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Ethiopian coffee company in Takoma Park is among first ‘benefit corporations’ in state

For the millions of Americans whose morning ritual is to worship at the Cup of Joe, the idea of a “blessed” roast isn’t unfamiliar.

But for Ethiopians, the word has a more literal meaning. The traditional way of making coffee in their African country means brewing it three times before serving. The third round of brewing is called baraka. Blessed.

It is around these concepts — community and a spiritual connection to our world — that Tebabu Assefa officially launched Friday a Takoma Park venture called Blessed Coffee. Assefa’s business was among the first in Maryland to become a sanctioned “benefit corporation,” and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and state Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), who sponsored the legislation last year, offered words of encouragement at a ceremony in downtown Takoma Park.

Tebabu-Assefa
"I hope Blessed Coffee can do for Takoma Park what Starbucks did for Seattle," says Tebabu Assefa, with wife Sara Mussie.

A “benefit corporation” isn’t all about social responsibility, officials said. Companies that use the law need to make money, to thrive.

The new law is as much about social responsibility as it is about job creation, O’Malley said. “It all comes back to jobs,” he said.

Assefa is hosting small dinners to introduce his business and entice Takoma Park residents to buy small “shares” in the company. In the end, he wants half of Blessed Coffee to be owned by residents and farmers, and half of the profits from the wholesale operation will go to Ethio­pian farmers.

“People think I’m crazy, people think I’m stupid” for giving up half the profits, Assefa said. He calls his business model “virtuous exchange.”

Assefa, who came to the United States in 1981 and runs a marketing and design business catering to the Ethi­o­pian community, said Blessed Coffee was a way of connecting the financial needs of his homeland with the U.S. market.

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