“When you run a coffee shop, what comes first: the coffee, or the people?”
Abbas Arman of the Ebrik Coffee Room in Atlanta posed this question to me when I visited him last weekend. To add some context, he was describing a time when he had to let one of his best baristas go. While knowledgeable and skillful, she drove an Ebrik customer away when the they asked for a “cappuccino, without foam.”
“There is a good way to teach customers about coffee, and there is a bad way. My barista flat out told the customer he was wrong.”
Abbas expected a helpful explanation of the difference between a cappuccino and a latte, devoid of snobbishness and perhaps including a sample of both. Abbas and the Ebrik team take coffee very seriously but know that educating, not belittling, earns back customers.
Ebrik Coffee Room sits on the edge of Georgia State University campus in downtown Atlanta. In the late 1970s, downtown earned a dangerous reputation and it has been rebuilding ever since. The 1996 Summer Olympics brought Olympic Centennial Park, The World of Coca Cola, the Georgia Aquarium, and the CNN Center, but active downtown life has not yet returned in full.
“We realized we had a catch-22 down here,” Abbas said, “People weren’t staying downtown on the weekends, so businesses would close. Now that businesses are closed on the weekends, people won’t come downtown. We took a leap of faith to try to change that.”
Ebrik Coffee Room opened its doors on February 17, 2014 to partake in the downtown revival. In order to survive downtown, Abbas knows he must build a sense of community where there is none.
Born in Chicago and of Palestinian decent, Abbas visited Chicago coffee shops with his family where customers became friends and community came first. He is now trying to recreate a bit of what he experienced growing up. “Those places looked nothing like this, though,” he said, looking around his shop.
“We think the key to succeeding downtown is building community. People down here will work in the same building for years but never talk to each other. When they see each other in Ebrik, they will introduce themselves and start a conversation.” Abbas told me.
Downtown Atlanta is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city and Abbas actively seeks out chances to build community within his shop. I watched him greet regulars by name as they walked in and wave at others when they walked by. When he didn’t recognize a customer, he asked if it was their first time in the shop, where they were from, and would also introduce himself at the end of the transaction. “I have dozens of GSU professors come into the shop and I’ll introduce them to other professors from different departments,” he said, “We get all kinds of people in here. It’s a very interesting mix.”
Hand-brewing locally roasted beans from Land of 1000 Hills Roasters and Atlanta Coffee Roasters, Abbas is both student and teacher of Third Wave coffee. “I’m learning something new everyday,” he told me.
Ebrik brings enticing new coffee options to the city. Of course there are the Italian traditions—espresso, cortado, machiatto, and latte— and you can order a single-origin Yirgecheffe from Atlanta Coffee Roasters brewed in a Chemex. But unusual to Atlanta is one of Ebrik’s most popular options: Turkish coffee.
Turkish coffee consists of finely powdered coffee, cardamom spice and sugar, mixed into a small copper pot of boiling water, otherwise called an Ibrik or Cezve. “Turkish Coffee” is the general term for a broad range of coffee brewing recipes all originating in Middle East and Mediterranean.
Once steeped, Abbas poured the coffee into a tiny demitasse and handed me the Ibrik on a platter. The coffee is strong, vibrant, and flavorful thanks to the cardamon. “We are actually making something closer to Lebanese coffee,” Abbas says as I take my first sips.
Another traditional Middle Eastern option offered at Ebrik is Kurdish coffee, which starts with milk and includes the same powdered coffee, cardamon, and sugar. Called the “Deniz” at Ebrik, it is one of their most popular and delicious drinks. It had the consistency of Chai tea.
This diverse assortment of options offers many opportunities for coffee drinkers to learn and ask questions. And this is exactly what Abbas wants. “We don’t just follow the Middle Eastern coffee tradition. We mix several traditions into one. Our customers are always very curious about our different options.”
How can you sum up Ebrik Coffee Room’s hospitality, unique options, and beautiful space? Abbas says his customers created their slogan for them. “We look to provide three things: comfort, community, culture.”
As a life returns to downtown Atlanta, patrons, residents, and guests alike will be looking for comfort, community, and culture. Whether they are jumpstarting their day, meeting with friends, or relaxing after work, everyone should know they can find these things and more at Ebrik Coffee Room.
Ben Putano currently travels the country looking for great coffee and good times and blogs about it at thwave.co. To contact him, send him an email at [email protected]