Story | Lauren Saria
Photography | Mark Lipczynski
In a culture of drive-thrus and 140-character tweets, it can be all but impossible to slow things down—to press pause on a busy day and find time to connect with family and friends. All too often, we gulp down caffeinated drinks as we rush from one commitment to the next, never taking time to appreciate the sensory experience of enjoying a hot cup of coffee.
It’s a lifestyle Aisha Tedros of A.T. Oasis Coffee and Tea hopes to change.
“We don’t bring anything to our lives by running, running, running,” she says.
Tedros, who smiles easily and treats regular customers with the casual manner of a loveable aunt, is the heart and soul of a small coffee and tea shop hidden in plain sight just east of the intersection of 44th Street and Thomas Road. From the outside, the strip mall shop may look mundane, but step inside you’ll find the exotic scents of freshly roasted coffee beans and frankincense lingering in the air as Tedros prepares to perform a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
“It’s my dream to put in every American household one of these pots someday,” Tedros says as she sets up her tools.
In front of her sits a handmade clay pot with a rich brown glaze and a long, skinny neck. At A.T. Oasis, Tedros uses the pot to perform traditional West African coffee ceremonies during which she lights incense, roasts raw coffee beans, makes coffee and then enjoys the strong, black liquid over casual conversation. The entire ceremony may take anywhere from five to 15 minutes, but fosters friendly conversation not only between those partaking but also with other curious patrons who may have never seen the process before.
In Eritrea, where Tedros was born, and other West African countries, Tedros says people enjoy this ritual two or three times a day—perhaps before work, at lunch and after coming home for the night. Each ceremony provides a chance for family and friends to gather and connect; the ceremonies are as much about the coffee as they are about the people.
“I think it’s unity,” Tedros says of the tradition. “I think it’s love. I think it brings people together.”
Tedros hopes to share this sentiment with as many Americans as possible and has even gone to local schools to show the process to students. It’s her way of making an impact on the country that has given her a chance to do what would not have been possible in Africa. Tedros says she always knew she wanted to travel and began dreaming of owning her own business not long as she came to the United States.
She was in line at a Starbucks talking to a friend when the idea to open her own coffee shop hit. Tedros says her affable personality and knack for crafting excellent coffee and tea drinks made opening A.T. Oasis a no-brainer. Since opening the shop in 2014, Tedros has even begun importing raw coffee beans from Ethiopia, which she sells to other local coffee roasters and roasters for her own use at A.T. Oasis.
“My advice to everyone is you can be what you want to be in America,” she says. “Anyone can do anything they want in this country—and that’s a huge thing.”