With Slipstream opening their second location this weekend and Vigilante rolling out “Table Service” full time in their café, we thought it high time to talk about it. What is Table Service and how does it fit into DC coffee?
Part of the Third Wave of coffee is the concept of offering higher quality everything for customers: coffee, water filtration, food pairing, atmosphere.. The Second Wave was about convenience, but now people want to offer more of a third space for their customers – a place away from home and work where they can commune with others.
In regions like Europe and Australia, table service is seen more often than not – it’s the norm and the anticipated. Leave the hurried life behind for a moment while you enjoy a delicious cup of coffee with a friend and unwind. On a recent trip to New York, in fact, I was reminded of the concept at the Australian café “Citizens of Chelsea,” and time slowed down for a few moments.
Cafes like Slipstream and the Busboys and Poets on 14th Street NW naturally have table service as their menu is a bit more expansive than a typical coffee shop (I bring up that particular BB&P because it has a large café-type area in addition to their restaurant with couches and coffee tables). Coffee-focused cafes like Tryst and now Vigilante also offer a different coffee shop experience, one that is meant to be relaxing and stress free.
As Austin pointed out in Vigilante’s blog, no more pacing around the drink bar waiting for your coffee, hoping no one else accidentally snatches yours. (Don’t worry – if you’re in a hurry you can still order your drink to-go!). You no longer feel the pressure to blurt out your order as you’re trying to read the tasting notes of the single origins on the menu. Another plus: chat with the barista when they bring you your drink, they will be less rushed than if they were just working on drinks all day.
What do you think about table service in DC? How does it affect your workday or your meet-up with friends?
Sometimes I look forward to that cortado like nobody’s business, I can almost taste it on my way to a cafe. That first sip can turn my day around.
I grew up in Europe so my standards for a croissant are extremely high (at 7-Elevens in Sweden, for example, croissants are baked on the premises each morning. No individually-bagged, week-old dry croissants, even at the corner store). I love being able to pull the flaky layers apart one by one, savoring each buttery bite.
And seating, that’s an obvious choice. If I want my coffee to go, I generally just make some at home. If I can afford the luxury of time, I love to linger and sink into a seat at a cafe and stay a while. People-watch, read the local section of the paper, get some work done in the company of others.
Great coffee, a comfortable place to sit, and a soft croissant.
When those three ‘needs’ are met, you will likely see me time and again, getting lost in a good book or catching up with a friend.
[Point of clarification: There are certain pastry flavors (think blueberry or cinnamon) that can really complement coffee, but more often than not I go with a simple savory bite – I relish the occasional sweet treat but I also like to stay balanced and not waste my workouts 🙂 Plus, Lauren and I are suckers for alliteration so croissants and cortados were the obvious choice!]
Do you have your favorite pastry vendors and their partner cafes memorized like I do? What is your perfect trifecta and where do you find it?
Lauren is an avid yoga enthusiast (even goes on Yoga retreats) and I am a Tony Horton convert – a forever and loyal P90Xer. I used to hate working out – sure I’d run, clear my head- but the times that I would REcommit myself to a gym and a complimentary personal training session, I would always be reminded that to increase bone density I needed to lift weights.
So now I power through my workouts in the morning, but even though I love them (and I love it when people notice that I work out ;)) it’s not always easy to start that warm up.
Unless I’ve had my coffee.
Caffeine gives us a buzz. It wakes us up and energizes us. Caffeine can increase the release of dopamine – simply put, a compound that makes us feel good. So it makes sense that having a cup of coffee about 30 minutes before our workout would give us that nudge that we need.
Caffeine can also help blood circulation, thus moving more oxygen to your tissues. And in studies on the performance of athletes, that performance is typically increased when there is caffeine involved- perhaps it’s psychological but I’ll go with that. And the antioxidant bioflavonoids that are so beneficial in coffee? They lose their effectiveness after the coffee is ground, so in addition to tasting better, freshly ground coffee is also better for you.
Furthermore, the chemical compound adenosine is what helps us sleep, and caffeine helps block its receptors. It takes about 20-40 minutes for caffeine to travel through your intestines, through your bloodstream, to your brain. More proof that it’s a good idea.
Grace Street Coffee paired up with Lululemon in December for a “coffee nap.” [Grace Street Coffee’s general manager Angel is a Lululemon Brand Ambassador]. For the coffee nap guests were offered a cup of Indian Yelnoorkhan Estate coffee and then invited to lay comfortably on a yoga mat for 20 minutes (sleeping helps to naturally clear some of that adenosine). At that point, after the caffeine was absorbed and working its magic, they ran through some revitalizing yoga poses, using the caffeine to its maximum potential.
The owner of Filter Coffeehouse is an avid cyclist and made headlines a few years ago when he opened his Brookland location- where they share their space with the cycling shop ‘The Bike Rack.” Here you can get caffeinated and have your chain lubed at the same time. Once that caffeine is in place to block that adenosine, you’ll be ready to hop on and get moving.
A few notes: be sure to keep hydrating – while coffee is liquid, it is also a diuretic and it’s important to stay hydrated! I always down a tall glass of water before I start on my morning coffee ritual. Another consideration – while I assumed the best way to do this was to drink your coffee black, it’s a good idea to have a flat white and let the protein in the milk to do its work too!
For a few more tips on creative and productive foods – check out my ramen lifting friend’s article on Spoon University (the list includes chocolate!)!
I can think of quite a few other cafes that are near gyms or trails in the DC area. What are some of your caffeine/workout routines?
With so many exciting things rolling out for Vigilante Coffee, we are thrilled to feature them as our Roaster of the Month and share in their progress with you.
In the Beginning…
The concept of Vigilante Coffee began years ago, when Chris Vigilante was living in Hawaii. Quite the opposite of what you often find when cafe owners get into the business, Chris started out seeing coffee grown on the farm, and eventually started roasting, whole selling, and then getting into retail. Along the way he was joined by partners Austin and Ashley who each bring unique perspectives to the team and help the company grow and flourish.
Austin first met Chris when Austin was working the DC scene and Chris was a barista. They became friends and started roasting coffee together in the basement of Austin’s apartment. When they realized they were producing really good coffee they started selling wholesale and farmer’s markets (they’ve been at Eastern Market for five years now). Next they started hosting pop-up cafes and the success there really changed the game.
When a loyal customer caught wind that they were looking for a more expansive roastery, he introduced the team to a bright open space in Hyattsville that he would share with them while he continued to use part of the garage as his office. The community, however, kept inquiring when they were going to serve coffee rather than just roast it, and the friendly pressure gave way to the cafe it is today.
It’s such a great community, in fact, that when they were looking for a place to expand, that was their number one priority. A great community to grow into, in addition to a good space and an excellent relationship with a new landlord. They landed on College Park, Maryland, and are excited to open in September of this year.
Finding the Unique in the Second-Most Traded Commodity in the World.
What sets Vigilante apart? We think it’s their dedication to education and their desire to build relationships with their partners.
Austin heads up the education program and they offer classes several times a week in their new lab, both to their wholesale partners and the general public (you can register through the link on their website). They cover everything from different brew methods, to the history of espresso, to basic latte art.
If you follow Vigilante on social media you’ll notice they spend significant time at origin, sourcing new coffee and growing their coffee community with the producers. Awan and Chris are the green buyers for Vigilante coffee and they’ve seen how making connections with farmers allows the quality of the coffee to skyrocket. The directness of the chain is a major focus for Vigilante.
We’ve seen before how this can be a two-way street and through their relationships they’ve been able to offer programs like harvesting incentives to their producers. Another perk is trying new innovative methods with the producers, like having them ferment the coffee in tea water. When working through importers they can select a certain flavor profiles and the importer might come back with 10 farms that can offer those that season.
Always Striving for Improvement
In addition to growing their cafes, Austin is also excited to tell us about service style! Called the Vigilante Experience, they are now offering table service in the evenings with the intention of rolling this out full-time soon. Throughout their travels they’ve all seen how relaxing full service cafes are, when their is a major focus on presentation and fulfilling all aspects of the customer experience. In a hurry? Your server will take your order electronically on your way to a table so they can get started on it right away. Prefer a splash of milk in your coffee? Your servers can better help you narrow down which coffee suits your needs and what complements them. We are excited to experience this for ourselves soon!
Take a look at the stats, and let us know what you love about Vigilante Coffee in the comments!
Roaster’s’ experience and a clipboard!
Approximately 25 lb per batch output
3 – it takes about 15-18 minutes per roast
Lbs per day/week:
About 2,000 pounds a week
Bean sourcing (direct trade/importers):
Mix – Direct importers like Caravela and Ninety Plus, and personally built direct trade
Daily for the roasters, weekly for staff (keeping it interesting by cupping the same bean 6 ways, cupping defects, etc).
The first time I heard about Matcha was years ago when a friend recommended a Green Tea Latte from Starbucks. My younger, naive self thought it was amazing (albeit way too sweet) and set out to make some at home, only to realize that Matcha wasn’t like a regular green tea.
(Skip ahead if you just want to read about Matcha in DC!)
Regular tea consists of tea leaves that are dried, then steeped in water and discarded; matcha is leaves that are stone ground to a fine powder, consumed entirely (stems and veins excepted). When matcha powder is combined with a liquid it is ‘suspended’ – meaning it can separate if it sits, which is why you often find some of the powder in the bottom of your cup when you finish your drink.
Health experts tout the many benefits of matcha, citing powerful antioxidants (more concentrated than in steeped tea, and that help fight cancer and heart disease), dietary fiber, and lower caffeine content that is also absorbed slower by your body (this gets pretty nerdy about the caffeine binding to certain stable molecules and releasing slower into the bloodstream). Because the leaves are ingested, they are grown with more care, being covered before the harvest to keep the leaves shaded.
Similar to Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony, the Japanese celebrate with matcha during a traditional tea ceremony, where they use a higher quality matcha called Koicha that is very thick. The ceremony is meant to promote mindfulness and to cherish the encounter. What you commonly see in cafes is Usucha tea, which has a much thinner consistency when prepared.
Matcha in DC:
We went to The Royal on U Street to get some caffeination education on matcha, where I talked to Jay Suh who is in charge of their coffee program. The Royal started serving matcha latte 6-7 months after their opening to add creativity to their menu and to offer an alternative for those wishing to keep their caffeine intake lower (and to adorn our Instagram feeds with vibrant green latte art).
They source their powder from Japan through SerendipiTea. While they used to whisk their matcha latte from powder, they now streamline the process by making a matcha syrup in house: 1 part culinary grade matcha powder to six parts simple syrup. It’s combined in a blender and keeps at room temperature for a week and half.
Next comes the exciting part. One ounce of the syrup is added to a beautiful stoneware cup and Jay adds some steamed milk and stirs to incorporate it. Just like making a cappuccino, he then begins to combine the milk in such a way that it creates a gorgeous heart in the cup. The light microfoam perfectly complements the rich and subtly sweet matcha.
Jay, who lived in Korea for part of his childhood, is also the creative genius behind their black sesame latte (with sweetened black sesame paste), colorful Valentine’s white chocolate mocha (with cardamom and cinnamon) and other seasonal drinks. They will soon start serving a rainbow latte made with banana puree and more promising colors like those found in the Instagrammable egg nog confetti latte.
Some other places to find a great matcha latte in DC: The Wydown, a Baked Joint/Baked and Wired, Chinatown Coffee, and Zeke’s coffee; Maketto, where they sweeten their drink with some condensed milk upon request, or coconut milk in their iced version; and Grace Street Coffee where they use their celebrated vanilla bean syrup for a little sweetness and concoct other drinks with it like matcha tonic.
Do you know of other notable DC cafes that serve matcha to impress?
It’s been a couple months since we have had the chance to feature a local barista on the blog, and we’re excited to pick back up again with Chelsea Riggs from Cafe Kindred! I sat down with Chelsea last Saturday as she was ending her shift, and our conversation meandered from coffee to community to government.
Where are you from, and what brought you to Café Kindred?
I’m originally from Northern Virginia. I grew up all over the East Coast, but my family settled in Centreville when I was in third grade. I went to high school and everything out here. I went to California to go to school…I stayed out there for about two years…I was in the Bay Area, living in Oakland and Berkeley. And then I moved back here in 2012 and moved in with some friends in Falls Church, and yeah, I worked at Starbucks for like two years. And then in about February 2015 – yeah, going on 2 years now – I started working as an insurance agent. I got the job from a customer who came in like 3 times a day, and she was like, “Come work for me!” And I hated it. It was absolutely miserable. [. . .] So I started working here in June of last year. I was calling around to different coffee shops…something that I really liked about Starbucks was that they were so big on coffee education, but it made me kind of sad because it’s like now I know all this stuff about coffee – how it tastes and the roasting process – and it could be so much better.
I started working here, and it’s been awesome. They’ve been open – it’ll be two years in April – so it’s super small, very independent, and it’s something that we’re really proud of. We’re really involved with the other local businesses in the area. Jen and Gary, the owners, they’re married. They’re longtime restaurant industry people, super involved with the community. We have people from Bikenetic – they’re a full service bike shop down the street – they come in all the time. We sponsor their bike team. Action Music and CD Cellar – they’re Falls Church staples, they’re institutions in this community – they had their holiday party here, and we’ve got a bunch of vinyl records. A lot of the vintage stereo equipment is on loan from Action.
It’s like there’s a music theme here. What’s that about?
Gary’s Irish, so there’s a lot of British music. They love The Smiths, they love Paul Weller, that sort of sound. We’re also really into punk. We love punk around here, which is kind of what really drew me to it initially. I came in, and I was like, “This is dope.” I come into work, and The Libertines are playing, and I’m like, “This is awesome.”
How long have you been into coffee? Did it start with Starbucks, or was it before then?
It was Starbucks. I didn’t really drink coffee before working there. I was very interested in it, but caffeine just affected me like very strongly since I never really drank it before. It doesn’t do that anymore, sadly.
What have you learned about coffee since coming here?
Vigilante provides our beans here, and they are killer. They’re so fantastic. They work super closely with us. So I came here and I went through their barista training program which was like 6 weeks, pretty intensive, like learning the cupping process…I had never done a cupping before. But I learned how to actually properly steam milk and pull a shot. [. . .] It’s been really cool learning about the process of acquiring the bean, like meeting the farmers…they told us all about their trips down to Central America and Africa, and it was just fascinating. They form relationships with these farmers, and they’re so involved in every aspect of the process. [. . .] It’s just so cool getting to know these people and learn their passion for coffee and what they do.
What is it about Café Kindred that is unique to the DMV coffee scene?
You know, Jen and Gary are super personable. They’re super funny and easy to get along with and really form relationships with their customers. We don’t allow laptops on the weekend, so that’s a pretty big one. We get a lot of families coming in, young kids…there’s a little play place (in the corner as you walk in). We actually started doing a trivia night. My friend Sarah and I write questions and read them out, and it’s super fun. We’re just super community-oriented. We had a really, really successful toy drive over Christmas. I can’t even tell you how many massive bags of toys we collected.
Do you participate in any barista competitions?
Yeah, oh man, I went to my first one like a month ago, and it was the most embarrassing thing ever. So it was at Mom & Pop’s in Mosaic – it was the first Virginia (latte art) throwdown – I had never used their espresso machine, and I’m used to being on the left side of the machine, so I was like, “I have to get to the left side!” And I found out after the fact that the left side is a little bit wonky. But I turned on the steam wand, and I vortexed the milk just straight out of my pitcher. I still had enough to pour a flat white with, which luckily is what we were pouring, but my hands were shaking so bad, and the announcer was like, “That’s a powerful vortex!” and I was just mortified. But it was really fun. Those are just great events. It’s really cool to meet people in the area who are interested in coffee and passionate about it. You know, really network within your industry. It’s cool to win, but it’s really just fun to hang out.
What was it like learning how to do latte art?
I started getting into niche coffee stuff towards the end of my tenure, I guess, at Starbucks. So I started doing free pours. I was doing the worst rosettas ever, but I was so proud of them. [. . .] You know, I was doing it all wrong. It was great for the equipment that I had available to me, but it’s nothing compared to this machine. And I had also been out of practice for like a year and a half…like I had not touched an espresso machine. It was a huge ego blow, I’m not gonna lie.
How’s your latte art now?
It’s better. It’s definitely much better. I’ve been keeping an album and stuff, and I’ve been doing winged tulips, and they’re getting really good. But I’m also super hard on myself. I love it though when you drop it off at someone’s table and they’re like, “It’s so pretty!”
So what do you do in your free time when you’re not here?
I’m in school full-time (NOVA), so that takes up a lot of my time. I’m in undergrad, and I’m doing my associates in Liberal Arts, probably going to major in history or philosophy. I don’t know…I’d like to get into government work. It’s such a nightmare right now. And I can understand why people would want to leave – I totally get that – but I think more can be done by sticking around. I’ll admit that after the election I was like, “I’m leaving the country! I just can’t stay here; I can’t be a part of this. There’s no hope.”
We go off on a tangent about the current political climate…
So with a degree in history or philosophy, how would that translate into working in government?
I’m not quite sure. I’ll probably have to go to grad school. I would like to get an understanding of how we got to this point, and philosophy has always been super interesting to me.
In addition to school, what else do you like to do?
I hang out with my friends a lot. I watch a lot of documentaries (she recommends The 13th on Netflix). I also like kind of trash tv. I really like Penny Dreadful. [. . .] I also really like cross-stitching. That’s something I’ve been taking up a lot lately. Especially, I’ve made a lot of politically themed cross-stitches. Your standard “Not my president” and weird caricatures of Trump, but in thread.
Do you just give them to friends? Do you sell them?
Yeah, I give them to friends. I’ve been thinking…I started this pretty big sampler that I might cut into patches and sell them for like $5 or however much people will pay for them and then match that and donate it to Planned Parenthood.
Is Planned Parenthood something you’re really passionate about?
Yeah, it’s one of those things that if I don’t go into direct government work, I’d love to work at a women’s health nonprofit. You know, it’s just so important that we don’t go back to the way things were before Roe v. Wade. That is absolutely vital.
Last question: What’s your favorite thing to make, and what’s your favorite thing to drink here?
I love the cold brew. I drink that all the time. Our hot coffee is really good, so I drink that as well. Right now we have La Trinidad – it’s a Guatemalan coffee – and it’s killer. The milk chocolate notes are so pronounced in it…and I always see that on a tag, and I’ve done a lot of coffee tastings and stuff and I’m like, “Ok yeah, I see how this could be interpreted as milk chocolate.” But this one, it’s like ridiculously creamy. It’s bananas. I love it.
I like making hot chocolate a lot. That was the first time I poured a successful tulip, and I use the term “successful” very loosely. That and flat whites, and when I can get a cappuccino really down and I can make it look pretty, that is just the most satisfying thing. I just like my job a lot. I like doing everything. I feel really, really lucky. I get to hang out with dope people and participate in my hobby, but it’s my job.
Thanks so much to Chelsea for being our featured barista for the month of February, and we wish her luck at the next latte art throw down! Do you have someone you’d like to nominate to be our next featured barista? Let us know in the comments!
CEO Mark Warmuth and new store manager Alex Farewell-Prisaznuk hold the fort in Washington DC, working with DCRA (Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs) to get final permits approved for the latest installment of Swings Coffee. They are just days away from opening their third location at 640 14th Street NW, in the same building as the Hamilton Hotel and Old Ebbitts Grill. (Their G Street location will re-open after building construction is complete).
Meanwhile Director of Coffee Operations, Neil Balkom, is on his way to Knoxville for CoffeeChamps, a qualifying event for the US Coffee Championships, where he is taking a team of baristas and also judging in the competitions. Following the event he is heading to thecoffee triangle of Colombia to delve deeper into the world of decaf coffees processing. Neil admires decaf drinkers for their dedication to drinking coffee purely for the flavor and enjoyment of it, not to merely transport caffeine, and therefore takes it upon himself to find the very best decaf coffee available.
At Swings’ new storefront you can expect the same quality and service you’re receiving at their Del Ray location: ethically sourced coffee through draft lattes, five single origin pour over options, and that carefully selected decaf. They will offer Junction Bakery pastries and are still working with a few other vendors to nail down more treat options.
CORE architecture + design, inc. (CORE)of Georgetown designed the space that used to be a tobacconist (CORE is the creative brain behind Rare Sweets and District Doughnut, among many other DC favorites). They worked with a marble/brass/black theme and the high ceilings really make that marble pop. Blending the artistically sleek design is a attention-grabbing copper Victoria Arduino lever espresso machine that complements the La Marzocco and Poursteady working the main bar. Combining all that with a Pentair Everpure filtration system, Swing’s Coffee is determined to bring you the best balanced coffee in the District.
While I was canvassing the new space Neil served a honey processed Java espresso made with the Victoria Arduino and its aroma and flavor hinted at biscotti. The machine is quiet and artful. We followed it with a shot of their 4 Mile espresso blend, which was spicy and citrusy. We are looking forward to going back soon to try their draft latte and milk based espresso drinks, which we plan to consume while we linger in their Parisian brasserie style seating against the wall.
Stay tuned for exact dates: they aim to welcome customers the first week of February in a soft-open capacity with reduced hours while they get their new staff up to speed, with a hard opening towards the end of that week.
UPDATE: Swing’s Coffee is NOW OPEN at 640 14th St NW, Washington DC.