The Ethiopian Cup: Black Lion Café
When you walk into Rockville’s Black Lion Café, you can’t help but notice a computerized Diedrich roaster, its arm slowly stirring freshly roasted Ethiopian beans to cool them before they are released into a bin. Co-owner Emmanuel Manolis explains the process. “Every two days, we start in the morning to get the aroma emanating through the duct work. You can smell the coffee roasting half a mile away,” he says. “Roasting takes 12 to 13 minutes for medium roast. Once it’s cooled, we put it in containers and store them for two days. That’s how the aroma and juices come out. Then we package or use it.”
Manolis, who lives in Rockville, opened Black Lion in 2016 with three other Ethiopian families. Each contributes in various ways; Manolis is in charge of running the 40-seat store. All have ties to the coffee world in Ethiopia. Manolis’ family members were tradesmen and traded coffee. “We focus a lot on fair trade,” he says. “All our coffee comes from small farms. We have been to these farms, and so do our best to provide for them. Your conscience could not let you go on living if you didn’t do the best you can.”
The cozy cafe has a denlike feel thanks to its wood paneling and gas fireplace. Large graphics on the wall educate you about Ethiopian coffee, explaining that the word coffee derives from Kaffa, a medieval Ethiopian kingdom that purportedly introduced the world to the beverage. You learn the tasting notes of the three kinds of beans they carry—Harrar,
Yirgachaffe and Sidama—and other tidbits of information.
Manolis is all about the bean, so don’t look for an extensive list of trendy coffee drinks here. They have blend or single-origin drip coffee, espresso drinks and frappes.
Black Lion Café, 9705 Traville Gateway Drive, Rockville; 240-907-2994; blacklioncafe.com
Community Through Coffee: Kefa Café
While indulging in a coffee drink at Silver Spring’s Kefa Café—say, a cafe mocha made with lush espresso, steamed milk and just a bit of chocolate syrup—don’t break out your laptop and try to hook up to the Wi-Fi. There isn’t any. “We did a survey of our customers. Ninety-nine percent said they didn’t want it,” says Lene Tsegaye, who, along with her sister Abeba, opened the charming two-room coffee shop in Silver Spring in 1996. “Maybe one person out of a hundred complains, but then they sit and have coffee and thank us for not having it when they leave.”
The sisters (Abeba lives in Silver Spring; Lene in Hyattsville) are Ethiopian refugees who fled that country for the United States during political turmoil in the ’80s, eventually settling in Washington, D.C., where one of their two brothers attended Howard University. He had the idea for a coffee shop and its location, and remains an adviser. “We wanted to create a space for people to come and talk to each other and learn about different cultures, but I thought he was out of his mind when he showed us the Silver Spring space,” Lene says.
Abeba explains that Silver Spring at the time was not developed much beyond an expanse of empty lots, but the idea of a smaller community did appeal to them. “Our motto is ‘Community Through Coffee.’ Coffee is a social culture in Ethiopia. People from all walks of life come here. The Gandhi Brigade [a youth media nonprofit] started here, and so did Impact Silver Spring [which advances racial equity]. This was their office.”
A fire next door in 2015 damaged Kefa, which was closed for 10 months. “Almost every day, customers came to see how we were doing. They helped put pictures up. When we won the contract for the [kiosk in the Silver Spring] library, people came together and raised the $50,000 we needed in one month,” Abeba says.
The work of local artists (it’s for sale) adorns the lemon-yellow walls, as do countless photos of customers’ children (some of their parents went to Kefa Café when they were kids). Products come from local purveyors as much as possible, including Green Plate Catering in Silver Spring for vegan fare, and Nagadi Coffee roastery in Silver Spring, which supplies beans from Ethiopia, Honduras, Tanzania, Indonesia and El Salvador.
Kefa Café, 963 Bonifant St., Silver Spring; 240-641-8023; kefacafelove.com