Tag Archives: African coffee

That Sweet Smell of Roasted Beans: Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony at Sidamo

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.

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Bourbon Coffee–Gratitude in Every Drop

(Guest post by Sarah Cunningham).

Sometimes I unforgivably forget how lucky I am.  I live in a beautiful, safe city.  I work full time and have health insurance.  I have a lovely home, and I am surrounded by those I hold dear.  And yet, despite all these blessings, I still sometimes go on auto-pilot, forgetting to be thankful for each wonderful new day that I am fortunate enough to wake up to. ..And then I will stumble across something so lovely and unique that it reminds me to be grateful…

Such a thing just happened to me the other day as I meandered through a leisurely lunch-time stroll, only to stumble across the little gem of Bourbon Coffee.  Bourbon Coffee is nestled into its cozy little niche on 21st and L, and it is home to the first retail brand of coffee to come from Africa, specifically, Rwanda.  The entrepreneurs who run it go by the philosophy of bringing coffee to you from “crop to cup“, committing to purchasing coffee directly from farmers at a fair price, and to thereby help the Rwandan economy grow through coffee.  It doesn’t get much better than that, huh?

The story behind Bourbon Coffee is so lovely, indeed, that you can’t help but feel enveloped by the goodness the second you walk through the cafe’s doors.  The atmosphere is calm and warm, with earthy-tones decorated with framed Rwandan art, depicting the culture from which this coffee comes.  The menu is very inviting, with truly reasonable prices (and prices I am so happy to pay, knowing what it is we are paying for!), and the staff is nothing but the friendliest.  I sipped up the most delish white chocolate mocha my tastebuds have ever encountered, and I lusted greatly over the pastries glistening in the window.

As I walked (slowly, oh so slowly) back to work with my white chocolate mocha in tow, I was thinking about the journey that coffee took to my cup.  From a country just a decade out of a brutal civil war, fought over man-made divisions between a people from the same land…And the roots of that civil war–from the colonialist powers that threw it into chaos and created those divisions that never-before existed, that don’t truly exist in any real way…And how it is now, a country remaking itself, healing itself from unfathomable wounds; a country being reborn.  And a group of entrepreneurs committed to helping that rebirth through something as simple as coffee.  I was just hit with how beautiful that effort is, and how extremely fortunate I am that I have never experienced something as heart-breaking as the people of Rwanda have…And it is things like Bourbon that remind me: make gratitude the biggest part of your day…And that is what I want to do, really and truly…And when you go to Bourbon, you will feel the same way, I guarantee it! :-)

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