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Ethiopian coffeehouse opens in Niverville

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 04/28/2019 10:15 AM

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Behind the counter at Negash Coffee, owner Henok Gebre displays espresso in traditional porcelain cups.

JORDAN ROSS | THE CARILLON Enlarge Image

Behind the counter at Negash Coffee, owner Henok Gebre displays espresso in traditional porcelain cups.

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A new specialty coffeehouse opening today in Niverville will give customers a chance to sip the finest brews from Ethiopia, the world’s original coffee culture.

"For us, coffee is not like a drink. It is in our lifestyle," Negash Coffee owner Henok Gebre explained Monday as he sipped espresso from a traditional handleless porcelain cup.

For the past year, Negash Coffee has operated as an online store and door-to-door subscription service, delivering freshly roasted beans to homes, restaurants, and offices within an hour’s drive of Niverville.

Gebre said he’s excited to throw open the doors of his new permanent space and move his roasting operation from Winnipeg to Niverville.

He’s a coffee connoisseur who takes pride in offering a premium product.

"I’ve had too many shots already today," he joked as he finished off his espresso. His mother, who resides in Calgary, formulated the five-bean blend herself.

The decor in the 1,500-sq-ft. coffeehouse, located along Drovers Run on the town’s west end, leans modern, with white marbled tiles, a sleek electric fireplace, and a live-edge walnut counter. Atop it sits the cafe’s centrepiece: a gleaming Elektra espresso machine.

But you won’t find a flat-screen television on the wall.

"We want people to come and have a conversation," Gebre, 33, explained. "Coffee is actually a communication starter."

The menu features the usual styles of premium coffee, like lattes and Americanos, plus tea and baked goods.

Gebre sources organic green coffee beans directly from Ethiopian farmers, with the help of his cousin, who works as an exporter in the East African country.

"Coffee is not just a source of income. People care about what they sell," he said.

Ethiopia has long been one of the globe’s coffee-producing powerhouses. The Arabica coffee plant originated there, and Ethiopians lead the continent in both production and consumption. The highlands of the Sidamo province produce the best coffee, as the plants grow more slowly.

Gebre himself favours lighter roasts, to preserve the beans’ complexity. Bitterness can overwhelm in some dark roasts, he explained.

Just as important is the way the coffee is served. The country’s traditional coffee ceremony typically occurs three times a day.

"It is the heart of the country," Gebre said.

Green beans are roasted in a pan then ground by hand and boiled in a traditional long-necked clay vessel called a gebena.

Negash Coffee customers will be able to glimpse the ritual firsthand. Gebre’s wife, Faisa, plans to perform it one Sunday a month at the coffee shop.

Gebre said he doesn’t mind if the shop isn’t very profitable—the other side of the business is doing well, and he envisions the new space as a thank-you to the community he calls home.

He arrived in Canada in April 2003. He and Fasia, who have three young children, settled in Niverville in September 2015.

Before that, the family lived in Winnipeg, where Gebre said he felt "disconnected" from his neighbours. He now relaxes when he passes the Perimeter Highway after his last delivery of the day.

Negash Coffee isn’t his first foray into entrepreneurship. Gebre also ran a promotions business, couriered parcels for Greyhound, was a partner in a lounge, and still operates a cleaning business. He studied engineering at the University of Calgary and University of Manitoba, but left before graduating to start a family.

On Monday, as he put the finishing touches on the cafe’s interior, Gebre said locals seem keen to check out the new business. Hardly a day goes by without a curious passerby knocking on the door.

Customers will get their chance tiday, when Negash Coffee holds its grand opening. Free coffee will be served all day. Regular hours will see the cafe open seven days a week.

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