Women of Color Run Two Buzzy Coffee Shops in D.C.

Women of Color Run Two Buzzy Coffee Shops in D.C.

Our sense of smell can help us recall moments in our past. One of Ayat Elhag’s earliest memories comes from the childhood trips she would take to Sudan with her parents in the summer. The Sudanese would perform a sort of ceremony that stuck with her.

“They light incense and then use sandalwood or frankincense to smoke the small cups before pouring the coffee on top,” she says. “I remember this ritual being so mesmerizing. Seeing the way people drink coffee all over the world is so interesting to me. People have been drinking this for centuries, but we’re really just at the beginning.” 

Elhag is the coffee director at Yellow in Navy Yard where she serves customers halva honey lattes, smoked dirty chais, and tahini affogatos. The Levantine-inspired daytime shop is an extension of Albi—the fine dining restaurant next door from Chef Michael Rafidi.

She and Nazia Khan, who helms Cameo inside The Roost on Capitol Hill, are running two of the most exciting new coffee shops in the city. They’re first-generation Americans and women of color with bold ideas about the future of their profession. 

After growing up in Northern Virginia, Elhag studied neuroscience at The College of William & Mary. “I thought I wanted to be a doctor, then I realized I never wanted to go back to school,” she says. She worked in cafes and restaurants throughout college and found barista work the most rewarding because she could be creative behind the scenes and also interface with customers. “I like those small interactions you have with people when you’re serving coffee,” she says. 

Before joining the Yellow team in July, she worked at Northside Social in Arlington. She was attracted to Rafidi’s project for a number of reasons. “My family being from Sudan, we have a lot of similar flavors,” she says. “The nostalgia of it all was really exciting and comforting—especially with everything being so difficult these last few months.” 

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