Ethiopian Coffee

In my next life, I’m coming back as my friend Majka Burhardt.  She is one of the coolest women I know:  smart, warm, bold and fearless. We were in the same MFA program, but after graduation, Majka took a different path. Or perhaps I should say, she took many paths.  In addition to being a writer, she’s a professional climber and guide. She spends part of her time in New Hampshire and Colorado and part of her time in Africa–Namibia, Mozambique,  Ethiopia . . . I admire Majka’s approach to travel because she wants to derive meaning from her adventures. She wants to connect with the people and make a contribution.  She calls it “additive adventure.”

Lucky for me, Majka was in San Francisco last week, speaking to the Commonwealth Club about her latest project:  a book she’s written about the history of coffee production Ethiopia.

When most of us think of Ethiopia we the first words that come to mind are “famine” and “poverty,” but that’s only the case in 1/3 of the country. The other two thirds are lush and tropical, and coffee trees grow in abundance. Turns out, more than 10,000 varieties of coffee grow in Ethiopia. Who knew? Imagine what the experience of drinking wine would be like if there were 10,000 varieties of grapes? Ethiopian coffee farmers produce so much coffee, they use the roads as places to dry the beans because those are the spaces that get the most sunlight.  Majka’s book explores the Ethiopia’s coffee history, and she makes the argument that coffee might be the way Ethiopia can reinvent itself.  Check out Majka’s website, for more information on her projects.  I guarantee that after watching the videos, you’ll want to buy a plane ticket.


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