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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have you had a chance to check them out? We love to hear from you!
Keep Caffeinated & Stay Grounded,
Lauren and Daniëlle