Coffee Leaves: A Whole Different Cup of Coffee

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Photo by Jerry Baldwin

A whole different cup of coffee. Don't bother to try this at home.

Traveling to coffee origin countries challenges my assumptions, often in unexpected ways. Walking among the merchants at the edge of the main market in Harrar, Ethiopia, I noticed some familiar green leaves laid on a vendor's burlap display. Yes, they were coffee leaves, and they were to be brewed into a tea, called quti (or kuti).

Out on the trail of coffee beans, we're usually looking for the best coffee beans; we're not looking for other beverages from the coffee tree. Quti is the first I've encountered, but it's only because I wasn't looking.

The first reference I find for a beverage from coffee leaves is from London in 1854. My tasting advice: don't rush out to get some. If you want tea, choose tea from camellia sinensis. If you want coffee, choose beans. Coffee leaves as a beverage is not widespread, even in Ethiopia.

Apart from the insipid brew, there's another good reason for the non-proliferation of this drink. Coffee is an evergreen, so plucking the leaves from coffee trees would certainly inhibit their ability to produce good beans. It's interesting, though, to think that this very poor country -- the origin of coffea Arabica -- has a way to use the whole plant and all the fruit.

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Jerry Baldwin is co-founder of Starbucks in Seattle, where he was the first roaster and coffee buyer. More

Gerald Baldwin purchased Peet's Coffee and Tea in Berkeley, California, in 1984, and worked diligently to sustain the vision of the founder, Alfred Peet. He remains involved as a member of the board of directors. Jerry was a co-founder of Starbucks in Seattle, where he was the first roaster and coffee buyer. He remained involved until 1987 when he sold the company of eight stores. He accepts no credit (or blame) for the ensuing twenty-odd years. He also serves as a member of the board of TechnoServe a non-profit NGO working to alleviate poverty in Africa and Latin America. He has also been Chairman and Trustee of Coffee Quality Institute and President and Director of Association Scientific Internationale du Café (ASIC). Baldwin is a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Specialty Coffee Association of America www.scaa.org, where he served as a director of the SCAA, and the the founding chairman of its Technical Standards Committee. Jerry was honored as Coffeeman of the Year for North America by Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, and he is an honorary member of the Kilimanjaro Specialty Coffee Growers Association, known as Kilicafe. Baldwin was a founding director of Red Hook Ale Brewery and a founding contributor of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He writes in Sonoma County, California, a few miles from M.F.K. Fisher's home in Glen Ellen, looking over his small vineyard. Jerry and his wife, Jane, produce small crops of olive oil and Zinfandel in the Valley of the Moon.
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