There are few things more pleasant than sitting in a small, delightfully cramped coffee shop on a sunny Sunday afternoon. But Sidamo Coffee and Tea, on 4th and H NE, offers an improved take on your weekend leisure by adding a traditional coffee ceremony and tasting to the mix.
Sidamo, meaning both a type of light-bodied coffee and the Ethiopian province that is from, is owned and operated by a delightful Ethiopian family who seem to recognize every person that walks in the door. Husband and wife team Kenfe Bellay and Yalemzwed Desta started the business in 2006 and haven’t looked back, even opening another location in suburban Maryland.
As you probably suspected, Sidamo is all about the coffee. All beans brewed and sold in the store are shade grown, fair-trade, and certified organic. And, all are roasted on-site in a gigantic coffee roaster that sits inside and pumps delicious-smelling fumes out onto H St. in the early mornings.
But perhaps Sidamo’s best nod to its namesake is its coffee ceremony that occurs every Sunday at 2pm. Traditionally an Ethiopian coffee ceremony is held for only friends and family, and may take several hours. Sidamo’s ceremony begins with a female employee, dressed in a traditional cotton dress and head scarf, lighting incense to set the mood. The next step is roasting the beans in a small pot over a kerosene stove. The beans start to crackle and snap, turning from green to black and filling the air with a pugent, slightly burnt aroma. The pot is brought around so you can see and smell the freshly-roasted beans up close. The beans are then ground and added to water in a fancy coffee pot known as a “jebana.” After 15 minutes or so of cooking on the stove, the hot, unfiltered coffee is slowly poured into small china cups for patrons to taste and savor. A warning—this coffee is not for the weak of palate! It is strong and bitter, and while it will make a coffee snob swoon, it’s not for those of us who prefer the less hardcore lattes.
Sidamo is best known for its coffee, but I can’t miss this opportunity to mention its bagels—they are some of the best I’ve had in DC. Upon further research I discovered that there is indeed a small community of Ethiopian Jews in Israel, but…well… I don’t think that’s the cause of Sidamo’s success in this arena!
Coffee is integral to Ethiopian lifestyle, but also to the country’s economy—it exported half a billion dollars worth of it last year. As Washington, DC has one of the largest Ethiopian populations in the US, it’s exciting that Sidamo provides us a more personal insight into this country’s culture and traditions.
To visit: 417 H St. NE, (202)-548-0081. Free ceremony at 2pm on Sundays, though it may start late! Union Station Metro or 90s or X2 buses.