Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - November 26, 2010

Mystic coffee

Sufi Coffee Shop offers house-roasted java, community and contemplation

by Sheila Himmel

Sandwiched between a barber and a computer-repair shop, the Sufi Coffee Shop is hard to spot unless you're looking for it. The sign over the door reads: "Prepare to be surprised at how those parts come together."

You will likely be gently welcomed by Parviz Rasti, in wire-rim glasses and a sweater, looking very much the college professor he was for 25 years. Rasti opened the Sufi Coffee Shop and Cultural Center in 2003 at the request of his Sufi master.

Sufism is 6,000 years old, predating other religions. Rasti's order is Persian, accepts all religions and does not seek converts.

Rasti will explain as much or as little as you want. It's also perfectly fine to just come in and have coffee or a sandwich with friends, and talk about baseball, or to sit quietly and read. The back patio is a hodge-podge of furniture and plants, WiFi access and typed notes pasted to the wall. Such as: "Wisdom is knowing what to overlook."

You can thumb through second-hand copies of Homer's "Odyssey" or "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." If you want to read something about Sufism, ask Rasti.

"It's there if you're looking for it," Rasti says of the well-stocked bookcase. "We don't push anything. Out of 100 people who come here, maybe one or two buy a book," he says, and he's fine with that.

Rasti was a professor of comparative literature for 25 years in Iran. When asked about how he came to open the coffee shop/cultural center, he smiles and quotes Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less travelled by,

and that has made all the difference.

Rasti brought his family to the United States in 1995. Three years later, they opened a coffee shop in Sonoma County. It was just a coffee shop. But Rasti's Sufi master decided that turn-of-the-millennium Silicon Valley needed a taste of Sufi values — community, kindness, altruism — and that Rasti was the one to do it.

At the Sufi Coffee Shop, the paths of West and East converge. Soft background music may be an Argentinean bandoneon or the classical Persian setar, a four-stringed lute.

Way up in a corner is a photograph of Javad Nurbakhsh, a Sufi master, but the walls are dotted with the words of such Western thinkers as Helen Keller, Mark Twain, Frank Lloyd Wright and Walt Whitman. "We're trying to bring Walt Whitman back into American culture, and other legendary people who've done something for humanity."

In the back patio, geraniums, bougainvillea and roses are in full bloom. Dark wine grapes hang on a vine that started as a 2-inch volunteer that Rasti noticed when he moved in.

Like the grape vines, the Sufi Coffee Shop grows. Changes include credit cards and WiFi access. "It's a small convenience, for people to read their e-mail. But this is not an office," says Rasti, who posts a two-hour limit on WiFi use.

Rasti roasts coffee two or three times a week in a roaster out back. He also makes the soups: lentil, vegetable/bean and Persian. What is Persian soup? "You have to try it," Rasti says, giving the visitor a container to take home. Rasti's wife prepares the sandwiches.

Each cup of coffee is freshly ground and brewed, resulting in a depth of flavor that should be tasted before adding cream or sugar. At least one of the whole-leaf teas, red lychee, also is delicious. In both cases, Rasti says, "It's because of love that is Sufism."

Coffees include the house blend, Sufi, and Yemen, Brazilian, Kenyan and Jamaican Blue Mountain. Except for Jamaican Blue Mountain, which varies, prices range from $2.95 for 12 ounces to $5 for 16 ounces.

There are espresso drinks, chai lattes and a half-dozen mocha drinks, made with Ghirardelli chocolate. Persian mocha is a double espresso with peppermint syrup and cardamom.

Just about every week, Sufi house members and regular customers deliver sandwiches to a homeless shelter.

Rasti defines the relationship he seeks with customers: "We are two people facing each other. Not owner and customer. Not just an exchange of money. I want to give them something more, not take."

Sufi Coffee Shop

815 El Camino Real, Mountain View

650-962-9923

www.suficoffeeshop.org

Hours: Daily 10 a.m.-7 p.m.

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