2016 in Retrospect

It’s hard to believe 2016 is just about over. For many, it’s a sigh of relief. However, for District of Coffee, it’s been an exciting year full of coffee dates, writing (and rewriting), taking photos, making friends, lots and lots of coffee, and lots and lots of firsts.

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The coffee shop at Politics & Prose underwent a makeover in 2016 and reopened as The Den.

When we rang in the New Year just under a year ago, neither one of us had any plans for a coffee blog. We were just two highly-caffeinated ladies who enjoyed a fresh cup of joe and occasionally documenting it on our respective Instagram accounts. It wasn’t until the spring that we ever really interacted. I think it started with a photo of Danielle’s…while at Bakers & Baristas, she captured the Starbucks across the street and acknowledged the role the coffee giant has played in our culture over the decades. I commented about how I had once worked at Starbucks and appreciated her caption, and shortly thereafter I received a direct message. Danielle had seen an article on Perfect Daily Grind about specialty cafes in New York City – she was thinking about doing something for DC and wondered if I’d be interested.

We met a couple times, visited numerous coffee shops, documented all of our experiences, and eventually penned our own article for Perfect Daily Grind. After doing so we continued to keep in touch, occasionally floating the idea of a coffee blog. In late June we agreed to go for it and in late July published our first blog post. We were officially coffee bloggers!

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Behind the scenes at Grace Street Coffee. Their sneak peek was our first major blog post!

A lot has happened in 2016 – not just concerning us, but the DC coffee scene as a whole. Pineapple and Pearls, Grace Street Coffee, Commonwealth Joe, and Emissary opened their first brick and mortars. Compass Coffee and La Colombe have both opened two more locations and The Wydown its second store on H Street. Mocha Cafe and Pastry underwent a remodeling as did the coffee shop in Politics & Prose, now called The Den. We’ve come across nascent coffee roasters Katz District Coffee and passionate coffee pop-ups Penny Brew and Duality Espresso & Whiskey who are sure to continue making a splash into the new year. Jrink Juicery began serving its own tasty take on a latte. Luke’s Diner from Gilmore Girls made a stop in the District. And we have made many friends and established many partnerships that we look forward to cultivating as the coffee scene and our blog continues to grow.

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We’re pumped for what 2017 holds in store for us and all the coffee-lovers of DC! Stay tuned for some exciting posts in January, such as our feature of Lost Sock Coffee Roasters and a sneak peek at Swing’s newest location in downtown DC. Cheers to a Happy New Year!

Keep caffeinated,

Lauren

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Home for the Holidays

The holidays are finally here, and I for one couldn’t be more excited!

I write this to you from Shreveport, LA, as I have headed home to spend Christmas with family and friends. Seeing as I now rarely get to visit my hometown (what with a grownup job and all), my schedule when I do make the trip is always jam packed with lunches, happy hours, and coffee dates. As previously mentioned, my hometown doesn’t have much to offer in the way of specialty coffee. However, we do have Rhino Coffee which opened up my senior year of college. I love meeting friends for a cappuccino on their front patio or snuggling up in the back room with a book. The baristas are always welcoming, the coffee always fresh, and the atmosphere always comforting.

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DC fashion blogger @cobaltchronicles is also from Shreveport and often frequents Rhino when she is home.

On my @caffeinatethecapital Instagram page, I recently asked people to name their favorite hometown coffee shop and explain why they love it. I received many responses – from California to North Carolina, one even in Hungary! Below I highlight several of your hometown faves.

East Coast

Let’s move from East to West, shall we? If you’re from the tri-state area, Kahve in NYC or Boxwood Coffee in Summit, NJ, might be your go-to’s while home. And I hear Ragged Edge Coffee House in Gettysburg, PA, has become a staple for locals and tourists alike.

“Not only has great coffee and great food, but their giant glass windows make it easy to people watch while enjoying both!” -@stylishlytaylored on Prince Street Cafe in Lancaster, PA

South

I was excited to see someone mention their favorite hometown coffee shop being Cups in Jackson, MS, simply because it’s the only one of the coffee shops mentioned outside of the DMV that I’ve actually been to. A number of people who participated are from North Carolina, naming Talia Espresso, Anchor Coffee Co., Camino Bakery, and Crema Coffee and Bakery as their hometown faves.

“Amazing staff with amazing coffee and pastries. Can’t wait to have some for the holidays and pretty much every day until we leave.” -@liz_1105 on Theory Coffee Co. in San Antonio, TX

Midwest/West

Unfortunately, I know very little about this area of the country. However, by looking at the responses on Instagram, the Midwest has a lot to offer coffee-wise. If you’re from Iowa, maybe you like to frequent The Old Factory Coffee Shop or Smokey Row Coffee. If you’re from Michigan, maybe it’s Roast and Toast Cafe or State Street Coffee.

“They roast and brew their own coffee locally! Plus both their cafe locations are absolutely beautiful and perfect for an Instagram photo or two.” -@honnofor on Boxcar Coffee Roasters in Denver, CO

West Coast

The West Coast is in some way the coffee mecca of the United States. Seattle and Portland are both huge on the coffee scene. However, according to you guys, California also serves up some competition with Lavendar & Honey Espresso Bar in Pasadena and A’Roma Roasters in Santa Rosa.

“Sister owned ChadLou’s is the most amazing small coffee shop. You can smell the ocean, and it’s the best place to curl up with a book.” -@ashworthashley on ChadLou’s Coffee Roasters in Kailua, HI

Local

I admittedly often forget that for many, the DMV is home. And so, for those of you that are local, some of the hometown favorites are Vigilante Coffee, Java Shack, Bourbon Coffee, and Killer ESP.

“Not only can you get a great coffee, but you also support a great community mission!” -@ad2dc on The Potter’s House in Washington, DC

International

Two international coffee shops that were given a shout out were Camden Coffee House in London and Espresso Embassy in Budapest. Considering both of these cities are on my hopefully-soon-to-visit list of destinations, I am keeping these cafes in mind for my future travels.

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Rhino Coffee is all lit up for the holidays

It’s only been 24 hours, and I’ve already hit up Rhino once… Whether you are home for the holidays or not, I hope everyone is celebrating the holidays with a hot cup of coffee and people they love!

Keep caffeinated,

Lauren

 

Favorite digs in the District

Do you have a favorite coffee shop in DC?

I was recently reading a blogpost about what it takes to make your coffee shop stand apart from the rest, and it made me wonder what my cafe would look like if I had one. What is it that draws me back in, time after time? What are the factors that are important to us when evaluating coffee shops? Skim over the categories or look more in depth about some DC digs:

  • Coffee taste. Is it consistent- do you generally get the same great cup every time? Places like Filter Coffee and Chinatown Coffee Co always deliver for me.
  • Size. Are you always counting your lucky stars when you find a table? Do you like sharing a couch with someone and partaking in your community? Colony Club always seems to have options and that little couch area is big enough to carve out your own space or cozy enough to chat with your seat mates.
  • Space. Natural light? Couches or chairs? Stand-up bar? Not too hot, not too cold? Compass Coffee has made great choices with their sky light and have stand up bars at a few locations too.
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    A perfect pour over at Chinatown Coffee Co.
  • Decor. This one is tricky. Do you like it homey or modern? Woodsy or clean? Full of personal decorations that make it unique, or uncluttered and ready to have you get to work? Grace St Coffee has a clean modern look, yet reclaimed wood for their tables – the best of both worlds. Qualia and The Coffee Bar (S St) are like hanging out in my friend’s living room.
  • Menu (drinks). Do you like a cafe that transitions to a bar at night? Do you like a cafe that experiments with coffee drinks and creates unique concoctions or are you a purist? Do they have alternate dairy options? Home made syrups? Lots of cafes played around with fall favorites in the area – places like Swing’s also got creative for the holidays. Tryst and Slipstream turn boozy, and The Wydown recently followed suit.
  • Menu (food). I often judge my cafes by their pastries. Nothing ruins my day like a dry croissant! Philz sources their munch options from different vendors so there is always variety. Some bake in-house like The Wydown. Do you like cafes that offer sandwiches beyond the standard pastry? A full menu like Maketto?

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    Homemade scones at The Wydown
  • Baristas. Does someone greet you when you first come in (sincerely not because they’re forced to?) If you go regularly do they know your name, or more importantly, your go-to drink? At Grace St I always see people get greeted like old friends.
  • Wi-fi. Are you here to work? Or do you grin when you see the no wi-fi sign reminding you to connect with people face-to-face again? On that note, outlets?! Commonwealth Joe offers a few separate areas – with outlets and without.
  • Location. Obviously convenience to your work or home, but also, is there parking? Is it feasible during a snowstorm? Is it next door to Trader Joe’s so you can run a few errands while you’re at it? Filter in Brookland is connected to a bike shop if your spandex is stretched out!
  • Outdoor space. Patio? Terrace? Shade via umbrellas or plants? Big Bear Cafe is a summer favorite with their vine-y canopy.

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    Green terrace at Big Bear Cafe
  • Brew methods. Pour over, french press, Aeropress, espresso drinks, nitro, drip. For a while I was on a pour over kick but lately I’m into cappuccinos again. For an Aeropress I head over to Zeke’s or Vigilante and for a cappuccino I found a hidden gem at Society Fair in Alexandria.
  • Hours. Do they open early before you have to get to the office? Stay open late for that coffee date or study session?
  • Roaster. Do you like the hum of the roaster and the toasty fragrance wafting over? Does your cafe sell bags of beans? Do they sell smaller samples so you can try different coffees at home? At Qualia they’ll weigh out smaller portions for you during non-rush times.
  • Multiple locations. You know what you like and you want it when you want it. Does your favorite cafe have multiple locations? I know I can get an amazing cortado at The Coffee Bar when I’m shopping near S St, and when I’m working near Dupont Circle.

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    Foolproof cortado at The Coffee Bar
  • Coffee with a cause. Do you know if your cafe supports a specific cause or charity? As a veteran I love Dog Tag’s non profit mission, and Ebenezers is operated by a community church. Some cafes feel strongly about certain causes and donate proceeds or put on events. Bourbon Coffee only works with small lot farmers in Rwanda.
  • Music. Jazz to help you study? Hip Hop to keep you energized? Live music nights? Not too loud that you can still catch up with your friends?
  • Affordability. Are the standard coffees and offerings reasonably priced? If steep, is there a justifiable reason like premium ingredients and local sourcing and sustainability? Do they offer refills on drip coffee? Vigilante just came out with a premium Kona bean that runs higher than most but it’s a gem. Most cafes source local dairy.
  • Activities. Do they sell the weekend paper or are their copies available for perusing? If you’re tracking your tykes in with you, is a kids play area important to you? Open City at the National Cathedral has activity kits for kids by the entrance, and Buzz Bakeshop in Alexandria has a whole kids section.
  • Non-snobbery. Are you comfortable chatting with your barista about your coffee? I read somewhere that 80 % of baristas are obsessed with coffee (I’m sure that’s a reliable fact, haha) and therefore you’d assume they love talking shop. My most interesting coffee conversations usually happen at The Coffee Bar (and sadly, at Caffe Aficionado before they closed).
  • Instagrammability. I mentioned light before, but are you pretty guaranteed to get some pretty latte art? A cute mug that will kill the composition of your shot? A pretty background? Does the cafe give props when you post, or even regram customer shots? Some people love the unique serving ware at La Colombe, and you can’t get a bad shot at Pineapple and Pearls. There is a window table at La Mano that makes me pull out my camera phone every time.

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    Well-lit marble table at La Mano
  • Caffeination education. Do they host cuppings, or classes and workshops? Tastings to help refine your palette? Vigilante, Peregrine, and the Counter Culture lab offer classes while lots of cafes have weekly tastings and cuppings.
  • Spirit. Do they get festive for any and all occasions? Decorate pumpkins and don ugly sweaters during the holidays?
  • Technology. Do they offer pre-ordering or have an app?
  • Rewards. Do they punch your card and hook you up with a free bevy after 10 lattes? All the Tryst cafes do. Participate in programs like the Indy Coffee Passport (so sad they’re not running that this year)?
  • Gear. Do they sell filters when you’re in desperate need, and equipment for when you’re ready to treat yourself? Do they have coffee shop swag with fabulous branding? Most specialty shops in the area sell gear- The Wydown has a very impressive collection of brewing equipment.
  • Professionalism. Can you pick the barista out of a crowd? Do barista aprons tickle your fancy?

The list is long and I haven’t found that one cafe that scores in every.single.category but it is a pretty demanding checklist. I am highly satisfied with my neighborhood cafe (especially since they switched their pastry vendor 🙂 and who knows, maybe one day I’ll get to build my own lego cafe in real life.

What are some of your favorite coffee shops? What are your criteria that you evaluate cafes on? We want to hear from you!

Stay grounded,

Daniëlle

Coffee & Conflict: Fueling the Civil War

“Nobody can soldier without coffee.” –Union cavalryman Ebenezer Nelson Gilpin

It’s been a while since my last rendition of “Coffee and Conflict.” Previously I had talked about how coffee came to be America’s drink following the Boston Tea Party. Today I explain how coffee legitimately helped fuel the Civil War.

Coffee had become a wartime staple for soldiers thanks to President Andrew Jackson. In 1832 he signed an Executive Order adding coffee and sugar to the list of army rations. In 1859, Sharps Rifle Co. began producing a rifle with a hand grinder built into the handle that soldiers would use to ground their beans. So when the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Union soldiers were all set to be caffeinated.

Coffee was the soldiers’ fuel. They drank it at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They drank it before going to battle, returning from battle, and during all the downtime in between. According to the New York Times, the word “coffee” showed up in Union soldiers’ diaries more often than “rifle,” “bullet,” “war,” “Lincoln,” and “cannon.” Soldiers would write about how they craved coffee, the wonderful cup of joe they had a breakfast, or the awful cup that they somehow managed to consume. General Benjamin Butler used coffee to his advantage, ordering his men to carry coffee in their canteens and waiting to strike right when the caffeine kicked in. Oftentimes, if there was no time to prepare coffee before heading out, soldiers would chew on whole beans.

During the famous Battle of Antietam (the bloodiest single-day battle of the Civil War), it was coffee that revived the soldiers after a long morning of fighting. A young William McKinley (yes, future president of the United States) came under heavy fire to deliver vats of hot coffee to the waning Ohio regiment. Following battle, their officer remarked on the difference in energy and morale after their little coffee break. This particular instance is commemorated on a monument in Antietam.

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This plaque at Antietam commemorates future president William McKinley delivering coffee to Union soldiers.

The Confederacy was caught on the wrong side of history in more ways than one. While Union soldiers had ample access to coffee, Confederate soldiers had to scrounge for measly amounts, in great part due to the Union blockade (New Orleans had previously been the primary port). When they couldn’t find coffee, they would try to make substitutes out of rye, rice, sweet potatoes, nuts, corn, beets…anything really. If Confederate soldiers were to get their hands on some coffee, it would be due to informal truces where they would swap their tobacco for the North’s coffee. Citizens in the South also suffered from coffee-deprivation. They exchanged creative recipes, craving something dark and hot. One Arkansas person wrote into the local newspaper “describing his or her favorite coffee recipe using tan bark, old cigar stumps, and water, all boiled in a dirty coffee pot.” *Please excuse me while I gag*

Is coffee the reason the Union won the war? Who is to say? Though probably not… However, there is no denying that it fueled our soldiers and nurses, providing energy and inspiration as they fought for the freedoms of themselves and others. One final note, coffee might have been the last drink President Lincoln enjoyed before being assassinated. A White House servant saw him place a coffee mug down as he was heading out to Ford’s theater that fateful night in 1865. The mug is now on display in the Smithsonian.

Stay tuned for the next “Coffee and Conflict” where I talk about the role of coffee during World War I. In the meantime, what do you think about the role coffee played during the Civil War?

Keep caffeinated,

Lauren

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Coffee pot from the Civil War era