You may have noticed that your favorite local cup of joe has lately tasted a bit off, even a tad bitter. If so, there’s a reason: The local coffee community has been shaken to its core by painful news about one of its key members: 26-year-old Semeon Abay, head roaster for Denver-based Novo Coffee, was recently diagnosed with advanced metastatic prostate cancer and given one to two years to live.
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It’s a tragic twist to a remarkable life. Semeon was born in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia and unlike the vast majority of his countrymen, he wasn’t exactly thrilled when he won his country’s 2004 lottery for the U.S. Diversity Visa Program, which his friends had secretly entered him into. After all, he was an Ethiopian teen idol, with a starring role on the country’s hit show “Police Program” and his photo plastered outside the county’s auspicious National Theatre. But his family convinced him to seize the opportunity, so he moved to the outskirts of Denver, where he eventually met Novo Coffee co-founder Joseph Brodsky at an Ethiopian restaurant. The two hit it off, and Semeon was hired into the family-run business.
Now he roasts almost all of Novo’s beans, spending his days quietly calibrating Novo’s old Italian roaster, tending to coffees from his homeland and other distant locales with a thoughtfulness and poise well beyond his 26 years. His efforts have paid off, garnering some of the highest scores ever on Coffee Review, a leading coffee guide.
These days, however, you won’t find Semeon by the roaster. Not long after he received his diagnosis, he returned to Ethiopia to spend time with his family. Meanwhile, his friends and colleagues around here have been rallying support and gathering funds to help pay for Semeon’s costly medical treatments as well as help him continue living a life of globetrotting adventures. To learn more about Semeon and donate to his cause, go here.
Soon there will be other ways to contribute, too. The burgeoning boutique coffee scene in Denver and Boulder is coalescing to help one of its own, and a series of fundraising events are in the works. Check back here for updates on upcoming barista competitions, coffee cuppings and toddy tutorials that should introduce a level of elite coffee culture rarely seen in these parts, all for Semeon’s benefit. You won’t want to miss it, since you’ll surely never have had coffee so sweet. – Joel Warner