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Coffee Conversations comes to Ft It is a cold and rainy January afternoon outside the windows of the Coffee Conversations shop in the Potomac Village Shopping Center in Fort Washington a perfect day for a warm drink. The shop is largely empty, save one customer finishing his cup. Owner Rudy Graham, seated at a high top table with his wife Wilmer, explains that the shop has only been open two weeks, and has yet to begin advertising. "We really wanted to get everything ironed out smoothly" before advertising, Rudy Graham says. He wants to make sure his staff is prepared to deliver service that matches the high bar he has set for them once business picks up. And the soft opening has given him the opportunity to get to know his new customers on a personal level. "I have learned more about the community in two weeks than I learned in the last 11 years of living here." "Word of mouth is getting around," Wilmer Graham adds. Coffee Conversations is one of several new gourmet coffees outlets to open in South County in recent months. Rudy Graham says that he decided to open his shop after retiring from a 20 year career as an engineer for Hewlitt Packard. He was looking for something different to do. "It's fun," he says. He remembers the way his friends from Washington State prodded him into the world of gourmet coffee when they came to visit a few years ago. "They would say, 'Where's the coffee?" he says, recalling their distaste for his aluminum can variety. Once introduced to his first steamy latte, Rudy Graham had an epiphany. "I said, 'Oh!, I get it. There's more to it.'" Graham pitched his idea for a coffee shop to Wilmer, and she embraced it. "I wasn't surprised; I was excited," she says. Starting in August 2002, the Grahams set out to test various lattes, cappuccinos and espressos around the country, honing their tastes and learning the subtleties of flavor in various coffee varieties. For their coffee shop, they settled on a Crimson Cup blend of beans from three continents. They also settled on a cozy look for the shop warm yellow walls, pressed copper ceiling tiles and a gas fireplace. "People want an experience," Wilmer Graham explains. She says the d sets a relaxing mood that lets customers escape the stress of shopping or unwind after a meal at a nearby restaurant. "They love the d They don't even realize they're still in the shopping center." Rudy Graham attributes the increase in gourmet coffee outlets in South County, not to the area's increasing affluence, but to West Coast cultural seepage infiltrating the community. "[The trend] moved across the county," he explains, due, in part, to the marketing muscle of the Starbucks chain. He says Starbucks has shown the world of gourmet coffee to a whole new consumer base, creating openings for small businesses to get into the action. "Starbucks is not my enemy. This is a great opportunity for local businesses." The Grahams hope to spin off a non profit companion entity that will donate profits to various community causes, upholding the shop's motto of "integrity, service, quality and community."