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Yirgacheffe Reinvigorates Revitalization Efforts
Lakeview District() - Long have Birmingham boosters and economic development experts sought that one key ingredient that would push the haphazard development of lofts, curio shops and title company offices over the line into attractive and sustainable growth downtown. That ingredient appears to be coffee from the yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia. And not just any yirgacheffe, but kurimi yirgacheffe roasted by Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea Inc., of Chicago and now being served by O Kafes at Pepper Place.

"For a long time companies looking to move into the Birmingham area would note that we didn't have a Whole Foods," said Operation New Birmingham director Michael Calvert. "We weren't able to get one in the city center, but we finally did get one just outside the city on Highway 280." Following Whole Foods, a few other powerful economic development tools fell into place including several Aldi stores and an Urban Outfitters. "We haven't gotten anything to land exactly in the city center," said Calvert, "But this yirgacheffe thing only missed by a couple of blocks. I think this will make a lot of people think twice about living or moving downtown."

Yirgacheffe has already stemmed the tide of talent leaving downtown. "This is my last year of residency and I had interviewed in places like Portland and Ohio," said UAB doctor Meredith Kramer. "But now I am strongly reconsidering some of the Birmingham offers." The brew has had an effect on education in the city too. "I was so glad when O'Kaffes opened," said school bus driver LaRoy Hawthorne. "After I pick up my bus in North Avondale sometimes I get a cup of coffee to go with my Monster Energy® drink before starting my route along Clairmont. When I tried the yiracheffe, I was hooked."

Another beneficiary of the delicious coffee now available a short way away is the residents of the new Jimmie Hale Mission. "We were a little worried about the support system that had built up around our downtown location, and how we would translate that to our 34th street site," said Executive Director Tony Cooper. "The availability of yirgacheffe just six blocks away has allayed those fears."

Currently O Kafes is the only local purveyor trained to properly "cup" this complex coffee. Cupping is a method of preparing coffee one cup at a time, which is the only way to bring out the full essence of the bean. Properly prepared, this elegant coffee sparkles with citrus fruit acidity, flavors of orange, lime and lemongrass. Notes of jasmine and honeysuckle carry a delicate sweetness matching the pristine, juicy body that glides across the tongue. The coffee is roasted daily in vintage German gas roasters which produce more gentle but unpredictable heat than modern electric equipment.

"We couldn't have stumbled on a better economic development tool," said Calvert. "Nothing we have tried even comes close to the impact that this coffee is having. This is going to be Birmingham's signature, if we can borrow it from Chicago and LA." Unfortunately during a recent visit to O Kafés, the coffee was out of stock.