For many Washingtonians, coffee is an essential part of everyday life, but for Efrem Fesaha, owner of Boon Boona Coffee in Renton, coffee is something that is deeply embedded within his culture.
“I am of Eritrean descent, which is in East Africa, and roasting and brewing our own coffee is a big part of our culture,” Fesaha said.
“I grew up with this tradition of my mom roasting her own coffee, grinding, and brewing it in what we call a jebena, or clay pot. We would put our ground coffee in there, add water, boil, and brew it, and we would have this coffee ceremony. We would have this ceremony multiple times a day — there is no holiday or wrong time for it. Whether we are celebrating or mourning, we are having coffee,” Fesaha continued.
Fesaha grew up in Seattle, graduated from Washington State University, and now is an MBA candidate at Seattle University. Prior to sourcing coffee, Fesaha’s career had focused on finance and accounting in the greater Seattle area for local companies such as Amazon and Nordstrom.
After the Great Recession, Fesaha started to feel fatigued and decided to travel. This months-long journey included a three-month sojourn to his homeland, Eritrea, which was once colonized by Italy.
“Spending my days there, I got to see this blend of the cultural experience of coffee indigenous to the region, and this Italian-infused component of espresso bars in the capital city — it was an experience different from what I was accustomed to, having grown up in Seattle,” he said.
Fesaha left Eritrea inspired, and spent two months working on a business plan, financial projections, and the framework for what he thought would be a great business venture: sourcing coffee from East Africa, packaging it, and putting it on grocery store shelves.
Several years later, in 2019, Fesaha decided to open his own Renton coffee shop, where he seeks to not only provide a great cup of coffee, but also to relay the history of his region’s culture.
“There is more depth to coffee, and there is more history to it,” he said. “I wanted to show that history, which is why we did our coffee ceremony at the cafe on Saturdays, pre-COVID. We did that so we could educate people about it — it’s an opportunity for us to express so much.”
5:30 a.m. Monday mornings are best when I start them super-early. Fortunately, I get to make whatever coffee I like ̶ cortado, macchiato, cappuccino, espresso, drip, and, if I have a little more time, a pour-over.
5:45 a.m. I like to make sure I have responded to business needs, but I also take it upon myself to respond to the customers regarding issues around experience, coffee options, COVID protocols, and online orders. I do this and other tasks ̶ like running payroll and schedule planning ̶ in a quiet place.
9 a.m. I evaluate green coffee for the green coffee side of the business. This is the raw product that often is purchased by those who perform the traditional coffee ceremonies of Eritrea or Ethiopia in their homes. I began in coffee by selling and distributing green coffee to East Africans throughout the U.S. and Canada.
10 a.m. Alex, our roaster, turns on our Mill City Roaster to begin the day’s production. We roast and ship our coffee out the same day, thus ensuring our customers have the freshest coffee on-hand.
11 a.m. As a team, we evaluate and discuss our coffees, and any potential new coffees, led by coffee director Ali Gulduren. This process requires smelling and slurping coffee while evaluating standards on fragrance, acidity, uniformity, and more.
Noon I evaluate our new product launch. This box will offer three 4-ounce bags of unique coffees from women-produced or women-exported and -imported coffees from three different African countries in a customized box ̶ perfect for gifting.
1 p.m. I head down to Auburn to pick up more coffee from our warehouse. I still pick up, load, and haul around these 132-pound bags of coffee personally, sometimes during multiple visits per day. It’s a good workout.
2 p.m. Staying organized within our Renton production space is super important. Having 3,000 square feet of space is great, but with a roaster and cafe, organizing and positioning these hefty bags is necessary.
3 p.m. Enjoying some fun moments with my team. COVID has been a stressful time for us all. Having moments to laugh, have a glass of wine, eat together, or hug a puppy has been important for morale.
7 p.m. Family time while enjoying a traditional coffee ceremony. At this moment, we were celebrating my recent birthday with a little whiskey. Coffee time with my family is therapeutic and a must with any visit to Mama’s house.