BY MAX BENNETT
Starbucks should watch its back: a new coffee purveyor is gaining momentum on the east coast.
Blessed Coffee packed the upstairs dining room of the authentic Ethiopian restaurant Adis Ababa in Silver Spring with friends, family, and supporters, celebrating its third anniversary of operation Wednesday Oct. 23.
Tebabu Assefa (center) with wife Sarah (right) and daughter.
The event also was ushered in the second phase of Blessed Coffee.
“The first phase was selling coffee at community organizations, farmers markets,” said Tebabu Assefa, founder of Blessed Coffee. “We didn’t have a location.”
Brewing up a change
The second phase is a fundraising campaign to establish a Takoma Park cottage coffee shop and roasting facility.
Brewing Change, a group of sixteen people with varying backgrounds and skill sets, is responsible for organizing crowd-funding efforts for a Blessed Coffee café.
Blessed Coffee’s coffee ceremony at last Takoma Park Street Festival, Oct. 6.
Every other Wednesday since May this year, Assefa and his wife, Sara, cooked homemade Ethiopian meals and discuss strategies with the Brewing Change team.
Assefa said cooking for them was a labor of love and he cannot show them enough love for the months of work they contributed.
Blessed Coffee’s coffee enjoyed at Takoma Park Street Festival, Oct. 6.
At the end of the night, Brewing Change members displayed the crowd-funding website and the available donor incentives.
The site offers tiered donations with each tier offering different benefits, including handmade Ethiopian jewelry, tee shirts, and homemade dinner with an authentic Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
Donations range from $25 to $5,000. Blessed Coffee’s goal is $226,274.
State Rep. Jamie Raskin spoke to the crowd and donated $1,000 to the Brewing Change campaign after the options were unveiled.
Raskin said he sees Assefa as a business visionary and believes history is being made with Blessed Coffee.
Blessed Coffee’s roast – October’s Takoma Park Street Festival.
“I believe in Blessed Coffee,” Raskin said, “from the bottom of my heart.”
One donor matched Raskin’s pledge while others pledged lesser amounts, giving Brewing Change over $3,000 in a few short minutes.
The crowd-funding efforts are evocative of Blessed Coffee’s business practices.
Assefa focuses on community and working together. He believes Blessed Coffee has what it takes to succeed independently of big banks and corporations.
“We can do it,” Assefa assured, “but we have to have that community circle.”
Tababu Assefa, Blessed Coffee’s founder.
That’s where Takoma Park’s humanitarian nature becomes important.
Blessed Coffee sends a message of caring about one another as human beings, regardless of gender, ethnicity, and heritage.
Assefa plans for Blessed Coffee to become more important to Takoma Park than Starbucks is to Seattle.
Assefa went to Ethiopia and witnessed farmers laboring all day to earn a meager one percent profit after doing 90 percent of the work.
Blessed Coffee’s coffee ceremony table at the Takoma Park Street Festival.
He noticed how companies extract massive profits from coffee drinkers while leaving the farmers trampled underfoot and impoverished.
“That is very offensive,” Assefa said, alluding to the exploitation of coffee farmers and consumers. “We can go to work and make a difference.”
Assefa wants a mutually beneficial relationship between consumer and farmer through the Virtuous Exchange model.
Virtuous Exchange gives everyone involved a fair share.
When Blessed Coffee begins earning profits, they want to give half back to the farmers with hopes they will become investors in the company.
The Benefit Corporation law allows part of the effort.
Coffee Ceremony at Blessed Coffee’s celebration Oct. 23.
The law’s goal is avoid damaging business practices that can cause catastrophic harm as seen by the big banks and oil companies.
Blessed Coffee is the nation’s second benefit corporation and follows the triple bottom line of having the highest workplace, social, and environmental standards.
“Everybody, of course, said [the law] was crazy,” said Raskin, “because it came from District 20.”
Raskin said that Takoma Park stands for something and that makes it stand out from others.
The law passed unanimously through the state senate and almost unanimously through the house.