An iron compass, set into the concrete just outside Metro bus stop 8190, lets you know that you’ll never be lost, and that all directions are possible. I let it point me south-east a few feet to see Solomon Dubie and his good friend, Bisrat, at Rainier Mini Mart aka Café Avole.
‘Yeah. Well that’s the name over the door. But we are more of, we’re trying to be more of a café. We are having an event this weekend. You should come. Take this.’ He hands a flyer my way. ‘It’s a neighborhood here and we want to be more of neighborhood place. You know? Serve Ethiopian coffee. Do it the traditional way.’
‘I’d like a cup, if you’ve got some?’
‘Takes about five minutes until we can drink. I’ve some going already. You’ve got five?’ I see a long-necked clay pot with a spherical base, which I will later learn is called a jebena.
‘I’m trying to make the next 7.’
‘Should be good. No worries.’
‘Sure, then. Thanks.’
When I ask what neighborhood this was exactly, Bisrat says that he calls all this South Seattle. Not Hillman City, though he likes that. Not Brighton, though he likes that too. So does the city clerk’s office. Whatever someone should call the area around the 8190, he would want it to carry all of its history and all of its rapid change.
‘There’s a great amount of it really. You know? We want to be a part of these changes. We want to know that the change here reflects the community that’s here. That’s been here. When new people come, they know, it didn’t just start then. It’s bigger than them. And us.’
Two men, other café customers, sit in the mini-mart-turned-café window. Each has a double espresso cup placed to the left of a keyboard. If they turn their screens ninety degrees, Rainier itself could peer, from the mount’s great distance, into whatever messages and reports they are working on. They don’t talk to each other, deep in the glow of their laptop screens.
Bisrat asks from behind the counter whether they would like more coffee. They decline. Too busy to engage in chatter or more coffee, but they do turn seconds later to give smiles of appreciation for the offer.
The café still has mini mart staples: wire shelving lined with cookies and candy bars that do not perish. Beer and energy drinks cool in refrigeration.
‘We’re trying to decide how we go forward, you know?’ He points to spices I had not noticed before. ‘How to invest in ourselves. And in our community. We are thinking, do we need money to build out a kitchen in the back? To make it more a café? Do we invest in a roaster? A full kitchen?’
Most beans are roasted in a pan, no greater than the circumference of an outstretched hand. It hangs from a nail on the back wall. ‘We get roasts from Tin Umbrella, up Rainier, and other places too! This one we’re about to drink,’ he points behind him to the pan, ’is our own roast. Single origin.’
Steam rises from the narrow neck of a clay pot, the jebena in Amheric. Bisrat pulls it from a heating coil. His left hand reaches for the pot and the right for a circular woven-string stand. The pot’s curved, spherical, bottom comes together, like the two last remaining parts of an international space station, from Bisrat’s mission control. His right hand moves slowly away while his left tilts the spout counter-ward. ‘Keeps the grounds from getting in the pour.’ Bisrat has not looked at me to answer a question I have yet to ask.
‘Ethiopia has a lot of different people. Ninety different languages are spoken there. Umhmmm! And I only know one. Amharic. So I call coffee, bunna. But people who grew up speaking something else or had parents came from somewhere else, might say something different. They might call it another word. In Ethiopia, though, no matter, what they call it, they are all serious about coffee. So is Seattle. So we know people can handle the time and appreciate getting coffee from its source. It all comes from Ethiopia, you know?’
We talk about coffee’s origin, the history of it, what cities and countries went gaga over its introduction; how often he visits Africa; how long he has worked at the café; what he thinks of the 7 (‘loves the 7’); and more about his aspirations for the café in transition just like its neighborhood.
‘It’s ready to drink,’ Bisrat knows what time it is. And the 7 fast approaches.
I drink my cup in two draughts, put the cup down on the counter and thank him. I leave the shop to find three people already waiting; we are four in our spacious shelter. I take a picture of the compass. The fifth and last to board runs up just behind me. A busy stop is that 8190 on Friday afternoon.
Editor’s Note: If you’d like to learn more about Cafe Avole or help support getting it started, you can visit the website at www.cafeavole.com.