Tryst: Setting a DC Standard

Lauren and I really dig the DC coffee scene and clearly so do all of you. From my rough count there are over 30 Indie coffee shops in the area, and even more establishments that aren’t purely coffee shops but certainly take their coffee seriously.

So where did it all start? Since discovering Swing’s coffee I’ve been pretty impressed that they’ve been around for 100 years in some shape or form (I mean seriously – World War I? They survived the Depression? Props).

But I wanted to know when specialty coffee really hit the scene, so after a little digging (read me – googling), it came down to Tryst. A few emails later I was sitting down with Tryst owner Constantine and their beverage director David and we did my favorite thing ever: we talked coffee.

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When Constantine first opened Tryst in 1998 he really wanted to highlight coffee culture. He wanted a place that was comfortable and where you could work, read, or meet up with friends. For those of you who have been, it looks like three or four living rooms adjacent to each other. Constantine wanted a “third place” besides work and home that people could escape to. But it was about more than just atmosphere, he wanted to serve quality drinks.

I wish I could have been a long-term fly on the wall back then because the incredible dedication Constantine and David had to providing the best coffee imaginable is a real testament. They were spending hours and days at the roastery tweaking blends and processing alongside the roasters trying to master the perfect coffee.

They spent months working out their water filtration system because water has the greatest impact on the brew. They eventually replaced it, just for the coffee.

When they started partnering with Counter Culture Coffee in 2006 their relationship became so strong that when CC decided to open a training center in DC, the folks at Tryst found the lab and helped them set it up.

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Tryst beverage director David at a cupping at the Counter Culture Lab

He tells me that he had a complete light bulb moment when he realized he also wanted to serve beer, wine and cocktails in case people weren’t in the mood for coffee. His wife responded “Yeah, it’s called a cafe.” She’s French. God I love her.

They craft their cocktails, they craft their own syrups. And of course they have table service, because it’s your job to sit there and relax/work/hang out, not worry about standing in line for a refill.

They care about where their coffee comes from and they care about presenting it at its finest, be it through precision pour overs or masterly blended cappuccinos.

It is evident that the team members at Tryst value their work as artisan. “Baristas” and “bartenders” are the same thing and we tend to forget that. But to Constantine it is about building a coffee community. Establishing trust with the community through proper sourcing of the coffee. Dedicating time to training, pulling proper shots, and setting the right grind. All while being unpretentious.

When Constantine opened Tryst his goals were humble but ambitious. Of course there were others before him and he happily welcomed new coffee shops to the scene like Peregrine and Filter. Still he was practically a decade ahead of many other specialty coffee shops we now know and love in the District.

With six establishments under his name and a reputation that is unmistakable, he feels rather optimistic about the DC Coffee Scene.

“I think DC can be the Seattle of the East Coast.” Perhaps even… the District of Coffee?

What do you think of DC’s impact on coffee ?

Stay Grounded,

Danielle

 

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La Colombe Doubles DC Presence in Less Than a Month

La Colombe first hit the DC coffee scene in 2014 with its quirky, quaint café situated in Blagden Alley. Their second local shop didn’t open in Chinatown until fall 2015. And now, in less than a month, La Colombe has doubled its DC presence with its Manhattan Laundry and REI grand openings on October 1 and October 21, respectively. It’s exciting to think we featured the fan favorite in our first article together for Perfect Daily Grind, and now it’s expanding at such a quick rate!

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La Colombe’s third DC location at Manhattan Laundry offers lots of space and light

Located adjacent to WeWork, the Manhattan Laundry location on Florida Avenue is open and bright, with La Colombe’s signature large windows, exposed brick, and clean, sleek furniture. The building is on the National Register of Historic places, and La Colombe has done a great job at preserving its natural beauty. There is ample seating and lots of light, perfect for a coffee date with an old friend or cramming for that exam next week.

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Enjoying a geisha pour over and draft latte on my first visit to Manhattan Laundry (please excuse my pastry crumbs)

It seemed everyone and their mother was incredibly stoked at the opening of the REI flagship store in NoMa (see the marching band strike up some spirit on our Twitter feed), which includes DC’s fourth La Colombe. This building also contains a lot of history, being the site of The Beatles’ first US concert. Hundreds lined up early this past Friday morning (or camped out overnight- how apropos) for the grand opening, and La Colombe not only provided coffee for those waiting outside, but they offered free coffee to visitors Saturday and Sunday. The café will have its own entrance and hours for those needing their caffeine fix before REI opens for the day.

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La Colombe’s fourth DC location is tucked inside REI’s new flagship store in NoMa

The company plans on opening its fifth local store in Farragut Square, though the date on that is still to be determined. However, one thing is for certain…La Colombe is definitely carving out a space for themselves on the DC coffee scene.

[UPDATE: La Colombe at 1710 I Street (near Farragut Square) is now open!]

We’d like to know, what’s your favorite La Colombe location?

Stay caffeinated,

Lauren

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Taking in the scene at REI’s grand opening

Sneak Peek Inside Commonwealth Joe

Last week as the sun began to rise over the Bartlett Apartments at Pentagon City, we sipped on Ethiopian pour-overs and marveled at the space around us. Commonwealth Joe’s first brick and mortar was just gearing up for the day, part of their soft opening process. We took a seat in their soon-to-be SCAA-certified coffee lab and talked with Operations Manager Mike Peterson on Commonwealth Joe’s history, brand, and hopes for the future.

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Commonwealth Joe started as a wholesale business in 2012, but their story began almost a decade ago. Robert Peck was a barista at a coffee shop in Culpepper, VA, and his mother was the coffee roaster. When the shop closed, his mother bought the roaster and they continued to roast beans in the garage for their friends, family, and eventually farmer’s markets. Originally warned to stay away from retail, Peck and his college buddies-turned-business partners took a risk and purchased The Java Shack in 2015. They have learned a lot over the past year, observing and maintaining a system that had worked for nearly twenty years and beginning to improve upon it. In April The Java Shack was named the Washington City Paper’s “Best Coffee Shop of 2016.” But if you’re expecting The Java Shack when you walk into Commonwealth Joe at Pentagon City, you’ll receive quite a shock.

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Rich wood tones, accented by brass, denim, and bold blacks create a welcoming space that encourages one to linger; the wall above the coffee bar is made of Japanese tempered wood and graduates from light to dark, mimicking the coffee roasting process; a separate glass-enclosed room with sliding doors converts into a lab that will be used for cuppings and other community events… overall the cafe has a clean and modern look that is still warm and indulgent: this is all part of Commonwealth Joe’s recent rebranding.

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The shop offers drip coffee for those on the go and pour-overs for those who want to stay a while. The blend used for their espresso drinks contains notes of chocolate, peanut butter, and strawberry and works well with or without milk. It’s important for the shop to select beans that are expressive to what coffee can be, Peterson explains. He remarks at the artisanal and romantic aspect of coffee, something Commonwealth Joe hopes to relay to its customers while making it simple for everyone to appreciate. Their single-origin beans are available for retail.

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Supportive of local business, they use craft chocolate shavings and powder from nearby chocolatier Kingsbury Chocolates & Confections for their hot chocolate and mochas. Their wide array of loose leaf teas come from House of Steep in Arlington and their baked goods from Junction Bakery in Alexandria.

In addition to the aforementioned beverages, it’s the carefully created and tested cold brew recipes that really set Commonwealth Joe apart. Commonwealth Joe is offering not one, not two, but five different cold brew options (including one decaf), and they plan to offer flights of cold brew on their menu soon.

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During the warmer months, you might find their baristas pedaling trikes up the road to serve you nitro cold brew, which certainly has helped in getting their name out there. They also service 20+ offices in the DC area with their cold brew kegerators. Commonwealth Joe every day in the office? That would definitely make work more enjoyable.

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In the coming years Commonwealth Joe hopes to move their roaster up from Culpepper, VA, but for now their goal is to make really good coffee approachable, and we think they are on track to do just that in their new, inviting, well thought out space.

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Their official grand opening is tomorrow, October 22, with a party from 9am to 3pm. They will offer free drip coffee and 50% off pour overs, nitro cold brew, and espresso-based drinks.

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Have you had a chance to check them out? We love to hear from you!

Keep Caffeinated & Stay Grounded,

Lauren and Daniëlle

Roaster of the Month: Zeke’s

What would Washington, DC be without Zeke’s?

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Zeke’s has been a Baltimore institution since 2005, and it was almost happenstance that they are in the District. John Kepner was working the grind at a DC non-profit while becoming increasingly interested in his uncle’s coffee roasting business, spending a lot of time commuting to Baltimore. At some point he realized he would find more joy if he flip-flopped his profession with his volunteer time; he came on board with Zeke’s full-time, eventually adding the roastery in DC three years ago.

Even then, he hadn’t necessarily planned on the cafe. They would roast beans in the back and offer some pour over coffees and tastings in the front, but the neighborhood was eager for more, and eventually it became a full-fledged cafe.

They continue to be a roaster first and foremost, offering about 45 (you read that right!) varieties of single origin and custom blends. Just about all of their beans are specialty grade (the exception being the occasional decaf non-specialty), and mostly organic. They support sustainability and use a combination of importer beans and direct trade.

2016 is a great year for Zeke’s: they installed a new roaster earlier in the year that greatly increased their roasting capacity and is better for the environment and neighborhood. They just updated their labels to include more information and roast profiles, and are now using heat sealed bags to keep the beans freshest. [They still deliver to their wholesale partners once a week (and more if needed!), within a few days of roasting to again ensure freshness.] If you follow Zeke’s on Instagram you’ll have noticed more storage capacity – increased production is on the horizon!

We featured Zeke’s in our first article together for Perfect Daily Grind – we’re on a great journey watching them grow.

The stats:

Roaster manufacturer: Loring S15 Falcon
Calibration Program/software: Loring – still relying on sight/smell but working with Loring program for consistency
Capacity: Approximately 25 lb per batch output
Roasting schedule: Roasting 5 days a week
Bean sourcing (direct trade/importers): Mix – Royal Coffee, some single source importers
Cuppings frequency: Daily for quality control and staff tastings
Packaging: Heat sealed bags – New
Where to buy: Currently offering retail at coffee shop; 15 farmers markets; mail-order or pick-up Coffee Club; Local stores such as Glen’s Garden Market, most MoM’s in the Beltway; other cafes like Bullfrog Bagels and Sugar Shack donuts, AND: soon expanding – stay tuned!
BONUS:
Personal favorite region: Guatemala
Recommendation that’s on the shelf now: Night of the Living Blend (Happy Halloween!)

What’s your favorite Zeke’s coffee? Sound off in the comments!

Stay grounded,

Daniëlle