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January 02, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, January 02, 2004

A swirl of spirituality A swirl of spirituality (January 02, 2004)

Coffee is savored slowly at new Sufi Cafe

By Katie Vaughn

Mountain View's new Sufi Cafe is not your standard coffee shop. And assuming you don't crave an impersonal, hurried, mass-produced coffee experience, that's a good thing.

Like its name suggests, the cafe's theme is Nimatullahi Sufism, a spirituality from Iran in which followers seek truth, or God, through serving others with love and devotion.

"Sufism begins with love and ends with love," said Sufi Cafe owner Parviz Rasti. "Sufism is how to become a human being. That you are a two-legged being does not make you human. You have to work at it."

Before opening Sufi Cafe in early November, Rasti owned Java Town, a coffee shop in Cotati, a town 85 miles northwest of Mountain View. Until the mid-1990s, he lived in Iran, where he taught comparative literature at a university in Tehran.

While many people are reluctant to mix religion and business, Rasti said his beliefs enhance his business skills.

"Others come first, myself comes later," he said.

The shop is truly a family business. Rasti's wife and two daughters will soon join him in running Sufi Cafe, and he has no plans to hire other employees.

The cafe is small, with an L-shaped counter near the back of the room. Six chairs and four tables are separated from a wall of bookshelves by plants arranged on the floor. The shelves hold books and magazines on Sufism, Persian literature and classics by Cervantes, Homer and others.

Most of the wall space not covered with shelving is plastered with posters, maps, original artwork and bright green computer printouts. Patrons can read prayers and poems by spiritual masters, the biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Jesus Christ or quotes from Albert Einstein, Shakespeare and Gandhi. The classical or Middle Eastern music playing in the background enhances the worldly ambiance.

Rasti said many people visit his cafe because they follow Sufism or want to learn about it. However, customers need not be interested in the spirituality to get a cup of coffee.

A simple cup of coffee takes longer to prepare at Sufi Cafe than at other venues, but for good reason. No Thermos-type containers of coffee sit on Rasti's counters. Rather, he roasts, grinds and drips coffee individually for each order.

Part of the fun of getting a drink at Sufi Cafe is watching Rasti prepare it. For a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain, he scoops roasted beans into a hand-held grinder and dumps the grounds onto a filter placed on top of a large beaker-like glass. He then slowly pours 200F water over all the beans in a swirling motion.

Rasti said his method is better than coffee machines because pouring the water by hand allows the flavor of all the beans to emerge.

"Electric coffee makers are not good," he said. "You're not getting coffee from them -- you're getting a kind of brown water."

Sufi Cafe offers six types of coffee -- Jamaican Blue, Bali Shinzan, Yauci Selecto, Peaberry Jamaican Blue, Indian Mysore and Ethiopian -- in 12 and 16 ounce cups. Coffee prices range from $2.75 for a 12-ounce Ethiopian brew to $4.75 for a 16-ounce Peaberry Jamaican Blue.

Rasti said he supplied about 20 types of coffee at his previous shop and will bring more varieties to Sufi Cafe soon.

The Jamaican Blue, the type Rasti considers the most popular, was rich and strong, and it lacked the bitter taste of many coffees. For the first time in my coffee-drinking life, I didn't have to add sugar to my cup. Sugar and Equal packets are set out on the counter, but most visitors probably won't need them.

Rasti said his brews taste like coffee was intended to.

"It's truthful coffee," he said. "I'm trying to make it as sincere as I can. I put all my love and affection into my coffee for people to enjoy it."

Whether due to love or simply superior beans, it's great coffee.

Four types of tea, spiced chai latte, espresso, mocha and several other coffee shop standards are also available at Sufi. The prices of these items are competitive with those of other cafes.

Preparation of the Dragonwell green tea ($3.25) was another interesting process to watch. Instead of using a tea bag, Rasti put leaves into a small cup of 170F water and let it stand for a minute. Then with a screen on top of the cup, he poured the green tea into cups. He said the process could be repeated several times using the same leaves and more water.

The tea was hot but not scalding. I could both smell and taste its flavor but it didn't have the harsh, grassy quality of most green teas. It was gentle and soft and could stand on its own without having to pair it with food or add sugar or honey.

Sufi Cafe's mocha ($3.40) had a full, deep taste. It was very hot with a bit of foam on top. It had a near perfect mix of chocolate and coffee flavors. I smelled the chocolate first, and then tasted the coffee. The chocolate flavor then returned and left a pleasant aftertaste.

The spiced chai latte ($3) was an exciting discovery. It was the richest, heartiest, sweetest one I'd ever tasted. If it had been any sweeter, it could have been overbearing, but fortunately it didn't cross that line. The latte contained vanilla, cinnamon and other spices and a bit of foam. It was warm and absolutely comforting to drink.

Sufi Cafe offers a few cookies and treats, none of which are homemade. Rasti said he plans to bring more food to the café soon. Chocolate chip cookies, packaged biscotti and vegan energy bars are currently available.

The two heart-shaped energy bars that came in a cellophane wrapper were enjoyable, dry but also sweet. The $2 snack would pair nicely with juice or a sweet drink.

Patrons should be warned that Rasti only accepts cash as payment. A sign on one of the cafe's walls states, "We do not honor any credit card companies. They are enslaving to humanity."

Rasti said he aims to keep Sufi Cafe open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, but the hours of operation can be sporadic. The shop is not currently open on weekends because that is when Rasti visits his family in Cotati.

Both coffee aficionados and novices should enjoy the treats of Sufi Cafe. Visitors aren't treated as typical customers, but rather as guests. Rasti will prepare your coffee or tea in front of you, engage you in conversation and perhaps even join you for a drink. In practically every way, it's anything but the normal American coffee shop experience.

E-mail Katie Vaughn at

Sufi Cafe 815 W. El Camino Real 962-9923
Open Monday-Friday: 9 a.m.-8 p.m.

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