Seattle’s Ethiopian community savors its coffee culture

Etan, an Ethiopian incense, is burned throughout the entire coffee ceremony. The sweet scent saturated the air of Kaffa Coffee and Wine Bar, located in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, WA. (Photo by Hannah Pickering.)

There is an Ethiopian saying that goes, “Don’t rush the ceremony.”

Forget about drive-through lines and rush hours — the Ethiopian coffee ceremony takes time. In the timespan of three rounds of drinking coffee, community is built and stories are shared.

The ceremony is the foundation of a coffee culture that creates community and strengthens identity for members of Seattle’s Ethiopian community, which has grown significantly in the last decade or so.

Seattle has a history rooted in immigration. The local Ethiopian community started growing the 1970s and 1980s, during a repressive regime in Ethiopia and a devastating drought, according to Horn of Africa Services, a Seattle group that provides education and advocacy for the East African community. According to HistoryLink, the Ethiopian community numbered around 25,000 people in 2010, making it the largest East African community in the area.

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Seattle also has a long history with coffee, coffee roasting, brewing and coffee house culture, with a multitude of local cafes and roasters and home to national and international coffee roasters including Tully’s, Seattle’s Best Coffee and, most famously, Starbucks.

But Bisrat Tadesse, owner at Kaffa Coffee and Wine Bar, a local Ethiopian restaurant located in Rainier Beach, still treasures the tradition of Ethiopian coffee.

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