Cafés warm up cities, and me

Cafés and coffee shops create little havens during my week away from home, in a big city. I wake up each morning looking forward to my one important cup of coffee. I have fun figuring out whether I will make my own strong brew or go out in the world and enjoy a café. The scatter of independent coffee places and at least one chain within easy walking distance makes me feel welcome. Each place charms me.

I love walking into Sidamo Coffee & Tea at 417 H Street NE (in Our Nation's Capital) for many reasons:

  • It smells of freshly roasted, freshly brewed coffee with a side order of bacon.
  • Owner Kenfa Bellay and all staff members greet me as they greet everyone else: with warm smiles and a sense we are building a friendship.
  • The cups of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe are the best I have ever had. Each cup requires several rounds of pouring and waiting, the pours spiraled from a special pot over carefully prepared ground beans. The resulting coffee manages my favorite coffee trick: depth of flavor without undue bitterness. Yirgacheffe's characteristic lemon or citrus notes are so bright in the Sidamo pour-over that I "see" the coffee as I drink it: a column of rich brown ( the dark rich body of the drink) topped by sunny yellow (the citrus-y top notes and finish in each mouthful.)

I make pour-over coffee nearly every day at home. It's quite a procedure, nearly a ritual. It takes several happy minutes and yields about 12 ounces of coffee. As I move through the many small steps, I think of people who taught me parts of my process. 

  1. My parents, Ruth and Lisle Roberts, for whom a fresh pot of coffee, brewed with sweet water from their spring, signaled a mid-morning break, a time for talking, laughing, connecting, resting.
  2. Longtime work colleague Donna Wainscott, who taught me to rinse the filter to remove the paper taste before adding the ground beans.
  3. My German "sister," Renate v. Wangenheim, and her husband Ratbod, who taught me the flavor-boosting technique of stopping for a minute after the first hot water pours through the grounds, to let the coffee "bloom" into richer flavor.
  4. Dad, who warmed Mother's coffee cup with hot water before serving her coffee, because she liked it blazing hot, and because he liked to please her.
  5. The Counter Culture Coffee educators, who led my favorite workshop at the 2013 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, who championed the pour-over method and taught me that a spiraling pour nudges richer flavor from the beans. You can watch their Pourover Brewer Basics video, though it does not emphasize the spiral pour as firmly as the in-person instructors did.)
  6. Mark Newberry of Caffe Marco in Paris, Kentucky, who has taught me a great deal about coffee and its correct handling, and whose exquisite shade-grown, fair trade, organic coffees delight me daily when I am at home.

From now on, I will add one more imaginary connection when I make my pour-over coffee. I will think of Kenfe Bellay, who spent several patient minutes making pour-over coffee for me, using the technique he learned from his family in Ethiopia. Mr. Bellay's process includes and surpasses all the separate components I've picked up literally around the world. You can watch 22 seconds of Mr. Bellay's five (or more) minute process and see his spiral pour in the video below.