For Nabeel Silmi, founder and co-owner of the Mission District’s Grand Coffee, fasting means Ramadan. The holiday is a month-long fast during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and this year it takes place from Wednesday, March 22 through April 21. There’s no eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset and as a practicing Muslim, Silmi says the first three days of Ramadan are extremely difficult due to caffeine withdrawal. So he’s put together a Ramadan gift box with four bags of coffee — one for each week of the fast. “I know your pain,” Silmi says. “And there aren’t many late-night cafes in San Francisco to break fast. I want to stockpile your coffee.”
The $80 box includes three single-origin coffees plus the small roaster’s La Llave blend, where a portion of that roast’s sales always goes to the Middle East Children’s Alliance. The idea is to work through the bags with one’s friends and family, or before the sun comes up, to get things going. Since fasting lasts until sunset, Silmi points out Ramadan gets progressively harder as each day gets longer by a minute or two while spring turns toward summer. Clocks also just sprang forward, making the adjustment all the harder. When he would observe the holiday in Palestine, Silmi would break his fast with a date, a glass of milk, and a cup of coffee. He says he’d then go for a few hours of prayer, but there aren't many late-night options for the proverbial date and milk for those who opt to break fast right away in San Francisco. “Cafe Greco in North Beach used to be the spot,” Silmi says of places he would break fast once upon a time.
The first week and some change are already in the bag, but Grand Coffee will sell the gift box through the whole holiday. Coffee is a big part of Ramadan for Silmi — the Palestinian American, who grew up in both San Francisco and Palestine, remembers friends and family coming together to celebrate each night. In that spirit, he’d like to reopen the shop at 8:30 or 9 p.m. for a Ramadan pop-up, if his customers are into the idea. For a bit of nosh, he’s a big fan of Baklava Story and is hoping to bring them to the shop for the event; if nothing else Silmi could tap in with family to make qatayef, a type of cheese and walnut crepe that is also known as katayef, atayef, or qata’if, in different places. “Coffee’s been such an important part of Islamic civilization,” Silmi says. “It’s a tool to stay awake, just like it was for the monks when it was first discovered.”