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Local Grounds: Ethiopian-style Coffee Brewing at SEA

February 11, 2021

Solomon Dubie was raised in Seattle, a city known for its coffee obsession, the birthplace of Starbucks, and countless independent coffeeshops that line the neighborhoods. Growing up in a city fueled by the brew, Dubie’s family, originally from Ethiopia, maintained their own Ethiopian coffee culture and traditions. Dubie's mother hand roasted coffee at home, brewing in an Ethiopian ceremony. These memories and traditions stayed with him, fueling a passion that would influence his career and introduce Seattleites to his Ethiopian-style brand of coffee.

Ethiopia is considered the birthplace of the coffee plant and coffee culture. While attending Eastern Washington University and thinking about his future, Dubie realized that his unique experience with coffee would be interesting to others. Dubie wanted to show something new to coffee connoisseurs by giving them a new coffee experience that incorporated Ethiopian coffee culture. 

Cafe Avole coffee

“I wanted to provide the same experience to customers with the same ritual and customs that I was exposed to growing up and that I grew up to respect,” he said.

Today, Dubie, age 33, is the owner of Café Avole, a South-Seattle based café and community gathering place where Dubie brews single-origin and fair-trade Ethiopian coffees. Café Avole coffee is also distributed to grocery stores throughout Seattle and brewed at a variety of local restaurants and cafes, including Africa Lounge on the A Concourse at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA).

Dubie said the community has rallied behind Café Avole and contributed to its success.

“I kind of look at it as a paradigm, a young Ethiopian kid bringing his brand of coffee to Seattle — the mecca of coffee in the western world. As a young Black entrepreneur, it’s really uplifting for people in the community, particularly in the East African and African communities in Seattle. I opened up a coffee shop for people of color to come and experience something authentic and be introduced to the excellence of coffee.”

Solomon Dubie
Pictured: Solomon Dubie

Percolating dreams

In 2012 after college, Dubie started leasing a space in a South Seattle convenience store, the Rainier Mini Mart, and introduced his Ethiopian coffee tradition to the community.

In 2015, he launched a crowdfunding campaign to enlist community support for his dream of building an inviting, community-based café in the Rainier Mini Mart space, featuring Ethiopian coffee and its cultural traditions. And Café Avole was born, opening in March 2015.

The name “Avole” comes from the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony, which involves roasting the raw, green beans in a small pan over a hot plate; grinding them; and placing them in a water-filled traditional brewing jug (called a jabena). The first cup of coffee is called the "Avole" — pronounced "A-bol."

Dubie imports and roasts his own coffee and has nurtured Café Avole into a community gathering space.

“We strive on uplifting others,” he said. “We are a conversation and destination spot — a unique experience within coffee and culture.”

Cafe Avole coffee

Brewing new opportunities

In September 2019, Dubie expanded the reach of Café Avole to a worldwide audience when he attended the Port of Seattle Dining and Retail Small Business Fair. This event allowed small business owners (particularly minority- and women-owned businesses) to showcase their products and services to current retail and dining operators at SEA Airport.

The Port has long been a supporter of small business growth and workforce development, and holds events to provide more opportunities for small, local, and disadvantaged businesses. And to ensure that the face of the airport reflects the diversity of our community.

“We are always trying to explore entering into different markets like the Port of Seattle,” Dubie said.

Dubie connected with Africa Lounge general manager Yves Maganya, sharing his coffee and his dream. As Africa Lounge evolved to become the first restaurant serving African foods in a U.S. airport, Maganya reached out to Dubie and added Café Avole to its new menu.

The partnership was a natural fit. Café Avole is a coffee company emerging from Seattle with products that represent an authentic story, and Africa Lounge has created a menu that captures the range and diversity of the African culture.

“It raises the bar for us,” he said. “We are excited to be able to bring new products to new audiences and scale up. I’m excited to see where that takes us. I’m excited to bring more of our presence to SEA and share our experience with folks flying in. It’s an opportunity for us to grow as a small business. It’s a great platform to be a part of.”

Solomon Dubie
Pictured: Solomon Dubie

Dubie was encouraged by his experience working with Africa Lounge and the Port's Airport Dining and Retail Team.

“There was mutual interest in figuring out ways we can continue to partner with businesses at the Port and the airport, and Africa Lounge directly.”

Dubie said in the future, he hopes to explore more opportunities through the Port, with a goal to open a second small retail space in Seattle.

“I’m excited about the prospect of another café, representing a product recognized around the world,” he said. “We hope to reach out to more customers and share the coffee experience from an Ethiopian perspective.”

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