Coffee and Community at Ebenezers

Sunday, March 2, 2008

No, Ebenezers Coffeehouse on Capitol Hill isn't a tribute to the classic Christmas miser; it is named for a Bible verse, 1 Samuel 7:12, "Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us."

The "coffee with a cause" message is subtle, though, and seemingly second to the service of java. The independent coffeehouse (201 F St. NE, 202-558-6900) -- complete with free WiFi -- is a rare gem near Union Station. The usual suspects can be found on the main floor plopped in plush armchairs or seated at tables, tapping away on laptops. Standard coffee complements fill the menu: Pastries, cookies and breads are available daily. Ebenezers features fair-trade Larry's Beans coffee, Big Train chai tea and blended coffees, Mighty Leaf tea and numerous bottled beverages. (All of the cafe's profits benefit National Community Church.)

Church pastor Mark Batterson founded Ebenezers two years ago to help build relations with the community, bringing life to a space that had been empty for nearly 25 years.

In its basement, Ebenezers hosts ballroom dance lessons, poetry readings, open-mike nights (all free) and church-related gatherings in a state-of-the-art event space. Don't bother checking for a chapel, though; this church holds services at movie theaters and at the coffee shop.

Manager Michelle Warren likes to think of it as the community's "third place." "First place is home, second place is work, third place is Ebenezers," she says.

The shop is religious without being self-righteous and could easily be just another coffeehouse. It's in the finishing touches (the pastor's book on sale at the register, the Bible verses on the coffee sleeves) that patrons will find the preaching. Though it hardly feels like an imposition.

-- Tina Poole

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