There is a rising coffee culture in London, Ontario, with roasteries and cafes popping up all around the city. So much so that a local news outlet recently did a story on the upsurge. However, the story neglected to mention the coffee shops around the Old East Village, and one in particular that I’ve discovered is absolutely worthy of mention: The Asmara Caffee at 809 Dundas Street East.
Situated in the Towne Square building right next to Geri Fashions, the Asmara Caffee is one of London’s best kept secrets, and I think it’s well past time to let this cat out of the bag. Taking over where the Panafrique Cafe left off, the Asmara has held this space since August of 2012.
Featuring free WiFi, all day breakfast, gluten free food options, fresh baked pastries and a full lunch and dinner menu, the Asmara Caffee has much to offer behind its doors.
But the pièce de résistance at the Asmara is their deliciously bold, in-house roasted fresh, free-trade organic coffee. Some might feel that “a cup of coffee is a cup of coffee”, but to coffee lovers that is completely untrue. A cup of coffee may be just that for some, but a good cup of coffee is an experience. And if you are a true coffee lover, the Asmara roast is a cup you must try.
Misgna came to Canada from his home of Eritrea, a country on the Horn of Africa, 25 years ago. He studied civil engineering at Fanshawe College, has worked for London Health Sciences and is a great supporter of the community. The latter is very likely due to the sense of community that comes out of the culture of Eritrea, and more importantly the culture that exists around coffee.
Over second and third cups flow matters of high finance, high state, common gossip and low comedy. [Coffee] is a social binder, a warmer of tongues, a soberer of minds, a stimulant of wit, a foiler of sleep if you want it so. From roadside mugs to the classic demi-tasse, it is the perfect democrat. ~Author Unknown
Asmara – the cafe’s namesake – is the capital city and largest settlement in Eritrea, bordered by Sudan to the west, Ethiopia to the south, and Djibouti to the east. It is home to approximately 650,000 people and sits over 2,300 feet above sea level. Typically known as an Italian built colonial city, the history of Asmara reaches back to dates between 800 and 400 BC.
And as any coffee lover knows, BC really stands for “before coffee”.
Coffee plays an important role in the culture of Eritrea, with coffee ceremonies being held regularly to bring friends, relatives and neighbours together in friendship and conversation. Coffee in Eritrea is a staple of every day life and is one of the most recognizable parts of their culture.
It begins by roasting the green coffee beans. Once the beans are roasted, each participant in the ceremony has the opportunity to sample the aromatic smoke with a waft of their hand. The beans are then ground and put into a ceremonial pot to be brewed. This pot called a “jabena” is usually made of pottery with a spherical base, long neck and pouring spout. It is then poured into small cups for each guest by the host, and great care is taken to make sure that the coffee grounds don’t make it into the brew.
As each cup is taken, another cup is filled and each guest must have 3 cups in the duration of the ceremony. Each cup has a name – the first cup is called awel, the second kale’l and the third, bereka which means “to be blessed”. A guest cannot leave after the first cup and must stay for all three to complete the ceremony. This allows time for the sharing of stories, information and general conversation. The coffee is usually accompanied by a snack of some sort, often a sweet Himbasha bread (a slice of which Misgna fed to me on our recent visit and I can only describe with one word – YUM!)
Misgna talked to me about holding a coffee ceremony at the Asmara Caffee in the future. Perhaps on a Saturday when his coffee is roasting and passersby and guests can smell the beautiful aromatics of the beans being readied to drink. I told him I think he has a fabulous idea, and would love to see the community help me in encouraging him to treat us to this special cultural ceremony.
But first, stop in the Asmara and give the coffee a try. Take a seat by the “hut” Misgna has created in the front window and think about the story of the coffee ceremony I have told to you. Take some time to enjoy the bold taste of the coffee, the sweet ambiance and flavour of the cafe, and the genuine warmth of the host, Misgna.
And be sure to return to the cafe with your friends and family to enjoy it again. Because understanding tradition and culture within our community is important, and supporting local matters.