Ibrahim Saeed

My day job is working as a research scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I’m currently involved in research in plant pathology and at the medical school.

 My most memorable caffeine is coffee the way it’s prepared in the eastern part of Sudan, where I’m from. That area is home to the Beja tribe—I’m not a member of that tribe, but their Hadendowa subtribe is very committed to coffee making and that’s influenced my own experience of coffee. Members of the tribe always travel with their coffee-making equipment, which includes a roasting pan, a mortar and pestle to grind it, a metal or clay pot, and some sort of burner and fuel. Electricity isn’t always available, nor any kind of gas, so charcoal is a typical fuel source. It’s not uncommon to see Hadendowas sitting in the middle of a market, making coffee. Their commitment to coffee is so strong that there’s a saying along the lines of “ask a Hadendowa for anything but his coffee and his coffee-making utensils!”

My mother goes through a similar process to make coffee with her friends. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour and is typically done at lunchtime, which is actually mid-morning. The women gather at the home of the best coffee maker and go through the entire process together—it’s very social. They sit together on special stools that are low to the ground and start by roasting the beans and passing them around until they meet everyone’s inspection. Ginger is added to the coffee and water while it’s boiling and it’s served from a clay pot in tiny cups with sugar.

There are typically three “rounds” of coffee—the first is very strong and the other two progressively more diluted. If my mother isn’t there for the first serving she says that it’s as if she didn’t have any coffee!

 My current caffeine of choice is typically a cup of tea first thing—this speaks to the British colonial history of my country—and then black coffee later in the morning.

My favorite place for caffeine is my mother’s when I’m in the Sudan and I enjoy Starbucks coffee in the U.S. The first time I had it was at the hospital the day my oldest daughter was born. The smell reminded of coffee making in my home country.

The person I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with is a member of the Hadendowa tribe. I’d need to have a translator, as I don’t speak their dialect! I’d love to hear the history of coffee making in their culture and why coffee is so important to them.

 World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine: Racism. I was at a conference a few weeks ago that brought together people of faith to discuss our role in changing attitudes. How can we work to reduce the impact of racism? How can we engage those who are its victims? We can’t wait for politicians to solve this for us. I was surprised and a bit disheartened to fully understand the issues Madison is having in this area. With the right amount of caffeine, perhaps we could work together to address them.