roasting and brewing of coffee started around 1000 A.D. By the 13th century, Muslims were consuming it fervently.

In order to have a monopoly over coffee, the growers zealously guarded the plants and treated them in a way so they wouldn't bear fruit outside the region. Smart traders!

Not very far from the Keffa region is the Great Rift Valley, which scientists believe is the place where humans evolved. Coffee, like humans, also found its way out.

According to one count, the Dutch smuggled the plants to the island of Java, Indonesia. Then in the early 18th century they presented the French King Louis XIV with a coffee plant. Cuttings and seeds of this plant were taken to French colonies such as the islands of Réunion and Martinique.

The Ottomans took the drink to the rest of Europe. The Catholic Church wanted it banned when it was first introduced in Venice, Italy. But the pope, who had tasted coffee elsewhere, declared it a Christian drink.

From Europe coffee was taken to South America and neighboring countries and eventually back to Africa.

Like coffee, I also returned to Africa and met an Ethiopian lady who invited me to her house. The coffee she made surpassed all coffees I had prior or after that. She put a thick black cast iron skillet on a gas burner. Then she washed green beans that she had brought from Ethiopia and roasted them on the skillet over low heat, stirring continuously, until they turned dark brown. The place was filled with aroma that cannot be captured in words. When the beans cooled down she ground them very fine. Next she put the grounds and water into a special Ethiopian clay pot called Jabena and placed it on a low flame. When the foam appeared on the sides, she stirred it gently. The coffee was ready after a few boils.

It was served in thimble-like cups called Ciene accompanied by sugar and popcorn. She said, "Ethiopians use milk, salt and even butter with their coffee." I didn't need any milk that day.

While Ethiopia still has thousands of varieties of coffee and the plants are named after the region they grow in, the rest of the world has about thirty varieties. Of those Arabica and Robusta are the most popular with commercial coffee houses.

Actual coffee beans are green and void of flavor and fragrance. Great care is taken in roasting them because in addition to bringing out their aroma and zest, it also unfolds the altitude coffee was grown at, weather and the amount of water used for irrigation. The cooling process is the second biggest influencer. Too little or too much and the coffee would smell old and taste acidic, as I call it. To me this flavor is found in big tins of ground coffee that is served in big businesses.

The amount of contact time the boiling water has with the grounds also affects the flavor. Even the freshly brewed coffee from machines that utilize small ready-to-use pre-filled cups have a stale aroma and acidic flavor because the water juts in from the top and the coffee pours out of the machine in an instant.

Pakistani Coffee


2-3 teaspoons each of sugar and instant coffee

1 cup each of water and milk, boiled together


Place the dry ingredients in a cup and pour in a few drops of the boiling liquid and stir with a metal spoon or a tiny whisk. Keep adding the liquid, drop by drop, until the dry ingredients are moist enough for beating. Whisk until the coffee turns pale. Divide the coffee into two cups. Reheat the liquid and gently pour into cups stirring continuously.

2 Servings.


Majida Rashid's blog can be found at https://

Published: Mon, Mar 16, 2020