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.