Immigrant Stories

Creative Nonfiction

Pittsburgh In Words Issue, Oct 2008

Most Saturday afternoons, you can find Martha Vasser performing an Ethiopian coffee ceremony at Tana Ethiopian Cuisine for a handful of Pittsburgh diners who know little to nothing about her home culture.

“Coffee has a great significance in Ethiopia,” she says as she walks past diners with a long-handled tin full of popping, browning coffee, a smoldering potpourri of equal parts espresso, dark chocolate and cedar. “It’s folklore that it was discovered in Ethiopia by a young shepherd. And coffee comes from the region Kaffa, K-a-f-f-a. Therefore, the name coffee.”

She may also note that goats first ate the beans and then their young shepherd, witnessing their apparently inebriated states,decided he had to try some, too. Some Saturdays, she wears a traditional Ethiopian dress, pale gossamer linen with loosely hanging cuffs, neckline and hem striped in green, red and yellow, the colors of Ethiopia’s flag. Carletta, an African-American woman with straight hair and a deep but deliberately honeyed voice, precedes Martha, taking orders, filling water and tea glasses, and delivering platters of food. Then she distributes the coffee once it’s brewed. Seifu, the owner, greets customers, works the register, checks on the kitchen. A stereo plays Ethiopian music, replete with trebling voices complementing electronic percussion.

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