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?
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).
If there is one place in the world you should think of when you think of coffee, it should be Ethiopia. A little refresher from Coffee 101… Ethiopia is said to be the birthplace of coffee, discovered by “dancing goats.” Legend has it that in the 9th century, an Ethiopian shepherd by the name of Kaldi noticed his goats extremely active and unable to sleep after consuming coffee cherries. Ethiopians are very proud of this history and proud of where it has brought them. They are Africa’s top producer of coffee, seventh worldwide, with an estimated 15 million people relying on coffee production for their livelihood. However, if they’re not part of the production process, they are most certainly part of the consuming process.
Drinking coffee is a way of life in Ethiopia. It is part of their culture. If you were to visit one’s home, you will most likely be treated to a coffee ceremony, no matter the time of day. A coffee ceremony not only honors the crop itself, but promotes community. Being extended the invitation to a coffee ceremony is a sign of hospitality, respect, and friendship.
Learning how to conduct the ritual of an Ethiopian coffee ceremony is often a tradition passed down from generation to generation. It is conducted by a young woman in a traditional Ethiopian dress of white cotton with colored borders. Being chosen to perform the ceremony is of high honor. To begin the process, green coffee beans are washed to remove husks and then placed over a tiny stove. The young woman shakes the beans consistently, almost in a hypnotizing manner, allowing the beans to crackle and the aroma to fill the room without them burning. Sometimes during roasting, incense will be burned to either ward off spirits or bring health to those who breathe it in. Once the beans are roasted, typically to medium, they are ground using a mortar and pestle. Roasting and grinding the beans immediately before brewing them brings out the strongest, freshest flavors. The grounds are then poured into a clay coffee pot called a jebena (seen above the sign at Sidamo) that has a round base, thin spout, and straw lid. The coffee is brewed (traditionally three separate times) and sieved before being carefully poured into tiny ornate cups called cini. The young woman pours the coffee from a foot high, not stopping until each cup on the tray is full. This is said to take much skill and practice. The coffee is served black, most often with some type of snack, though it is acceptable to add sugar. However, it is offensive to refuse the coffee as the ceremony is not just about the beverage itself, but friendship. It typically takes at least half an hour from the washing and roasting of the beans to the first pour, but the time in between is the perfect time to socialize, catch up on one another’s lives and what is going on in the community.
There are two places in DC where you can participate in free Ethiopian coffee ceremonies- Sidamo on H Street and Harrar in Park View. Sidamo holds ceremonies every Sunday at 2pm while Harrar’s, which take place Saturdays at 2pm, are a little less frequent (sign up for their email list to be in the know). Attending a coffee ceremony is like being transported to a different world, even if just for a short while. So take a break from your fast-paced DC life and immerse yourself in an experience of the senses!
I recently mentioned a honey processed espresso I had during a preview of the new Swing’s location, and it stuck with me. Shortly thereafter I started writing an article for Perfect Daily Grind on the different types of honey processing and I became determined to have that Java Honey again, and any other honey processed coffee I could get my hands on.
I’d had honey processed coffee before but it probably didn’t register as being significant until someone sent me some from Pennsylvania through a coffee swap, Coast 2 Coast Roast. What made this coffee different is that people asked me about it, asked me how it tasted. Syrupy. Bold…
I now know that there are different intensities of honey processing, ranging from white and yellow, to red and black. I went back to Swing’s to get more Java Honey and ask about its specifics – unfortunately this popular coffee sold out.
I asked their manager if she could tell me how it was processed and her response fascinates me – the farmer doesn’t know. To make honey processed coffee, producers leave some of the fruit of the coffee cherry around the bean when drying – how much is left on determines the classification. In this case, Swing’s asked the farmer to process it differently to make a honey- It was his first time processing his coffee in this manner and therefore doesn’t have a standard to compare it to.
Honey processing originated in Costa Rica (and derived its name from some visitors remarking on the honey-like consistency of the mucilage around the beans during drying, and the buzzing of some bees who clearly thought the same!) and is making its way around the coffee industry- partly through roasters like Swing’s encouraging their producers to branch out.
If you know where we can find more in the District, chime in! So far we’re waiting for the return of it to Swing’s Coffee, and hear that Grace Street Coffee will carry some in a few months. Qualia Coffee also carries several honey processed coffees but explains they’re harder to find this time of year because of the harvest season in Central America. Can’t wait to see more on the shelves!
“Brookland is getting a new Starbucks!” Everyone was so excited. I work in the neighborhood and thought, “What’s the big deal? There’s already a Starbucks across the street at the Catholic University bookstore.” But this wasn’t going to be just any Starbucks. This was going to be Starbucks Reserve.
Starbucks Reserve is a response to the growing third wave coffee movement. The coffees offered in these locations are limited quantity, high quality. Only 1% of the coffees Starbucks tastes every year earn the title of “reserve,” and each receives its own special roast. They use the Clover brewing system to brew each individual cup, carefully controlling the water temperature and brew time to accentuate all the nuances of the bean. Starbucks Reserve offers coffee subscriptions starting at $19/mo, and they also hold workshops. For instance, the Brookland location is holding a brew method workshop today from 4-6pm.
I sauntered into the Starbucks Reserve in Brookland earlier this week and was wowed at how beautiful it is. Hands down the most gorgeous Starbucks I’ve ever been inside. And it’s spacious with ample lounging seating. I already regretted not giving myself enough time to sit down and enjoy my coffee in the store before heading into work. When I went to order I said I’d like the Ethiopian, to which the lady pointed out they currently offer two varieties, so I went with her recommendation of the sun-dried and made my way over to the Experience Bar. This is where they brew the reserve coffee. You can simply grab a seat and wait on your coffee, or your can immerse yourself in the reserve experience, chatting with the barista who is crafting your beverage and asking him all of your coffee questions. As soon as I stepped over to the Experience Bar, my barista exclaimed, “Lauren, did they tell you this is my favorite coffee?” We chatted about our love of Ethiopian coffees as I watched the Clover at work. When my drink was ready, he poured it into a sleek black cup (which to be honest made me feel fancy) and handed me two colorful information cards – one for the coffee I was drinking, and the other for the coffee he recommends I try next time I stop by (which will be soon).
This experience made me look at the corporate coffee chain in a whole new light. And if you find yourself at a Starbucks Reserve but still want your regular grande caramel macchiato non-fat two pumps, don’t worry. You can still order all of your regular Starbucks drinks at a Reserve location. Now you just have more high-quality options!
Have you tried Starbucks Reserve? What do you think?
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.