When discussing coffee in Miami, a defining brew usually comes to mind: the cafe Cubano. Arguably, it is the official coffee drink of Miami. Everyone — from natives to tourists — pack Cuban restaurants and bars to sip cortaditos. It is one of my favorite things about this city — while still on American soil, one can feel transported to the sunny (and slightly still forbidden) beaches of Cuba, or nearby Haiti (especially while sipping cocktails and eating shrimp in coconut sauce at Tap Tap!) In Miami, I often find myself speaking the limited Spanish I know, and I love it.
When it comes to Miami neighborhoods, I’m partial to South Beach; it’s often treated as a purely tourist destination, but I love the wildness of it all — less clothes, less laws, more fun. The Sunset Harbour neighborhood, a tiny pocket on the bay’s edge of South Beach, is a growing enclave of restaurants, bars, and boutiques that seems to explode with new storefronts each year I return. Though I preferred it a year ago, when it seemed a bit more quiet and hidden, it’s becoming a bustling area near the ever-traversed Lincoln Road — offering more quality food, and at Panther, quality coffee.
Panther Coffee’s space is akin to many third-wave cafes: a community space that may harbor more computers than conversation. But I come here to write, often, and enjoy the easy vibes that Miami inhabitants inherently bring. It’s a design-heavy space with rotating art, and being Miami, it’s best to sit outside under the covered alley it shares with Icebox Cafe (a local favorite for lunch and cake), to people watch and enjoy some humidity. If you want a perfect espresso, cold brew (my favorite), or cappuccino in South Beach, Panther is truly the only place to go.
Not pictured is Panther’s first cafe, in Miami’s Wynwood district. Wynwood delightfully feels a long way from South beach. Miami is usually associated with beaches, but is also a very modern, diverse, and metropolitan city. Though palm trees line the streets of Wynwood, there’s concrete in place of sand, with incredible street art decorating boutiques and a plethora of art galleries. A stroll through the neighborhood and a stop at Panther is highly recommended.
That said, nothing beats drinking a cafe Cubano in Miami, with salsa music blaring and telenovelas on the tv.
Following pictures taken last year on my iPhone, thus Panther’s space has changed slightly.
New Orleans is so magical, it makes me dizzy. The city had me feeling as though we were drifting on a Caribbean island, with the colors and the architecture and the slow, yet pulsing energy of each day. New Orleans is very urban but also, 18th century; it’s southern but wild as the west. The food, the jazz, the voodoo, the humidity — there’s a true sense of something mystical swirling around, it really did make me dizzy sometimes. Truthfully, this was most likely due to the air being so thick and damp I often felt like I was swimming through the streets, even in the winter’s cool air.
There’s a lot of kitsch associated with New Orleans, from Mardi Gras to Bourbon Street and voodoo shops. But the kitsch is anchored by an immensely rich history that dates back centuries, with vast influences from African, to Caribbean, Spanish, and French. New Orleans is nothing if not jubilant, people seem to dance at the drop of a hat, it’s infectious. To truly get a sense of this city, you have to take the time to wander, to sit and sip coffee (or a Sazerac) and engage in the energy; and of course, talk to people, because the residents of New Orleans are resilient and proud and really awesome.
I only spent four short days in New Orleans, so this list is far from exhaustive. But the following places brought me so much joy, and showcased the uniqueness that makes this city so special from any other place in the country, if not the world.
For a good cappuccino in the French Quarter, there is no other but Spitfire. With only three stools at a small bar to vie for, the space is small but the baristas are relaxed and friendly. They serve espresso roasted by Miami-based Panther Coffee and make a New Orleans style cold brew, which quenched our thirst when the temperature edged past 70 one day (in January!) Spitfire is located right off Jackson Square in the heart of the Quarter, and was part of our morning ritual for the entire duration of our trip. Also, many of the patrons have cute dogs, as evidenced below.
New Orleans’s food lexicon exists mostly of words such as: Po’boys, gumbo, muffulettas, jambalaya, red beans and rice, and beignets, to name a few. After eating lots of said dishes, we were definitely craving something a bit more green. We happened upon Green Goddess completely by accident, while an ominously dark rain cloud hovered above us and forced us into the nearest shelter. And we felt like we walked into some kind of island oasis. Maybe it had something to do with the impending storm, the damp breeze blowing into the open air space, the black and white tiled floors or the starry lights hanging from the ceiling, but I felt completely enchanted in this place. The menu features many traditional New Orleans dishes with a twist, as well as vegetarian options. Don’t worry, one can still satiate that po’boy fix: their duck sausage po’boy was delicious, as was the “Freekeh” salad.
CAFE BEIGNET AND CAFE DU MONDE
Beignets, or glorified doughnuts to most, are a New Orleans specialty, extra fried and covered in a mound of delicate powdered sugar that sticks absolutely everywhere (I was brushing it out of my hair hours later). There are two places in the French Quarter that most New Orleans residents and tourists go to for beignets: Cafe Beignet and Cafe du Monde. Personally, I enjoyed both. Cafe Beignet’s pastry was certainly denser, while Cafe du Monde’s was on the light and fluffy side. Both are best warm. Cafe du Monde’s atmosphere takes the prize, though; we walked through the early morning’s dense fog (as if the magical element could get any more ethereal!) to the old-world, open-air space, and it was buzzing with energy. We sat for an hour and ordered another round.
This romantic, candle-lit restaurant had us coming back for more; literally, we ate here twice in only four days, not only for the delicious food, but because there was just so much atmosphere. Located uptown on Magazine street, past palatial Garden District homes and surrounded by boutiques and cafes, the floors are tiled and the ceilings are coffered with chandeliers hanging above; the menu changes daily, as all ingredients are sourced locally.
LA PETITE GROCERY
Similar to Coquette, La Petite Grocery focuses on local ingredients, with a little more emphasis on hearty, southern food. The yellow building was once a specialty grocery store that was known for its butter and coffee, which was rousted in-house — hence the restaurant’s name, La Petite Grocery. Located uptown, also on Magazine.
DRINK A SAZERAC OR A RAMOS GIN FIZZ, ANYWHERE
One of my favorite places in New Orleans for a drink was Sylvain (not pictured). But truth be told, there are so many gloriously old and quirky bars serving classic cocktails that it was hard to choose; this is a city that definitely likes its spirits. It doesn’t get more old-world than drinking a Sazerac in New Orleans, which is why one must do so.The Sazerac is special to the city because it is considered to be one of the first known American cocktails, ever — and created, of course, in New Orleans. At the namesake Sazerac Bar, for example, as the narrow space fills with jazz, there is no doubt as you sip your cocktail that you are in New Orleans; the scene gives you a buzz, as does the insanely alcoholic namesake drink — a Sazerac is made of whiskey, bitters, absinthe and sugar, finished off with a lemon peel. I loved the Ramos Gin Fizz as well, extra shaken with egg whites and cream and practically frothing out of the glass.
We spent New Year’s Eve at the ever-classic Galatoire’s. There are no pictures because we were so caught up in it all — the charm of the green-hued dining room, the waiters in tuxes, and the raucous clientele ringing in the new year, NOLA style. It’s an old establishment that still brings in a diverse and posh New Orleans crowd, tourists and locals alike, and the food doesn’t change, with an emphasis on seafood and classic dishes.
Billy Reid is the fashion world’s patron designer of the south. His name and designs have infiltrated all over the world, yet he continues to live and operate his empire out of his home state of Alabama. His clothes are incredibly well constructed in America, and the New Orleans store features a beautiful kitchen and outdoor space that doubles as a gathering spot for the city’s creative community.
MEYER THE HATTER
I really love hats. There is something so special and eccentric and nostalgiac about wearing them. This 80-year-old hat store is as good as it gets when it comes to hat shopping. They sell my favorite go-to brand, Borsalino, as well as American-made Stetsons and everything in between. The storefront near Canal street outside the Quarter is 5th-generation owned, meaning Meyer is still the Hatter, and his ‘Nawlins draw and witty quips will certainly make your hat buying experience unlike another. Not to mention his charming French-born wife and colleague who sells hats equally well — between the two of them I was so charmed, I bought not one hat, but two.
Fez, Morocco is a city unlike any other. It’s a place of immense spirit; the sights and sounds, from the melodic echoes of the call to prayer, to the constant dodging of donkeys down narrow alleys – is almost too sensationally vivid to conjure up in words. But alas, I will try.
It was a disordered spring in April when I traveled to Morocco; one week we baked ourselves in 90-degree Fahrenheit weather, the other we huddled underneath blankets to keep warm. I was there working with a volunteer organization in the capital city of Rabat. I heard vague tales from other travelers, near folklore, about the magical city of Fez — “If you think the medina of Rabat is great, just wait until you see Fez,” they would tell me. What about it? No one would say, other than, “it’s wild,” “what a place!” and so on.
I had the weekend free, so I and two other volunteers took a Saturday morning train through the countryside to Fez. I didn’t read much about the city beforehand, I wanted an element of surprise; I had enough information about its elusive greatness, so I decided to be old-fashioned and not consult a guidebook or travel site.
The train ride was pleasant. We arrived at a clean station, hopped a taxi and headed towards our riad — old homes surrounding a courtyard, many which have been converted to hotels. Old Moroccan cities are comprised of an ancient city center– the medina — surrounded by a more developed, modern city. Our riad (Riad la Calife; €100 for a double) was located in the trenches of the old city, where no cars could enter. A bellman dressed in red met us outside of the medina to guide us to our accommodations. It was a lovely and peaceful property, run by a charming French Moroccan woman and her husband, tucked behind damp stone walls and a thick wooden door.
The medinas, dating back to medieval times, are contained by enormous walls which one enters through large, often elaborate gates. The medina is filled with souks: marketplaces selling produce, meats, trinkets, housewares, and really, objects of every kind. Though some of it may seem like junk, much of it is handmade by the sellers themselves, and most Moroccans buy their daily essentials here.
Inside the medina, Fez is buzzing with chaos and energy. Men atop donkeys navigate throngs of people moving in every direction. The dirt alleyways intertwine, up and down hills and every which way. Without street signs, landmarks are the only way to know where one is going. A guide is essential, and your riad will help arrange a good one. Be wary, though, as most guides get kickbacks from every vendor they take you to.
Before we set off through the dizzying maze, our guide asked us if there was anything in particular we wished to do. I went to Morocco with a mission to bring home one souvenir: a rug. I have a fascination with floor rugs. To me, they are the most important design elements in a home. I love to cover my floors with a varying array of colors and designs. Morocco is known throughout history for their tribal rugs, made by the Berber people – descendants of the indigenous settlers of North Africa. I had been told that buying a rug in Morocco is more cost-effective (and more fun) than buying one in the states, where prices usually double.
We set off down narrow streets, some of which we had to turn sideways to pass through. We paused to drink glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice, impossibly sweet and poured from coke bottles; we ate soft cheeses still fermenting in vats; we watched as two men wove elaborate garments with their hands, standing across the room from each other, their fingers entwined with thread. Everything seemed to be frozen in time — a forgotten era when people made things solely by hand, and people came to buy those things
Our guide led us into an old palace. As we headed up winding, tiled stairways, we noticed vibrant rugs adorning walls and in dusty piles all around. Men in white coats began to prepare a selection of rugs in some kind of choreographed dance, as if they were expecting us.
We were led up to the rooftop to look upon all of Fez. After snapping a few photographs, we were ushered into a gorgeous room framed by an intricately hand-carved wooden ceiling. The palace was a medieval gem, stunning in its own right, but even more beautiful when filled with brilliant, hand-woven rugs of every kind.
A flamboyant mustached man appeared: the owner and our salesman. He spoke a mix of heavily accented English tinged with French. Of course, we began the elaborate process the real Moroccan way – “Tea, mesdammes?” he asked, before uttering much else. In Morocco, sweet mint tea is drunk on every occasion, multiple times a day, and it is considered rude to turn down an offering. Luckily, the tea is delicious, so I always acquiesce.
“Marocain, ouAmericain?” he asked of the tea; Moroccans drink their tea with an immense amount of sugar. Americans often find this too sweet, he told us. “Marocain,” we say in unison, much to his delight. An assistant scurried off to make our tea, as we took a seat on patterned cushions.
The owner was incredibly proud of this rug empire. We sipped tea with him as two assistants presented us with rug after rug. He took us through history with each design, from the more modern, mass produced rugs to traditional handmade Berber rugs. “I, of course, am Berber,” he stated proudly. He showed us thick wool rugs of every color woven with geometric designs; “one-of-a-kind,” he said, shaking his head in admiration.
“Excusez-moi, madame! Excusez-moi,” he interjected as I admired a rug with motifs of good luck and wild fringe sporadically decorating the sides. “This. This is Picasso for floor,” he told me. “It tells a story.” What a salesman, I thought, but I couldn’t resist his charm. He was right: I needed this Picasso-for-floor, as part of my story.
After hundreds of rugs and a second round of tea, each of us made a selection; I picked the colorful hand-made Berber. We had yet to discuss price, which I was more nervous about as time ticked on. I went into the process with a self-imposed limit on what I could spend, but I had a feeling these would exceed those preconceived numbers. In Morocco, there is an art to bartering, though I usually failed miserably at it – a delicate game I’ve yet to master. This man made it easy: he offered a twenty percent discount, and refused more.
When I returned to New York, I made sure to peruse carpet stores, asking to view rugs of Moroccan origin. Most Berber rugs ran much higher, some upwards of $1,500; online, I could find rugs for much less than what I paid, though their authenticity was questionable. I soon realized that perhaps, it was all a ruse. Yet I remain ecstatic with my purchase — because it tells a story. Every time my feet cross the living room floor and hit the furry wool, I’m reminded of Morocco, and then I usually go make a pot of sweet mint tea.
While here in Rabat, Morocco with Cross Cultural Solutions, I must confess: coffee hasn’t been part of my daily life. It’s hard to find much coffee drinking happening anywhere, though there are a few cafes that serve it. Instead, Moroccans get their energy from very strong, sweet mint tea. This tea is a part of the country’s social fabric. No matter what their day is like, every Moroccan pauses for tea many times a day. They live very slow and steady, full of ritual and peace. They are a positive people, without worry; “Inshallah,” they say — God willing. In other words, why worry? It is out of one’s control. Their tea drinking reflects this; there is always time for a pause, a time to rest and be with others.
Mint tea is served in the morning when one wakes, and at night before sleep — and every hour in between. It is presented to guests to welcome them, consumed after meals and in celebration. It is ingrained in every Moroccan’s consciousness — one cannot separate Moroccan culture from mint tea. In fact, it is offensive to reject an offering of tea, and one is expected to drink, at the very least, two cups when offered.
Our house manager, Khadija, is a warm spirit and a mean cook. She taught us how to make tea, the Moroccan way. Though I’ve found that no two people make it the exact same way, the components alwaysconsist of three things: green tea, lots of mint, and large amounts of sugar. They typically make the tea in an engraved silver pot, called a berrad. This can be placed directly on the stove, and the entire process takes place in this pot.
First, boil water in a separate kettle. Green tea leaves are added to the berrad (or any pot in which one plans to serve the tea in), and a small amount of boiling water is added. The tea is steeped for 2 to 3 minutes, and then poured into a glass; more boiling water is poured into the pot, the tea is swished around, and poured into a second glass. The second glass of tea is the “dirty” tea, the dust and dirt that they believe is left on the leaves after the initial steep. Therefore, discard the second glass of tea.
Fill the pot with water once again, this time filling the pot completely. Put the berrad on the stove and bring to a boil, then add a handful of fresh mint. True Moroccan tea is incredibly sweet; all around Morocco, we were often asked if we wanted the tea Morocain or Américain – apparently American tourists find the tea too sweet (which doesn’t seem very American to me!) For the true Morocain taste, add two large sugar sticks. Moroccans never stir their tea, it is simply poured many times to dissolve the sugar. The tea is poured into accompanying glasses from a high distance, then poured back into the pot. This is repeated three or four times. The pouring must be done from a high distance to get the proper layer of foam that Moroccans strive for; “your tea must have a good turban,” Khadija told us.
Finally, the tea is ready to be served in small, traditional etched glasses, allowing many cups to be had (Moroccans always drink 3 or more cups in one sitting). It is sweet, strong, and minty, and is always accompanied by good company. It’s the Moroccan way.
This Christmas I received something I have coveted for the past (almost) decade: an at-home espresso machine.
The Rancilio Silvia is an Italian-made stunner, producing high quality results in a compact, rather easy-to-use machine. Clive Coffee named it one of the best single-boiler espresso machines under $1,000 (as many of you may or may not know, espresso machines are generally, très cher). Though I’ve never owned a more expensive machine in comparison, I can say that this machine has been my at-home savior. I’m simply, in love.
After a couple of months, and perhaps 400 cappuccinos later (not all imbibed, don’t worry), I’ve learned a thing or two. And I wanted to share my amateur findings. There is, as always, much room for improvement — any advice you may have, feel free to pass on. I’m only two months into being top barista of my household, so I remain humble.
The Rancilio Silvia is a single-boiler espresso machine — meaning there is only one water-heating source for both brewing and steaming. Therefore, it will take a bit more time to prepare a milk drink; after an espresso shot is pulled, one must wait for the machine to heat up to optimal temperature once again before steaming milk. Since I’m usually only making one or two drinks at a time, this isn’t a concern for me.
First of all, as always, fresh and properly roasted coffee is required for a good result. I’m currently brewing a single-origin Kenyan from Columbus, Ohio-based roaster One Line Coffee. I think it’s really great as an espresso.
When pulling espresso at home, one of the most important elements is yourgrind. Grind is an important aspect of any coffee-making, but one honestly can’t pull a good espresso shot unless a proper grind is used. I received the Baratza Maestro (since discontinued) the Christmas before last, from my husband (do you sense a Chrismas pattern?), and it has really made all the difference. There are even more efficient grinders for espresso use, but I have found that this one is doing the job for now.
The espresso should be fine and powdery, which allows a uniform and compact tamp (that little silver hammer which baristas use to pressurize the grinds in the group-head). While tamping, one should apply even, forceful pressure for about 30 seconds. There should be no holes or cracks in the espresso once one tamps. A proper grind and tamp are really the most essential components of pulling a shot of espresso, since after that, the Rancilio does most of the work.
The extraction time is the final variable one must watch carefully. It is, quite simply, the time it takes to brew an espresso shot. Optimal time varies between machines, but generally lies between 20-25 seconds from the time you flip the switch to the end result. I am currently extracting espresso for about 20 seconds — perhaps too short –but my espresso has been rich and thick, with a nice crema (that white frothy layer that sits on the top of an espresso shot, an effect of the gases being released during extraction.) The grind is probably the culprit, and I plan on experimenting with slightly finer and coarser grinds.
Next up, I’ll tackle the highly difficult art of steaming milk. Stay tuned!
I produced a short film on my iPad — grainy and pixelated since I’m currently sans camera! — to give you some visuals.
As we bicker and complain and judge and gossip and wallow, this young woman has endured more than most of us ever will, and remains full of hope and happiness. I’m often in awe of Malala; how can one girl be so strong, so full of love after living through such a horrific act? Her patience and kindness are inspiring. It requires a deep strength to maintain such kindness, forgiveness, and compassion in the face of such evil.
“If you hit a Talib, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty…You must fight others through peace and through dialogue and through education.” – Malala
Kinfolk is an aesthetics-driven quarterly magazine created by Nathan and Katie Williams. Without pretense (or advertisements!), the magazine strives to encourage people to come together and connect over art, food, and living in its purest forms. They have put together a gorgeous cookbook, The Kinfolk Table, full of inspiring people and their personal recipes. I am so honored that Kinfolk asked me to be a part of this timeless book, and that I could use this platform to pay homage to my amazing grandmother; I myself will be referencing these recipes in my kitchen for years to come.
You can purchase it at your local bookstore Monday, October 15th. You can order it online here.
Ah, Paris. The city’s visuals are like one big mise-en-scène. The way the bateaux mouches wind down the Seine, the Eiffel Tower standing majestically on the river’s edge, the chic Parisians with baguettes in hand. Though it’s also a city of fashion and trends and hipsters and Haussmanization and such, the city will always evoke a certain nostalgia of times past –the old life of le cafe and le pain and old men in chapeaux (or is that just my peculiar romanticism?) The neighborhood of Le Marais is the perfect example; an old Jewish ghetto, on the surface, is now quite gentrified with commercial boutiques and shops. But one must explore deeper. Inside Le Marais‘ narrow medieval streets, the old vintage shops and patisseries still retain the magic of yore. The 3rdarrondissement harkens back to its heritage as a Jewish enclave, and synagogues and Jewish delis are still lining the small windy rues.
La Caféothèque is the oldest of the specialty Parisian cafes, located at the edge Le Marais on Hotel de Ville — a street parallel to the Seine. Opened in 2005 by Gloria Montenegro de Chirouze, former Guatemalan ambassador to France, it was the first cafe in Paris to offer coffee brewed to order. Cafeotheque features an extensive single origin menu where one may choose a country and a brew method: french press, cafe filtre (pour-over), or even, Aeropress. The front of the shop serves as the shop’s roastery, and one can purchase house-roasted beans by the kilogram; an espresso bar is situated in the back. La Caféothèque also serves as a training center for baristas, Gloria’s “L’École de Cafés.” (Nicolas Clerc from Télescope trained here).
The space itself is a series of salons, each unique in their design: one room’s walls are bursting with plants — a greenhouse of sorts — with windows overlooking the street; another room is full of comfy couches, oriental rugs, burlap coffee sacs, and shelves of books.
Gloria is such a warm and enthusiastic owner. She is like the maman of specialty coffee; seemingly every barista in Paris trained with her before moving on to their own ventures . And her entrepreneurial spirit is fresh, too. She most recently told me her dream was to expand into other countries, including (gasp!) the states. Gloria, we await you.
The diner is where I learned to drink coffee. When I was quite young, maybe four or five, my mother met a quirky group of friends each week at a legendary establishment called Southern Kitchen, in my native Charleston, West Virginia (may you rest in peace, Southern Kitchen). She would bring me along, so I could be one of the ladies for the afternoon. The women would meet for brunch, but linger for hours over the coffee. Their cups would be refilled again and again, and they’d spruce it up with yet another creamer, a few more packets of Sweet’n Low. I loved the way they all told stories while nursing the warm mugs in their hands; they’d sit in those booths for hours, their raucous laughter emanating through the air. Even as a child I thought, “This is really special.” It was something I wanted to be a part of — the connection they shared, the fun they seemed to have. And it all centered around coffee.
The iconic ’90s sitcom Seinfeld took this familiar ritual and used it as a platform. The diner was the meeting ground for Jerry and company. Watching the show as a youngster, I dreamed of meeting my friends over coffee, in a corner diner in New York City, having something interesting to say. Still to this day, when I’m sitting in a corner booth at a diner in the city, I feel a strange feeling: I feel like I’ve made it. (Yes, my aspirations are different than yours).
Jerry Seinfeld recently called into NPR’s Morning Edition during Coffee Week, reflecting on coffee’s social and ritualistic role in his life. It happens to be the basis of his new online show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. It’s exactly that: Comedians driving around the city in really cool cars, getting coffee. The coffee is the catalyst to authentic, brilliantly comedic conversation. Enjoy!
COFFEE CONVERSATIONS is a new section of the blog, profiling inspiring and interesting people. Essentially, they are conversations with extraordinary human beings about art, design, music, and world events, usually over a cup of coffee. This particular conversation was had over the phone, but no doubt with coffee in hand.
A growing group of Christians, Muslims, and Jews in Mbale, Uganda have sought to create change in their own community, by taking on a lofty goal: interfaith peace through coffee and music. Led by Jewish musician J.J Keki, the cooperative calls themselves Peace Kawomera, or “Delicious Peace.” They grow, pick and process organic coffee, side-by-side, in a country that remains divided by religious and ethnic barriers. Music is a strong part of Ugandan culture, used for communicative and joyous purposes; the farmers of Peace Kawomera follow in this tradition, writing and performing songs which promote their peaceful worldview, educate those around them, and celebrate the crop that brings them economic prosperity.
In 2001, J.J. Keki was invited to visit the states on a lecture tour. While in line at the World Trade Center to view New York City’s skyline from above, he found himself in the midst of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, running for survival after witnessing the first plane strike the towers. After Keki’s experience in New York, he returned to Uganda on a mission: to use his gifts and the resources around him to promote religious peace. Rabbi Jeffrey Summit, a research ethnomusicologist and Jewish Chaplain at Tufts University in Boston, met Keki while recording his Grammy nominated album, Abayudaya: Music from the Jewish People of Uganda(Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2005). After being introduced by a friend to a recording of Peace Kawomera’s songs, Summit felt compelled to visit Mbale to hear the music himself.
Delicious Peace: Coffee, Music, and Interfaith Harmony in Uganda (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2013) was recorded and produced by Summit. Speaking to the rabbi by phone, the day after two bombs tore through crowded streets during the Boston Marathon, I remarked on the timeliness of the album’s release. “What better thing to put into the world right now, a project about peace,” I said. “You know, I wish it wasn’t so relevant,” he replied, clearly shaken by the events of the previous day.
In a short documentary filmed by Rabbi Summit in Uganda, Keki explains his driving philosophy: “Whatever you have, use it for peace. If you have music, use music,” he says. “We have coffee,” he explains. And coffee may just be the perfect crop for peace. He holds a ripe coffee cherry in his hand, peeling the skin to expose two beans inside. “We should copy the example of coffee to bring peace” Keki says. “You see this one?” he asks. “Two beans in each coffee. Which means it is friendly, it doesn’t want to live alone.”
Rabbi Summit traveled to Uganda three separate times, recording 400 farmers. “Recording in East Africa is its’ own special challenge,” Summit told me. Originally they set up recording sessions right in the middle of the vibrant, chaotic goings-on of the village, which, though beautiful and authentic, proved to be “very distracting” while recording. “We [along with recording engineer John Servies] were out in the bush,” Rabbi Summit recalls, recording in rural landscapes, as well as finding acoustic solace in synagogues, mosques, and churches. The music itself is a layering of women’s choral voices, African guitar music, and indigenous instruments — including the tube fiddle, shaker, and wooden xylophone — and even a Casio keyboard.
The songs are performed at community events, in an effort to attract others to join the cooperative. Sung in various languages — including English, Swahili, Arabic, and Hebrew — the impact is far reaching. These songs are used as engaging ways to transmit information. Many are educational or instructional, such as “In Uganda, everyone grows coffee,” and “Construct a processing factory;” others celebrate peace, such as “Let all religions come together.”
An integral part of the success of Peace Kowomera is Fair Trade. “It’s not just about paying people more,” Summit explained. It helps fund important practices, including providing credit for famers to expand their coffee farms, preventing harmful child labor, and protecting the environment. The benefits of Fair Trade are less obvious when the volatile coffee market is high, Summit told me. “Coffee prices dip precipitously,” he explains. During these market lows is when large companies, taking advantage of desperate circumstances, offer attractively higher prices to farmers. This short-sighted relief does not maintain stability; if during the the following year, the market jumps again, the farmer will sustain large cuts to prices. Fair Trade provides a stable income, helping farmers weather the highs and lows of the market. Most importantly, “For many farmers, the Fair Trade price is literally the difference between abject poverty and being able to afford malaria medication, basic health care, and school fees for their children,” Summit writes in the liner notes of the album.
The results of Keki’s efforts are nothing short of astounding. In the liner notes of “Delicious Peace,” Rabbi Summit tells the story of two farmers of Peace Kawomera –Patrick, a Christian, and Mohamud, a Muslim — sitting down to lunch. They told Rabbi Summit about their childhood, under the dictatorship of Idi Amin, when they were not permitted to socialize with people of other faiths. “When I asked if it was usual for a Christian and Muslim to eat together, they both laughed and said that even four years ago, before they joined the cooperative, it would have been inconceivable to them,” Rabbi Summit writes; he notes that outside of the cooperative, tensions and divisions are still present, an acknowledgement that interfaith cooperation remains an issue in Uganda.
How can we work to overcome religious and ethnic divisions in our own communities? The answer is shockingly simple, according to these farmers. “These communities have made peace a priority,” Summit explained. They often speak of the importance of “being one” with others. Summit recalls a time he was lectured about America’s fighting in Afghanistan. “They didn’t understand,” he says, why we couldn’t “be one person” with all people.
Indeed, perhaps all citizens of the world should see the world as such.
Purchase Delicious Peace through Smithsonian Folkways, here. All proceeds go towards supporting the children of Peace Kawomera members. Buy a bag of Delicious Peace coffee through Thanksgiving Coffee Company, here.