An Order of Coffee with a Side of Culture

Sidamo Coffee and Tea

417 H St NE

Washington, DC 20002


Just about every coffee shop I know of has a distinct scent that overpowers its atmosphere. Depending on the menu, this scent may consist of pastries baking, coffee brewing, or even cheese melting. But when I went to Sidamo coffee on H Street, it gave off more than a single scent. Instead, it gave off a vibe, an ambiance, a realization that I was about to enter a cultural space unfamiliar to me.

So I did. As it turns out, the name “Sidamo” refers to a group of people in Southwest Ethiopia. And while the owners of this coffee shop have chosen real estate in the Capital city of the United States, it is far from American. The decor at Sidamo is distinctly Ethiopian, with Artisan teapots and unique wooden chairs placed strategically about the area. The music playing is Ethiopian, and the lyrics and instruments are ones I do not recognize. And of course, the variety of homegrown coffee and tea is very much Ethiopian.

It is no small coincidence that Sidamo is a coffeehouse. Despite its unfamiliar atmosphere, the staff at Sidamo make first-time customers like me feel right at home. And after about an hour of sitting comfortably and enjoying my warm cappuccino, I realized the woman behind the counter was making herself comfortable as well. She took a seat by the door and began frying coffee beans in a large copper pot. After the beans had finished cooking, she preceded to make her way around the cafe, allowing everyone else to experience the smell of freshly roasted Ethiopian coffee. If that’s not proof that coffee and culture are connected, I don’t know what is.

I didn’t stay at Sidamo too much longer. It was a Sunday evening and I had errands to run. But I stayed long enough to get a sense of what Sidamo is all about. I stayed long enough to know that I want to come back.

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