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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
Three brew methods explored: Aeropress, pour over, and immersion.
When I first got into coffee as a hobby (yes coffee can be a verb ;)) I didn’t think I’d get much into the nerdy coffee brewing side of it. I just wanted to enjoy my craft cappuccino in a cozy café and let someone else figure out the math – I’d seen the pictures on Instagram of people weighing out their coffee and measuring the temperature of their water and it wasn’t for me.
Then, while working up in Maryland I started listening to podcasts during my commute. The one that really caught my attention was “I Brew my Own Coffee,” hosted by two coffee enthusiasts who usually have a guest on their show and cover a multitude of coffee topics. Curiosity got the best of me because I dug out my old French Press and blade grinder that I used for spices and started playing around with whole bean coffee that was gifted to me the Christmas before.
It was awful.
The beans were old, they were unevenly ground, the coffee was too dense for me. But I started changing some variables.. I got a $15 hand grinder – hilarious the first time I cranked that thing for a few tablespoons of coffee. Within a few iterations it got easier though :). I started employing a food scale I already had. And of course I purchased fresh coffee. A while later I made the plunge (pun intended) for my first Aeropress. Already a steal, I scored at Compass Coffee with a great military discount. Home brewing hasn’t been the same for me since.
When it became clear that my enjoyment of coffee was turning into some serious enthusiasm we upgraded our home brewing station with some nicer gadgets (my birthday and mother’s day fall within days of each other- for the win!)
Here are three common types of home brewing methods that you’ll often find the coffee enthusiast using: Aeropress, Pour over method (like Chemex or V60), and Immersion (Aeropress is immersion but here I refer to one that just uses gravity, like the Clever Dripper or Yama Silverton). All the ‘recipes’ I use have a 1/16 ratio of coffee to water (so 1g of coffee needs 16g of water. 15g of coffee (for a small cup) uses 240g of water). I also pre-wet the filters.
Our first blog post was about Aeropress – it sort of has a cult following for its unique innovation and ease of use. It’s plastic and easy to travel with, and doesn’t take much extra equipment to make a good cup. You simply put in your freshly ground coffee, add water, stir, and plunge the water through the base. The Aeropress comes with a set of filters and standard recipe.
I did mention the cult following because people have come up with countless unique recipes (double filter, inversion method, espresso, etc.), and obviously started competing with Aeropress (on a National level even). It’s my go-to when I’m at the office because it perfectly brews a single cup – even if I do look like a mad scientist.
Most cafes in the area sell them but the only ones we can think of that serves them are Zeke’s and Vigilante.
My go-to recipe: The one that it came with!
Coffee: 15g, finely ground (about 2 tablespoons)
Water: 175 degrees F (bring water to a boil, wait a minute or two. I also just microwave water at work). 240 g (or to just above the “4” mark on the Aero).
Stir for 10 seconds.
Plunge for 20 seconds.
The most popular/common pour over methods you might hear about are Chemex, Hario V60 and Kalita. Many cafes around town use the Kalita, like the Wydown and Maketto. Dolcezza and Compass Coffee use a Chemex. Peregrine uses the Beehive dripper. They are all pretty nerdy and require a scale, a timer/calculator, and they fare best with a gooseneck kettle for a controlled pour.
My first cup of specialty coffee was served as a pour over and the Barista kept one hand behind his back as he expertly swirled the water over my grounds in timed intervals. It’s an artistic method of brewing coffee and though it can be intimidating, can make a great cup.
My go-to recipe: the 10/30 method. It’s 10% of the allotted water for the bloom, then three increments of 30% of water for the rest.
Coffee: 21g, medium ground
Water: 204 degrees F (just shy of boiling), 336g
Pour 33 g of water for the bloom, to release the gases. Wait 20-30 seconds.
Add 101g of water in a slow, circular motion to cover all the grounds.
Wait until most of the water has dripped through, then repeat, twice.
This method is pretty fool proof and with the Clever Dripper being so affordable, a great place to start home-brewing. The ground coffee and water are combined, left to steep for short period, then all the water is released at once. This is actually how La Colombe serves their ‘pour overs’ (using a Yama Silverton). Killer E.S.P. in Alexandria uses the Clever Dripper.
My go-to recipe:
Coffee: 20g, medium ground
Water: 198 degrees F, 320g
Pour 30g of water for the bloom, to release the gases. Wait 30 seconds.
Pour 290g of water over the coffee.
At the 3:00 minute mark, release the coffee. It should all be poured out by about 3:45 minutes. If it goes too fast, grind your coffee finer; if it goes too slow, grind your coffee coarser.
I’ve completely become that nerdy home brewer I used to mock! Ha, I’m constantly asking my baristas questions about water temperature and grind size (I’m told to start with the coarseness of Kosher salt and work up and down from there – Matt from the Coffee Bar once sent me home with a tablespoon of coffee, ground to their coarseness they use, so I could compare to mine.) Water can make a big impact and I’ve brewed with spring water to see if my water pipes are affecting my brew. I donate all the coffee over 14 days past roast date to my husband’s office who have just started noticing the difference between good coffee and Folger’s (I also donated my blade grinder to them, which makes them feel like coffee connoisseurs!) Yep, I’m my own worst enemy.
Well we all have to have hobbies and this is mine. I have a harder time drinking ‘bad’ coffee now than I did before but as Ethan from La Colombe once told us, there is still something to be said about drinking the indistinguishable coffee from the drip brewer at your mom’s house. It probably has a timer so that it’s brewed by the time you wake up in the morning. Plus, it’s time shared, memories made, and a cup to warm your soul.
How do you drink coffee at home? We love to hear from you!
Editor’s Note: We are thrilled to feature our first guest writer on District of Coffee! We’ve been following Leandro for as long as we’ve been into DMV Coffee and he did not disappoint on this thorough coverage of Baltimore Coffee (honestly we’re thinking of submitting it to Lonely Planet – it is certainly travel guide worthy)! For more witty writing, perfected restaurant/dinner photos, and the best food finds in the DMV see @foodnomad on Instagram / Twitter and on his blog. Enjoy his myriad of pictures and tried and tested Charm City finds!
Lauren and Danielle at District of Coffee asked me to write about which four or five coffee shops I would recommend in Charm City, maybe even pick them close enough together for a coffee bang-bang. I’m far from a coffee expert but I have been to my fair share of coffee shops and coffee is an essential part of my life. So, if volume of consumption and an addiction count for anything then they’ve come to the right place.
Yet I couldn’t pick four or five because I see Baltimore in somewhat of a coffee transition/revolution. Huh? Patience, grasshopper, patience. I couldn’t pick just four or five shops because, to me, Baltimore has three types of coffee shops: The OG’s (Original Gangstas), Neighborhood Nooks, and New Coffee.
Just some parameters first. I limited the scope to places close (well, close enough) to work which is right downtown. I didn’t choose any national chains, and my go-to drink is a latte, so when I’m referring to coffee, I’m generally talking about a latte. Alright, let’s do this…
I’ve always thought of Baltimore as the biggest little small town in the country. It’s intimate, it seems like everyone knows each other or at least knows someone who knows you and yours, and it’s proud of all things Baltimore. That’s how I view the first set of coffee shops. They’re like the crab cakes of the group. They’re delicious, they’re not overly complicated and they are definitely proudly Baltimore. All these places serve no-frills, unabashed coffee that screams out “Hon!” They’ve also been around for a little bit and thus ingrained in the fabric of B’more.
Cafe Latte da
Cafe Latte da
The king of Old School is Cafe Latte’ Da in Fells Point with a small, narrow storefront a few blocks up from the water away from most of the foot traffic. The decor reminds you of a John Waters movie, and when you walk out with a signature pink cup, people will know where you got your joe.
The Daily Grind
The Daily Grind
Down by the water is The Daily Grind which continues to dole out classic coffee despite the gentrifying landscape. When you walk in here, the coffee shop opens up into an whole new cityscape reminiscent of an early 1900’s alleyway. The variety of ways they make coffee here is plentiful, so make sure you know what you want before you walk in.
Spoons Cafe and Coffee Roasters
Hopping over to Federal Hill, you’ll find Spoons Cafe & Coffee Roasters smack dab in the middle of Cross Street. Spoons has been serving morning-after cures for residents for a few years now and is one of the few places that serves matcha in the city. They also offer a pretty decadent menu full of comfort food classics.
Drive down Key Highway for a bit and Koba Cafe is another place that has become a Riverside neighborhood institution. They serve some great breakfast staples along with a super cup of coffee. The inside is eclectic and the vibe would make any Baltimore row house denizen proud.
The most famous of the OG’s may be Zeke’s Coffee which may power half the restaurants in Baltimore and has grown into DC and Pittsburgh. Their first cafe is a little northeast of downtown in a hip community called Lauraville. The baristas all seem to have some B’more kook and style. The coffee is strong and flavorful just as you’d expect from Baltimore, hon. Go early and be patient, the crowd doesn’t let up in this gem.
Did it for the Nooky
There’s probably some overlap with these next few coffee shops and the OG’s. But, to me, these shops are a bit more than a coffee shop. They fulfill a nook or a niche for their neighborhood or have an identity that is closely tied to their location or a particular theme. These shops are also a little bit more concerned about their coffee stylings and like to make their cup not only strong but also pretty. It’s a mix of old and new, but all of them definitely have formed a distinct identity.
Spro Coffee in Hampden starts us off on our trip through the nooks. Spro is a little sliver of a coffee shop right on the Avenue that is reflective of the hip, creative, intellectually curious identity that Hampden evokes. The team is diligent about finding the best beans around the world and building strong relationships with the farmers they source from, and they’re curious about the various ways coffee can be prepared and enjoyed.
On the Hill
On the Hill
Drive down 83 a bit and you’ll run into Park Cafe & Coffee Bar and On the Hill Cafe. Both are within a couple blocks of each other and serve the artsy community fostered by MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) nearby. Park seems like the more sophisticated and refined sibling as evidenced by it’s sublime coffee art and well-curated food. On the Hill is the more ebullient and blue collar member of the family with no frills coffee and hearty comfort food on its menu.
Just a little ways from them is Dovecote Cafe, located on a sleepy tree-lined residential street near Druid HIll Park. They don’t serve espresso drinks but serve some slamming Brewklyn coffee and some of the best homemade pastries in town. Dovecote celebrates the best of Baltimore’s African American heritage and every month it helps promote a local chef by letting them take over their kitchen.
Baby’s on Fire
Baby’s on Fire
Moving on down to Mount Vernon, you’ll find Baby’s On Fire, named after a Brian Eno song, that doubles as a record shop. They use Stumptown for their coffee and their pastry game is as strong as Dovecote’s. If roadies ever opened up a refined espresso cafe, this is what you’d get.
A little bit down Saint Paul’s is The Room which doubles as a coffee shop by day and a bar by night. The multi-colored ceiling will take your breath away while the coffee will keep you coming back. I love that the tables are also chess boards, and I’m a big fan of places that pour their coffee in clear mugs.
3 Bean Coffee
3 Bean Coffee
Down in Federal Hill is 3 Bean Coffee. If ever a coffee shop is reflective of its neighborhood, it’s 3 Bean. Beautiful exposed brick in an industrial space. It even has a refurbished farm door. 3 bean is right at the base (close enough!) of Federal Hill itself with a great view of the Inner Harbor. The coffee is from Counter Culture and the craftsmanship is spot on. It’s also my go-to place for a matcha latte, cold or hot. 3 Bean isn’t necessarily what Baltimore is right now but it sure is what Baltimore is becoming, at least in terms of food & caffeine.
The final stops in the great Baltimore Coffee Tour of 2016 are what I consider the new wave of curated, fancy, disciplined, and refined coffee shops hitting my hometown. These places are obsessed with all facets of detail in performing their craft. They make sure the aesthetics and flavors of their coffee drinks and food are impeccable and irresistible. The coffee is flavorful, the people are pretty, and the settings are sleek and styled.
Ceremony Coffee Roasters
Ceremony Coffee Roasters
The granddaddy of the neo-coff’s is Ceremony Coffee in Mount Vernon. This may be the largest of all coffee shops in Baltimore. It’s got a massive food prep and coffee bar area, and it even has it’s own cupping lab. Ceremony hails from Annapolis, MD, but has definitely staked out its claim in Baltimore with this beautiful bright sun-drenched space. They of course serve all the espresso staples that you love but also produce several creative coffee drinks from Shakeratos to Coffee Root Beer Floats. The staff is impressive in its meticulousness and the food is treated with the same kind of love.
Next on the list is Spike Gjerde’s foray into the coffee scene. Powered by Counter Culture, Artifact Coffee is housed in a old mill building in Woodberry on the Hampden side of the river (I don’t actually know it’s a mill, but I figure it’s safe to say since all the new places popping up in Baltimore are in old mill buildings). The space evokes warmth and comfort only found in all brick restyled industrial places, and the turntable playing old school vinyl classics doesn’t hurt. The coffee offerings are solid and the overall experience is totally worth the visit.
Order & Chaos Coffee
Order & Chaos Coffee
The baby of these coffee shops is Order&Chaos Coffee in Riverside right off of Key Highway. It’s just under a month old as of this writing, but already making waves with its unique beginnings. Order&Chaos was created as a coffee shop within the Planit Advertising Agency so it could provide some creative fuel for its workers. The space is as expected: sleek, hip, stylish, and tongue-in-cheek. The mugs with the shop’s logo already look like a collector’s item worth stealing…um…buying. The coffee is, surprisingly, reasonably priced, and it looks like this place is already a favorite for Baltimore coffee addicts.
I’ve been saying for a while now that Charm City’s food offerings have improved greatly in recent years; the coffee scene has undergone a similar transformation. There are still those old school shops that speak to the heart of Baltimore. We’ve got those coffee nooks that identify with more than just good coffee. Finally, there’s a new, sleek, modern wave of coffee shops that pride themselves on amazing aesthetics and refined coffee. Baltimore has come a long way in just my lifetime when it comes to coffee, and I’m stoked to see what comes next.
~ Food Nomad
(Writing and Photos by Food Nomad; Edited by District of Coffee)