The opening stanza of the Cameroon national anthem begins, “O Cameroon, thou cradle of our fathers.” This is literally true for me, the son of an immigrant from this small West African nation.
While I’ve lived most of my life in the United States, I did spend my teenage years in Cameroon. Ever since I heard that Starbucks was launching a coffee from Cameroon, I’ve been alternately anxious, nervous and proud. That coffee is Starbucks Reserve® Cameroon Mount Oku.
When my family relocated from Wisconsin to Cameroon in the late 1980s, we became fully immersed in Cameroonian culture. It was the first time we could physically embrace my father’s extended family, and our immersion included our mealtime routines.
For a tween/teenager, it was exciting to try new foods such as achu – pounded cocoyams with red palm oil soup. And breakfast no longer meant pancakes or cereal. Instead, we ate much more colorfully – puff-puff (sweet, fried dough) with hot peppers, beans and rice stew, and dodo (fried plantains with salt and pepper). We also drank lots of Cameroon-grown tea with freshly baked bread from local bakeries and locally sourced chocolate or peanut butter spreads for our morning meals.
What we did not drink is coffee. In retrospect, this surprises me, but I don’t recall drinking any coffee or seeing anyone else doing so for the five years I was in Cameroon. Robusta coffee is the nation’s fifth largest agricultural export, but the country is better known for world-class soccer, cacao, bananas and rubber.
My father actually tended some robusta coffee trees in his youth, and our family is from northwest Cameroon. This is the only region in West Africa with suitable climate and elevation for raising high-quality arabica coffee.
Starbucks has never offered a coffee from West Africa. Thus, I had no frame of reference for how the Cameroon Mount Oku coffee would taste. When the day came to finally taste it, I had spread the word among my fellow partners, family and friends. I was invited to be the “guest of honor” at a small coffee tasting and really hoped the coffee would be good. Otherwise, that would be a difficult conversation! At the same time, I was so proud to see “Cameroon” written in such a beautiful way on a beautiful package.
The coffee did not disappoint! The aroma presented an interesting floral note but the taste was nutty and chocolaty and rich. The surprise was the peppery finish, which I thought would go perfectly with some pepper soup and ripe plantains. This coffee has now become my favorite –at least while it is available. I also bought a case and sent some to my father and other family in Cameroon and around the United States so they could share in my excitement.