Habte Mesfin likes to serve a superior cup of coffee at his Overland Park coffee shop, RevoCup Coffee Roasters.
But he also likes to include a measure of heart. A sign on the counter reads, “Turning spare change into meaningful change.”
And that is the center of Mesfin’s business and the mission of the RevoCup Foundation, launched in 2011.
The foundation gives back 10 cents for every cup of coffee sold and one dollar for every pound of coffee sold in its retail store. Its purpose is to help the plight of coffee farmers in East Africa.
Last Saturday afternoon, nearly 250 guests — many RevoCup customers, along with those curious to learn more about the Ethiopian native’s RevoCup Foundation — gathered at the Impact Fellowship Church in Overland Park.
The crowd filled the church’s narthex, engrossed in an event perhaps a bit nontraditional for a warm Midwestern summer afternoon: the ancient Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
A fruity-floral aroma and the crackling sound of roasting coffee beans filled the room. Mesfin’s sister, Yeshiwort Mesfin, dressed in vibrant Ethiopian garb and perched on a low stool, gently stirred green coffee beans piled in a pan set over a burner, coaxing the aroma into the air.
Balanced on a basket was a bright woven wicker tray, emblazoned with “Ethiopia” and lined with ceramic coffee cups.
A colorful cloth strewn with flowers completed a scene replayed two or three times daily in contemporary Ethiopian culture.
Mesfin presided over the ceremony that follows strict rules of coffee preparation and represents a rich part of his heritage — one that has deeply influenced his life since he was a toddler in Gondar, Ethiopia.
“This ceremony brings people together as a gesture of friendship,” said Mesfin, who moved to the United States in 1986. “It helps settle disputes, addresses social issues and shares information. It creates a good spirit in a home.”
Young women circulated the room with the fragrant roasted beans, offering onlookers a whiff of the heady scent.
Cups of strong, freshly brewed coffee were passed and people sipped the dark liquid as Mesfin’s deep and lilting voice continued to explain the ritual’s significance.
“My family and I do this here, at our home in Overland Park, when we have the time,” said Mesfin. “The ceremony signifies our deep appreciation for coffee.”
Mesfin, who moved to Kansas City from California in 2007, had a desire to honor the product that traces its origin to Ethiopia. He purchased PT’s Coffee at 110th Street and Quivira Road, an independent shop with a loyal neighborhood following, and in January 2008 reopened as RevoCup.
The shop, which features custom-roasted single-origin beans from Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kenya and Costa Rica, among other countries, represented more than an entrepreneurial opportunity for Mesfin and his wife, Nigist Ambeche.
The couple began to educate customers on the desperate living conditions of farmers who grow the coffee crop in their native country.
“This is why we are here today,” he said, inviting the crowd into the church’s fellowship hall to learn about the RevoCup Foundation. “To understand how simple it is to help farmers who live in deteriorating conditions — those who give us this wonderful drink that starts our day.”
Following a buffet lunch of indigenous dishes served by Blue Nile Cafe — including the spongy, Ethiopian bread
used to scoop up sauces, stews and rice — guests settled in to hear Mesfin; RevoCup Foundation president Michael Johnson, who is the University of Missouri-Kansas City director of major gifts; and special guest Tadesse Meskela, founder and general manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union of Ethiopia.
“We don’t want to be an instrument of oppression or injustice,” said Mesfin, who has five employees including himself and his wife. “What we do is bigger than ourselves.”
The RevoCup Foundation has opened eight libraries in Ethiopia since 2011, touching more than 6,000 children, Johnson said.
“Our goal is to open more libraries,” said Johnson. “And with Habte’s inspiration and determination — he wants to open at least 41 — we will probably surpass that.”
Mesfin said he wants coffee lovers to appreciate the humanity involved in producing every cup.
“There is a personal side to the coffee story,” he said. “An there is greatness in every man’s heart. We all have the ability to change societies.”
Including Habte and TG’s 15-year-old twin daughters, Salem and Hasset, who sat at a front table to watch their father.
“We are so proud of him and our mother,” said Salem.
“And what we and the RevoCup customers are doing to help make change,” added Hasset.