An Ode to Caffeine: a Third-Culture Coffee Exchange


Fresh coffee beans (pre- and post-roast) from Ethiopia

I have loved my time in South Africa so far. I enjoy the kind-hearted and generous people, the delicious food, the beautiful SeTswana language, the gorgeous vistas, and the hip-shaking beats here in my village. But…

I miss coffee. One month into my first full-time job, I joined the ranks of many American coffee addicts. Six years later, I drink at least two cups a day and often go out of my way on trips to sample particularly delightful coffee. I often frequented one of my favorite coffee shops in Atlanta, ébrik, for their mouthwatering Turkish coffee—perfect fuel for late-night grad school exams.

I didn’t really drink coffee during my study abroad to South Africa in college, so it slipped my attention that there isn’t much of a coffee culture here in the rural areas. During PST, many of my caffeine-starved cohort mates and I tried to make do with Ricoffy, a South African concoction of chicory root and coffee. We quickly realized what I would later confirm- Ricoffy has approximately the same amount of caffeine as an American decaf coffee (the funny part is that Ricoffy actually has a decaf brand). Ricoffy is tasty and perfect for someone looking for a very slight caffeine boost, but it’s nowhere near strong enough to maintain me through three hours of Tswana grammar. Luckily, I brought a 20 oz. bag of Seattle’s Best ground coffee with me to South Africa, but I diligently rationed it to ensure that I was maximizing its caffeine potential.

The ubiquitous Ricoffy (photo credit Amazon UK)

Ricoffy= 6 mg. caffeine/8 fl. oz. – Caffeine Informer; vs.

Average cup of coffee= 95 mg. caffeine/8 fl. oz. (about 93% more caffeine than Ricoffy)- USDA

In the rural village where I’m living, there is a strong preference for tea—typically rooibos or Five Roses, a black tea similar to English breakfast tea. There are many small “tuck” shops which sell snack food and a fast-food sandwich called sphatlo but no cafés. I have found ground coffee and cafés in my shopping town, so I’ve been able to indulge my caffeine addiction daily now that I’m at site. I still drink Ricoffy in the afternoon to help me over the 2 PM hump without affecting my sleep. As much as I’m grateful for this access, however, I still miss being able to go into some of my favorite coffee shops for a well-crafted cup of joe.

Enter my new friends, Lydia, Sammy and their adorable daughter, who emigrated to South Africa from Ethiopia and run a tuck shop near me. We quickly bonded over my love-bordering-on-obsession for injera and other Ethiopian food. Lydia invited me to the shop on Friday to taste some freshly brewed Ethiopian coffee, which I excitedly accepted. She started by roasting the fresh beans from Ethiopia, which she got from another Ethiopian friend in South Africa. The unroasted beans reminded me of peanuts (see picture up top) as she began to roast them in a long-handled pot. The beans quickly turned a dark brown, emanating a rich odor of coffee. Once roasted, she used a coffee grinder to get them to a fine powder. Then Lydia boiled a pot of water with the grounds inside. She asked me if I wanted to try the coffee with salt or sugar; never having tried salt with my coffee, I decided to be adventurous. She used a tablespoon to dole out the salt into small Ethiopian coffee cups and then added the coffee, pouring delicately but without a filter, and served the coffee with some sweet buns. The salt was interesting, but the coffee was, without a doubt, the most heavenly drink I’ve tasted in months!

Coffee preparation

While sipping my coffee and enjoying my time with Lydia, Sammy and their daughter, two South Africans—the woman from the bakery next door and a university student in the middle of studying— also tried the coffee! I like to think that my caffeine addiction helped facilitate a wider cultural exchange between my Ethiopian and South African friends. As I sat there chatting, I felt the comfort of the coffee shops that I was missing in the company of new friends.

Beyond coffee, I also want to take a moment to acknowledge two very important days: my mom’s birthday and Mother’s Day! Those who know my mom know how important she is to me, and how she has unwaveringly supported me in all of my crazy adventures. I wish that I could be celebrating both big days with her, but we’ll have to settle for a Whatsapp call and a sappy blog message instead.

One of my favorite pictures of my Mom and I, which currently hangs on my photo chain in my room


5 thoughts on “An Ode to Caffeine: a Third-Culture Coffee Exchange

  1. This post made me smile, Lindsay. When we have traveled inTanzania and Ghana, it was a rude awakening to find out that there was no real coffee. Ghana is a coffee producer but exports all of it, drinking powdered Nescafé which they pronoun without the the accented e as “nes-calf”. Coffee was one of our primary care package items to Emily. What kind do you love? I’ll work on a care package for you as well although it sounds as if you are finding a good niche for yourself in the SA culture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Really? That’s interesting about Ghana- I assumed it was just characteristic of SA! Funnily enough, Ricoffy is part of the Nescafe family. I love any dark roast ground coffee, thanks! Remind me to send you some tips for packing to get the package through customs.


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