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.
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.
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 ?