What does Ethiopia have to do with Capitol Hill? Well, everything, especially when it comes to coffee. Experts pretty much agree that Ethiopia is the motherland of coffee, but the long road that stretches over a millennium to Seattle would be long, rocky, and even bloody.
Coffee was first written about over a thousand years ago for its special medicinal properties in what today is Uzbekistan. But even for generations prior to that, coffee in Eastern Africa was ground up and mixed with animal fat and used as modern day LUNA bars. Some genius eventually thought about brewing it. Effective for helping monks pray into the night, the coffee brew would be spread throughout the Arab world, including Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, and eventually it would make its way to Europe.
Coffee was often looked at suspiciously for bringing people together, allowing them to sober up, and talk about the news of the day in a thoughtful manner. There had been attempts to ban coffee and coffee houses over a thousand years, but none of those actions seemed to work and coffee had remained steadfast on that road here to Seattle.
Yet, the legend of how coffee was first discovered remains alive and well: Along the hillside of Ethiopia, a goat herder found his usually mellow goats to be dancing – near a coffee shrub filled with red fruit . The goat herder's name was Kaladi and he tried out the bright red fruit out for himself. The rest is history…
Fast-forward a dozen and a half centuries and you will find Kaladi Brothers Coffee on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Their name and logo honor that legend. Since 1986, Kaladi Brothers Coffee has warmed the hearts of Alaskans and established themselves as premier roasters and brewers in The Last Frontier.
About six years ago, Kaladi Brothers Coffee came quietly to Seattle's Capitol Hill, and were tucked away in a location that they quickly outgrew.
A couple of months ago Kaladi Brothers Coffee moved up the block to a brilliantly designed café that was built to include other community organizations in adjacent work spaces like Gay City and Washington United For Marriage, among others.
I recently dropped by to do some work (It is an excellent location for freelancers – wide open tables, fast WiFi, and great natural lighting). The café was designed by the owner Brad Bigelow who is an architect and UW grad. Together with Tim Gravel, they own 13 cafes – all but one in Alaska.
I chatted it up with barista Dane and Jeremiah, Kaladi’s manager and resident barista extraordinaire, who tells me that their café has been co-housed with Gay City for the last six years.
Since moving in their new location, they have “gained much more exposure,” Dane said, who enjoys working at uniquely designed coffee shop.
Jeremiah couldn't agree more. “It’s a breath of fresh air and a better representation of our company, of who we are. We want people to come in from the community,” he said. Jeremiah added that they went out to check out other cafes and figured out what they liked and what they didn’t like about coffee shops and incorporated that thought process into the design.
Kaladi Brothers Coffee is no joke in Alaska. Having started out with just one espresso cart, they have created their own coffee culture there, and as Jeremiah said, are now a leading force in Alaskan Coffee Culture.
Their road would eventually lead to Seattle.
“While in Alaska we were the standard, the coffee scene here (in Seattle) is up to an adult level and we’re trying to catch up,” Jeremiah said.
So, how do they compete in such a market? Very humbly, he says.
“We make a great product –the biggest thing that sets us apart is our customer service approach and our ability to listen to the community, creating an understanding, … and not just treating them like a coffee customers. A lot of other (coffee shops) help us raise our game… but we keep it true to our vision as a company…” Jeremiah said.
Much like the tradition of coffee houses centuries ago, Kaladi Coffee Brothers are deeply community-based, raising money for a variety of causes, helping out a variety of organizations in the community, and providing a space for community members to meet.
If you are on Capitol Hill in Seattle make sure you check them out.
Kaladi Brothers Coffee: 517 East Pike Street, Seattle, WA