Common River: Connecting Communities

Common River

Common River

Deep in the Ethiopian Rift Valley, inside a bamboo hut, the air is cool and sweet. Fresh beans snap and whistle in the heat of the fire, sending out rich plumes of coffee-scented smoke. The process is peaceful, methodical. The mortar grinds the beans and water boils. Soon, from the elegant black coffee pot, lush chocolaty coffee spills into cups. Welcome to Common River, Aleta Wondo.

The collaboration of Tsegaye Bekele and Donna Sillan, Common River is a multi-faceted project that improves the lives of Aleta Wondo’s inhabitants. This once stable range has been hit hard by the falling price of coffee and the impacts of global warming. The wide range of projects reflects the diversity of Aleta Wondo’s volunteers and participants. From education to agriculture to cultural exchange, this is a place where futures are secured.

Aleto Wondo

Aleto Wondo

The school on the Common River site provides the young inhabitants to one of the most vital tools for a happy and successful life: an education. Four classrooms hold children of all ages: polite, eager to learn, attentive and dedicated, this is a teacher’s dream. A large field extends the learning space into the Ethiopian sunshine. Art, music, and sports complete a well-rounded education. Volunteers visit from all over the world, sharing their skills. The school lunch programme keeps the young learners at their best. Fresh milk from the school’s cows and produce from the fields ensures a healthy, balanced meal. The classrooms are picturesque, including a brightly painted traditional Sidama hut. When the bell rings for home time, the school doesn’t rest. Trickling from the village and fields, all bright skirts and happy laughter, come the women. The Common River Female Literacy programme is a wonder. It is said that to educate a woman is to educate a family and here educated women are formed. For two years, they return to school, receiving the basic education so many of us take for granted. When class is finished, they will go back to being mothers and wives with the dinner to cook and the children to put to bed, but for a few hours a day, they are something they thought they might never be- a pupil with their hand and head held high.

Ethiopia is well known as the birthplace of coffee. Common River and the coffee growers of Aleta Wondo have worked together to produce a single-origin coffee that is available worldwide. As small-scale producers, the amount of coffee produced each year is limited. Profits return directly to the community and it makes a wonderful – and socially conscious- souvenir. Less portable, but no less amazing, is the traditional bamboo huts that dot the sight. The locally based collective can make and design bespoke bamboo huts. Fragrantly cool, sustainable and beautiful; it’s a pity these won’t fit in a suitcase home!

School at Common River

School at Common River

Common River’s projects also include a new irrigation system, bring water to more members of the community than ever before. Having easy access to water will mean fewer trips to the communal springs. Their sanitation centres improve the health of community members, as does their provision of medical checkups, nutrition classes and first aid training. Annually, medical volunteers visit and provide care and information to the townspeople. Other projects include a bio-diversity garden that supports and showcases the area’s rich bio-diversity, rain catchment and wells, reforestation and improvement to local infrastructure.

Common River welcomes guests and volunteers to visit and assist with their range of projects. Tours, school groups, and volunteer placements are all available. Coffee can also be purchased via their website. Visit their website at to find out how you can experience this wonderful place or enjoy a taste from the comfort of your own living room.

Buyers Guide: Bodum

Over the last 60 years, Bodum has continued to be at the forefront of  innovative tabletop products and have now perfected a double wall thermo-glass design to keep coffee hot right until you pour the last cup. Their BEAN French Press is a new cafetière that combines classic design and modern materials to allow you to make great coffee safely and easily at home.

The borosilicate double wall glass of the BEAN French Press is encased in colourful silicone plastic which protects the glass and is heat resistant so won’t lose its shape. The handle stays cool to the touch and the lid has some clever handy features. Coffee is kept hot for longer thanks to the silicone gasket connecting the lid and the glass which increases the insulating effect of the double wall glass. A simple thumb lever operates a self-closing spout which allows you to pour coffee without drips and also seals off the lid to maintain the temperature of the contents. The innovative design of this Bodum cafetière also makes it completely spill-proof if ever knocked over on the table. As always, Bodum continue to wow the customer by including a handy 7g scoop to help measure out the perfect amount of ground coffee for each cup.

Bodum’s use of modern materials does not detract from the stylish design of the BEAN French Press so you can be proud to have this classic yet modern cafetière sitting on your table as you entertain guests or just relax over a cup of coffee. The BEAN is available in a range of colours but my personal favourite is the stylish and sophisticated red model. The cafetière was a pleasure to use and kept my coffee hot for much longer than I’ve been used to in the past. I particularly like the fact that the lid lock and lever mechanism means you can pour coffee safely and easily using only one hand.

The French Press, or cafetière, was invented in France during the late 19th century and has been a popular choice ever since with consumers due to the simplicity of the brewing process and the stylish design characterized by leading manufacturers such as Bodum. Cafetières are also more portable and easier to use compared to other coffee makers. It is said that using a cafetière captures more of the coffee’s flavour and essential oils as the coffee grounds remain in direct contact with the water and the filtering is done via a mesh filter.  Another advantage of cafetière coffee is that it can be brewed to any strength by adjusting the amount of ground coffee which is brewed. Bodum recommend that coffee is brewed for exactly four minutes.

If you are interested in the Bodum BEAN French Press and would like to buy one, please go to Amazon.

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Green Tea Versus Coffee


A scientific term, that is now frequently discussed in popular literature, is the term of antioxidants. Many articles have mentioned that antioxidants can be found in berries, beverages and now even antioxidant food supplements exist. Before discussing antioxidants in conjunction with green tea or coffee, I would like to explain what they actually are. Molecular oxygen is a gas required for life to exist as we know it on our planet. It is a highly reactive molecule, which contains great amounts of energy and it can be used by living organisms to generate energy. Although evolution has provided complex mechanisms to channel this energy and thus has provided the necessary biochemistry, dangerous reactive oxygen species (ROS) are generated in the process as a by-product that can damage cells. This can lead to metabolic defects, cancer and even death. ROS are also one of the contributing factors to ageing. Nature has thus evolved biochemical pathways to absorb these ROS and developed an array of antioxidants. Your body produces a lot of antioxidants itself. Of course, most plant products contain anti-oxidants. If you now ingest these, they might help your cells prevent oxidative damage.

Both beverages, coffee and green tea, contain antioxidants, mainly polyphenols. These are very powerful antioxidants and in fact, coffee has more of those than green tea. Coffee also has flavonoids, cinnamic acids, coumarins, lignans and benzoic acids. It has high level of chlorogenic acids and caffeic acid, which are very strong antioxidants. In addition,coffee has quinine which increase the body’s response to insulin and thus helps diabetics. Green tea on the other hand is very rich in catechins, which are powerful antioxidants belonging to the flavonoid family. Studies have indicated that these prevent heart disease and strokes if ingested regularly over a pro-longed period of time. In particular epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is a powerful antioxidant. Besides inhibiting the growth of cancer cells, it can actually kill some cancer cells without harming healthy tissue. It has also been claimed to be effective in lowering LDL cholesterol (=bad cholesterol) levels, as well as inhibiting the abnormal formation of blood clots.

It has to be added that some antioxidants are either under-studied or not all their effects are known. In terms of beneficial antioxidants, I would recommend both beverages, coffee and green tea.


Depending on the way the beverages are brewed, they can contain varying amounts of caffeine. However, generally coffee has more caffeine per volume than green tea (on average about three times as much). Caffeine is a stimulant and many of us use it to keep awake especially in stress situations. However, high caffeine intake can cause nervousness and insomnia. Thus, drinking too much coffee can cause sleep deprivation. Green tea also contains theanine which has been shown to reduce mental and physical stress and improves cognition and mood in a synergistic manner with caffeine. Thus, despite having caffeine, green tea has a soothing effect which makes you less nervous than coffee. I would favour green tea over coffee regarding this information.


This is certainly hard to debate as everyone has a different taste. For sure, one could say that coffee has a very acquired taste but also green tea is not for everyone. However, here no general judgement should be made as this choice is to be left to the individual. But why not broaden your horizons and try both beverages? Also, both come in so many varieties and better quality usually also means better purity. This is important, as this will determine the health benefits you may gain. Try to get some good quality coffee or green tea and taste the difference for yourself. I would not recommend to use instant coffee as it has very low levels of antioxidants. Also, there are many flavoured green teas on the market which may enhance your gourmet experience.

Weight Loss

Green tea is a fantastic support for those seeking weight loss. Firstly, EGCG and caffeine stimulate metabolism and therefore slightly increase your metabolic rate, i.e. more fat will be burned per exercise you do. In addition, green tea is usually consumed without sugar or milk, whereas many people do not like black coffee. This is more of a psychological factor of course or simply a matter of taste. However, green tea has also been shown to slightly suppress appetite, which will help you decrease calorie intake. I would recommend to drink green tea about half an hour to an hour before sports as it will help you burn fat, should you desire to lose some pounds. Here, green tea would win over coffee.

Blood acidity levels

The acidity of your blood is extremely important for your body to be kept in a certain range. However, certain foods can either increase or decrease the pH of your blood and thus your body has to compensate. Your body is more likely to tolerate a slightly basic blood over an acidic blood. Green tea has a slightly alkalising and coffee an acidifying effect on your blood. In other hands, coffee will deplete you of magnesium and also calcium. On a short-term this can cause insomnia, muscle fatigue and hormonal imbalances. On the long run, this can cause an acceleration of the onset of osteoporosis. However, you should not worry too much, as you’d have to drink litres of coffee every day to really suffer from these symptoms. Looking at these information, green tea is definitely the better choice.

In summary, there are clear benefits for both beverages. However, coffee does have some draw-backs and green tea certainly wins in terms of health benefits. Nevertheless, coffee isn’t just bad for you and many love the smell and taste. Maybe this information helps you to make a choice for yourself the next time you fancy a hot drink.

If you want to try original Japanese Sencha Green Tea, you can order it directly from Amazon:
Japanese Sencha Luxury Loose Leaf Tea 100g

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How to Break Up with Your Barista

City Connect brings you our latest article from Adrian Fernand – Australia’s most stylish agony uncle and etiquette guru. This time Adrian shares his personal views about the coffee scene in his hometown of Melbourne. Check out Adrian’s previous articles here.

When travelling abroad frequently, one tends to make sacrifices—economy airfares for prolonged travel, forsaking a full wardrobe for a 23-kilogram baggage allowance, substituting a queen-size bed for a sofa shared with a gin-soaked stranger—but never should one ever compromise on the quality of a decent coffee. Being a Melbournian I’m the first to admit I’m a coffee (among other things) snob and the mere thought of imbibing inferior caffeinated produce sends me running for my skinny jeans and fixed-wheel bike and clutching them for comfort (not really). I’ve had my fair share of fair trade nonsense and just like an unwanted coffee, it leaves me bitter and cold. For desperation’s sake, Starbucks makes for a consistently terrible global alternative to a decent drop, but why feed the machine when you could achieve the same result with a carburetor and some road tar?

Recently when I returned to coffee Mecca for what has become an extended stay, I’ve relished in the roasted bean goodness that is Melbourne’s coffee scene. With any number of cafés from which to choose and a bevy of baristas at hand to get you your fix, there’s no excuse for effluent disguised cleverly in a takeaway cup. That is, unless you live in my street. You see, given the ageing population whose coffee tastes extend to International Roast out of bulk-purchased tin, the sleepy little suburb is a black spot in café culture. As the old crones finally kick the bucket, the couples with kids shall raze the Californian bungalows and replace them with shiny precast concrete-cladded monoliths and that’s when the circle of life shall recommence … five years from now. You mightn’t be able to fight progress, but you sure can’t expedite it.

This is, however, a small coffee shop (and that’s as much as I’m prepared to call it) just up the road, which on a number of times has served me incredibly mediocre caffe lattes, but as the saying says, any port in a storm. The foccacias are dry and overpriced, the cookies in the jar have been sitting there since approximately 1973 and the decor resembles a cheap B-movie set with a coffee machine. It was my saving grace over the Christmas party season when my eyelids hovered above my keyboard after far too many consecutive nights out, but I’ve had to put my foot down and decide that there will be no more bad coffee for this Agony Uncle.

Nowadays, I’m happy to go without or travel for ten minutes on the train to find one of superior quality, however, that means having to walk past the offending coffee shop in order to do so, which makes for an awkward wave and smile as I stream past in mock haste. I’m yet to have the post-coffee break-up conversation—the one where you revert to a series of cliché excuses and shuffle away as quickly as possible—and not that I’m dreading it entirely, it’s something I’d rather not have, like dandruff.

Breaking up with your barista is no mean feat and can be an often personal experience, despite the tenuous manner in which the relationship is formed. Although telling the truth should is always preferred, the occasional white lie to salvage their feelings is more important than the perfect cup of coffee. If you do happen to run into your barista and they mention that they haven’t seen you in a while, there’s many plausible excuses that can put them off the coffee defection scent. Cite changes in your schedule for your absence or perhaps say that you’ve given up caffeine for the time-being; but beware – being busted by your barista carrying a takeaway on their turf is far worse a crime. You want your beans not your behind to be roasted.

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Buyers Guide: First Class Cuppa

The Stamp Collection is the chic creation of Gift Republic, a multi award-winning gift company who produce mugs bearing designs using iconic Royal Mail stamps. This is the ideal gift if you’re looking for something quirky and unusual for a friend or loved one. They look so beautiful that it’ll be hard to resist treating yourself to one as well.

The stylish bone china mugs are hand finished in the UK. They don’t just look good but are also fully dishwasher and microwave safe. The range has the Royal seal of approval as it is officially licensed by Royal Mail Ltd and the British Postal Museum & Archive.

A popular design is the Sent With Love mug shown below. Designs are based on the familiar red first class stamp or the blue second class. There are also a range of multicoloured designs which will add style to every cuppa.

Other designs in the range are tailored for a First Class mum, dad, brother, sister or friend. There are also tongue-in-cheek designs called “I Rule” and “Queen of Everything”!

A Stamp Collection mug will add a bit of posh to every tea or coffee break. They are generously sized and made to a very high quality. The mugs look very tasteful on your desk or dining table. Who would have thought that stamp collecting could be so stylish?!

Gift Republic also sells a range of other stylish gifts on their website.

Images reproduced from Gift Republic

A Cup of Coffee in Vienna

For me, Vienna is synonymous with many things – the seat of the Habsburgs, the Holy Roman Empire, historic palaces and grand cathedrals, the waltzes of Strauss and clandestine assignations between cold-war spies and their spymasters.

So, it’s hard to pick one thing that sums up the city – and that diversity and wealth of heritage is one of the reasons I love it so much.

One of the things I also loved when I lived there was sitting in coffee house, making a small cup of coffee last several hours, if I was in the mood, without ever feeling like I was being encouraged to move on.

In 1683, Vienna lay on the edge of civilised Christendom (some locals believe it still does); the Ottoman armies had lain siege to the Austrian capital and were only defeated when the combined forces of King Jan Sobieski of Poland and Duke Charles of Lorraine came to help.

Amongst the silk tents and banners left behind by the retreating Turks (who would take another 200 years to leave Europe) were sacks of mysterious brown beans.

Eschewing the other, more obvious plunder, one of the Austrian spies, a Polish-Ukrainian named Franz George Kolschitzky, took the beans and opened Austria’s first coffee shop – mixing the thick, dark Turkish brew known as “Kahve” with milk and thus inventing the melange (ask for a cappuccino in Vienna and it will come with whipped cream on top).

The culture of the coffee house later received a boost from an unlikely source – namely, Emperor Franz Josef’s eating habits; a bluff military man, he was a picky eater. However, as custom dictated that not only the sovereign be served first but also that everyone else stop as soon as he put down his knife and fork, this left many an attendee going hungry at what should have been a grand banquet and relying on a visit to the coffee house afterwards for sustenance.

Vienna’s coffee houses have a rich tradition, then, of supporting courtiers, poets, musicians and even the odd exiled revolutionary, but when I lived in Vienna, my favourite coffee house was always the shabby but unhurried faded glamour of Cafe Hawelka – its Slavic name both indicative and typical of the mass immigration from the vassal states which Vienna experienced.

Situated just off the main pedestrianised street, the Graben, Hawelka epitomises gemütlichkeit – Austrian gentrified, down-at-heel cosiness; all the furniture has a reassuring romantic faded-glamour and a well-worn shabbiness to it and the welcome is as warm as any in Vienna.

One of the things we noticed living in Vienna was how low rents were compared to London. This is due to low land values, in turn as a result of a closed socialist economy.

It is these low overheads which allow a cafe in the centre of the city to welcome visitors for a coffee costing just a few Euros and not encourage them to leave the minute they have finished.

What I also like about Hawelka is how genuine it feels – in some cities it would have been turned into a quasi-tourist attraction, with a queue to get in, high prices and t-shirts plus other assorted souvenirs available for purchase as you exit through the gift shop.

That said, the Austrians are not too shabby when it comes to marketing themselves and there is a range of Hawelka merchandise available from coffee (obviously) to posters and playing cards.

In other cafes, you would feel the need or at least the obligation to move on as soon as you have finished, but here an atmosphere of relaxed, calm lounging pervades, in which it feels rude to move on too quickly.

This love of la dolce vita in a Germanic country confirmed my suspicions that the Austrians must be the missing link between the Germans and the Italians.

Yes, they like to lounge and they have a propensity for petty politics and scandal, but they can also make the trams run on time and keep the street clean.

It’s one of the reasons Austria is such a special place for me and why, for me, coffee is one of the things that symbolises Vienna above all.

As the Hawelka website puts it: while the Glory Years may have passed, it is the outside world that has changed and not the Café Hawelka. It still provides a refuge for many artists, writers and musicians.

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