Ethiopian Coffee Culture Comes to Uptown

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Anfilo Coffee (35 Grand Avenue), the new Uptown Oakland brick-and-mortar coffee shop whose Grand Lake Farmers’ Market stall (then called “Jébeena”) What the Fork highlighted last summer, is finally open, after several months of permitting and construction delays. The husband-and-wife owners, Ambessaw Assegued and Dagmawit Bekele, practice the traditional rituals of Ethiopian coffee culture and hope to bring their unique style of coffee service to a wider customer base.

The cafe had its soft opening last Friday, January 18, and hours are tentatively set for 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. A full-on grand opening celebration will coincide with February 1’s First Friday festivities — to mark the occasion, the cafe will have the work of a local photographer, Diallo Mwathi Jeffery, on display.

Anfilo Coffee: a different kind of cafe.
  • Luke Tsai
  • Anfilo Coffee: a different kind of cafe.
As of now Anfilo’s menu consists only of coffee and tea, but Assegued said they’ll slowly start rolling out a limited food menu as early as this week: Western-style pastries, salads and soups, and a few Ethiopian items, too — notably, a selection of rolled injera that will be filled, variously, with meat, lentils, or peas. Most of the food, with the exception of the pastries, will be made in-house.

Opening a new cafe now a bit of a risky gambit — Oakland has no shortage of coffee shops, and Farley’s East is literally right next door. But Assegued hopes there will be enough customers looking for something different — not the quick in-and-out transaction of a Peet’s or a Starbucks; not the light, fruity brews (and accompanying hipster aesthetic) of the Third Wave; not study-hall vibe of your typical wi-fi joint.

Instead, they’ve aimed to create a place for coffee lovers to stay and linger, with full table service and dainty little chairs — tablecloths, even. And while espresso drinks and quick-serve coffee to go will be available, the focus is on coffee served the traditional Ethiopian way: a smooth, rich brew that’s heated over an open flame and poured, unfiltered, out of the jug-shaped clay pot known as a jébeena.

Is there room for something like that in Oakland’s crowded coffee scene? Here’s to hoping.

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