It all began in Bologna, Italy. The year was 1918 and two prudent candy makers, Mr. Atti and Mr. Bassi, decided to start selling chocolate and espresso under the name Attibassi
. Their fame reached such heights that their coffee circled the world and, nearly 100 years later, landed in a town named Bellevue, in Washington. Unfortunately the landing was not without its bumps and, on one particularly bumpy day, a shipment of Attibassi coffee arrived at the importer's warehouse nearly ruined. It was unsellable, at least to the public.
But as fortune would have it, one young college graduate named Nick Neibauer happened to be working the shift that oversaw the arrival of that industrial quantity of unsellable coffee. Nick had just returned home from studying in the Italian-Swiss city of Lugano, where he had developed a fondness for Italian culture and a deep respect for espresso
And so, rather than throw away the perfectly usable but unsellable coffee, he volunteered to give it a home. Nick freeze dried hundreds of bags of Attibassi coffee, and for the next several years it was the only blend his family drank.
Fast forward to January 2012, the birthdate of Caffè Strada
, and the day Nick served his first Attibassi coffee in Amman. Strada (as the Rainbow Street hipsters call it) is stripped-down cool, authentically Rainbow Street on the outside, sleek and modern on the inside, with subtle hints at humor to those who pay attention.
Nick opened Caffè Strada with his business partners Firas and Laith, two good friends who have their roots in Jordan (Nick grew up stateside). Firas is the business aficianado
(that's Italian for a person who is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about an activity, subject, or pastime, such as business) and Laith is known for two things: his sarcastic wit and tea.
But the three of them take hot beverages seriously. The coffee is never served with fillers or syrups (except for one Nutella
coffee which has diplomatic immunity because of its Ferrero-origins) and the tea is hand-sourced from single plantations by Jing
. Rumor has it
that Laith printed a 100-page manual on tea and encourages the baristas to read up in their free time.
Although to be fair, it's not clear that the baristas have much free time. Caffè Strada hires an exceptional bunch of students and fresh grads to work the coffee and salad bars. And they're funny. They've given each other nicknames which range from Abu Gigir (which roughly translates to "Papa Arugula") to Yoda (which I can't translate since I don't speak geek).
But these are hard-earned monikers, born through friendships forged over steamed milk and cappuccino foam art, meticulously-crafted salads and warm grilled paninis. And that's something you feel at Strada-- good vibes. It's a community, a happy place with time-honored coffee and honest tea.
And so how does Caffè Strada fit into the Amman foodscape? Just nine months after opening, it might be too early to tell. I'm developing a theory that Amman and Italy are agricultural cousins, and that Strada is just one of the many natural results of this long-forgotten bond, but I'll save that theory for next time.
After all, what are the odds that Jordan and Italy, two countries cut from seemingly different cloth, could form a part of the same food tapestry? Pretty slim. In fact, you might say it's as unlikely as a shipment of coffee getting wrecked in Bellevue only to be found again in a cafe in Amman. But hey, stranger things have happend.
For now this cafe is just Strada: a little piece of Italy in a corner of Amman.
For more of Sarah's writing, visit her website.