Invasion of the Coffee Brewers ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

February 26, 1993

In Ethiopia, where coffee beans grow wild and have been enjoyed in liquids since the earliest of times, having a cup is a ritual. First the proprietor of a coffee house brings beans for a patron's scrutiny. They are then roasted and submitted for another approval. Only after the patron has tested the brown beans for aroma and appearance are they ground and brewed into an invigorating drink.

This old Ethiopian custom is now being revived in many of the coffee houses that are mushrooming all over America in recent years, just like fern bars did more than a decade ago.

The current fad originated in Seattle. It then took nearby Portland storm and moved on to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago. The coffee craze has now hit Maryland, particularly Annapolis. City officials report they have received inquiries from 35 prospective coffeehouse owners in recent months.

"Annapolis will no longer be called a sleepy town. With all our caffeine, we'll be up all night," muses City Administrator Michael Mallinoff.

In Seattle, coffee lovers line up in the morning for a "latte" -- a cup of strong espresso coffee mixed with frothy steamed milk that costs about $2 -- and return in the afternoon for another. Would-be Annapolis operators hope to introduce local residents and tourists not only to "latte," but to everything between java and cappuccino.

They may have to do some teaching on the side: one gourmet shop selling cafe mocha had to add a word of explanation -- "chocolate" -- because so many people didn't know what flavor it was.

Coffee houses are actually old hat in Annapolis. Just think about Gus Leanos' place on Annapolis Street, which has been catering to the needs of everyone from grade schoolers to legislators so long the 70-year-old proprietor says, "I was here before Columbus discovered America."

The new breed of planned coffee houses boasts cute names such as "The Moon" and "Pony Espresso." In addition to a steaming cup, they propose to offer newspapers and magazines, occasional poetry reading, music and, of course, fax service. In warm weather, tables would be placed outside for that continental air.

Right on, we say. Can the English afternoon tea tradition be far behind?

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