Tag Archives: coffee shops

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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Bayou Bakery and the Delights of Casual Cajun

There are a handful of joints in our city that pay homage to the Big Easy, from the stalwart Bardia’s New Orleans Cafe to the thrifty Louisiana Kitchen to the upscale Acadiana downtown.  But a newcomer to the hallowed Cajun scene, Bayou Bakery, offers a slightly different spin:  your low-key, friendly neighborhood coffee and pastry shop.

Bayou Bakery is steps away from the Courthouse metro, and serves up quite the brawny chicory coffee and downright heavenly beignets.  But don’t for a moment think it’s fit just for lazy Sunday morning.  The menu presents a diversity of soups, sandwiches, and larger plates featuring perennial Cajun favorites like gumbo, pimiento cheese, and andouille sausages.  There are also a few delightful imaginings, such as porKorn (caramel popcorn with bacon) and jars of spiced pecans.  Make sure to add the “deviled eggs with a kick” to your order—you won’t regret it!  Along with a few wines, the only beer available, of course, is Abita (not a bad thing).

Perhaps demonstrating the owner’s rather giddy love for New Orleans, along with every order you receive a laminated card featuring a parish.  So when your sandwich is ready, over the microphone you’ll hear “St. Helena, your food is ready,” or “Acadia, please come to the front.”  Also of note for die-hards are the whole King Cakes available for $35 in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras.

The décor is spiffy and meant to showcase the quirks of New Orleans.  The nook in the back, separate from the dining area, is filled with couches and used books.  And an alligator head draped with beads, old-timey cookware, and antique-looking wooden shutters on the windows of the brand new building illustrate that although this place may be located in the heart of Courthouse, it’s not going to let any charm go unnoticed.

Bayou Bakery has only been open since November, but is beginning to be discovered.  So, take the opportunity sooner rather than later to discover the delights of this little Cajun coffee hot spot.

To visit:  1515 N. Courthouse Road, Arlington VA.  703-243-2410.  Monday-Friday 7am- 9pm, Saturday 8am- 9pm, Sunday 8am- 4pm.  Very close to the Courthouse Metro, or lots of local Arlington buses.

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Hanging Out Up on 14th at The Highlands Café and Grill

The Highlands Café in Petworth (not to be confused with Highland Origin Coffee in Silver Spring) is a charming neighborhood spot that is unassuming on the outside and colorfully artsy on the inside.  Located on 14th Street between Crittenden and Decatur, this is one of “it” spots in the 14th Street Heights neighborhood.  Didn’t know that there was a 14th Street Heights district in DC?  Neither did I, so that’s another good reason to go up there and hit some of the other local staples along the way—Districto Federal, the Red Derby, etc.

The most memorable quirk about this coffee shop/restaurant/bar is its long mural on the southern wall, depicting the life-cycle of coffee from the berry-picking to the barista-ing to its enjoyment by friends.  Along with its mainstay beverage The Highlands also boasts brunch and dinner menus that seem a bit ambitious for such a small place, but the results are great—hearty, Southern-style meals with a smattering of vegetarian options.  I was a fan of the towering smoothies!

According to the mission on its website, The Highlands is trying very hard to not just be another relatively funky coffee shop in our city, but a place where patrons can interact with management and feel ownership over the location.  I can only speak to my Saturday afternoon visit, but I was very impressed with the variety of clientele, from older men reading newspapers to young Millenials rubbing the sleep out of their eyes, but the best thing is that they all clearly were residents of the neighborhood.  In my opinion, this kind of community-oriented local watering hole is just what DC needs more of!

To visit:  4706 14th St. NW, 202-829-6200.  Moderate walk from Petworth or Columbia Heights Metros, or the 52 and 54 buses will drop you outside the door.

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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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