by Mark Van Streefkerk
Coffee and art are a naturally occurring combo, especially among South Seattle companies Café Avole and Paradice Avenue Souf. The Ethiopian-owned café partnered with the South End clothing store and creative agency to release a limited-edition, single-origin Yirgacheffe coffee on December 22. With beans sourced from Yirga Ch’Efe, located in the province of Sidamo, Ethiopia, and artwork by Paradice’s Ari Glass, the result speaks on many levels about the birthplace of coffee, the significance of it passing through the hands of South Seattle communities — many of which hail from coffee-producing countries — and being interpreted by South End artists.
The 8 oz. coffee bag is gold, with a print of Glass’ painting of the Original Man holding up the sun against a green and blue background representing Earth. The artwork is an ode to Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, and the “Indigenous genius” of those who pick and roast it, as stated in the Instagram announcement. Opening the bag, the first impression is the distinctive berry aroma present in specialty Ethiopian coffees. Solomon Dubie, co-owner of Café Avole (along with Gavin Amos and Getachew Enbiale), brought out the bright flavors of this hand-picked coffee with a medium roast. “The second you open it up it’s going to hit you with so many flavors. It’s a sun-dried, natural process. You’ve got to imagine this coffee bean’s been sitting in this flatbed for about 30 days, sun-drying in its own pulp. It’s been fermenting for that long, and it carries its distinct taste and flavor to it.”
Harry Clean, video director and creative at Paradice Avenue Souf, said, “I’m not a coffee expert like Solomon, but from just tasting it, it tastes like berries. You don’t even need sugar. It already has all its flavor.”
Café Avole started with about 100 bags of Yirgacheffe, a limited amount sourced, roasted, and presented in ways counter to mainstream methods of commodifying and marketing coffee. “We wanted to emphasize that this is coming from Ethiopia — that this is a real personal product. There’s not anything corporate about it,” Glass explained.
Café Avole and Paradice Avenue Souf have been in shared community for years, each company inspiring the other. In 2015, Dubie launched a crowdfunding campaign to transform the Rainier Mini Mart on Rainier Avenue South and South Holly Street into a café that features Ethiopian coffees, culture, and products. Influenced by Dubie’s success, Paradice — owned by Harry (Clean) Baluran, Ari Glass, and Jordan Nicholson — expanded their creative services, eventually branching into clothing design, and opened their Rainier Avenue location last November. Despite the fact they’ve been closed for the greater part of the year, Paradice ramped up their ecommerce sales to sustain the space and reopened for in-person shopping at the beginning of December. Paradice has several creative projects lined up for next year, including designing merch for a dance competition and an upcoming original exhibition at the Wing Luke Museum.
In the past, the two companies have hosted block parties and art parties at Café Avole. The Paradice team was working on potential mural ideas for the café, which sparked the idea for a collaboration.
“We’ve been excited about putting this together. I think it’s been long overdue,” Dubie said. “Watching these guys develop their business as entrepreneurs and artists … we’ve been on the same wave for a long while. Dropping this was something I’ve been excited about, they’ve been excited about. It’s a no-brainer. This is my art, coffee, culture, this thing that we’re sharing — this is our culture, this is our art.”
For most westerners, coffee is bought at a (typically white-owned) café or grocery store, without much awareness of the lands, people, and cultures that produce it. For Dubie and other Ethiopians, coffee “has always been this thing that plays a medium in our relationships and culture,” he said. Watching his mother pan-roast green coffee beans was a central experience to how Dubie grew up. Avole is the word for the first cup in a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
Even within specialty coffee circles, the process for determining great coffee begins in a technical, western way, starting with cupping brewed coffees to taste. Assessing coffee with those methods excludes the expertise of the people who produced it who, like Dubie, experience coffee flavors and aromas in their own languages.
“I was taught to look at green beans and know this is how green beans are supposed to look before I was able to find the scientific definition of what it is that looks good,” he explained. “I taste [the coffee], I eat it. I gotta have that in my mouth, then I can absorb that flavor and determine the cup. We’re not over-analysing it. We’re keeping it very simple. In Ethiopia, my mom would know if I made a shitty cup of coffee.”
Expect to see more collaborations between Café Avole and Paradice Avenue Souf in the future. You can buy a bag of Yirgacheffe Coffee here.
Featured Image: For the South End’s Café Avole and Paradice Avenue Souf, two companies who have co-hosted block parties and art parties in years past, collaborating on a limited-edition coffee was a “no-brainer.” (Photo courtesy of Café Avole).