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).
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!
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.
We have been hearing about Lost Sock Coffee around town, and I finally met the duo behind the buzz at a cupping at Colony Club a few months back. Jeff, Nico and I got to chatting, and their drive and passion was inspiring. Take a look at how this community minded pair is bringing their coffee to your door.
Like many coffee enthusiasts’ stories, it was the clarity and fruitiness of a washed Ethiopian coffee that first caught Jeff’s attention after being brought up on Dunkin Donuts coffee in Boston. Instantly drawn to learning about how coffee could taste so different, he started exploring.
“When you begin finding the answers to these questions, you open your eyes to an entire world system of countless origins, people, processes and methods. With coffee, you never stop learning – there’s always more to it.”
At Lost Sock they are about more than just coffee; there is an awareness about the lengths at which coffee goes through to reach your cup that they want to share. In fact, Lost Sock was borne out of a community-oriented project they and three other friends thought up around the time Nico and Jeff were students at American University.
“The concept had been coined ‘The Lemonade Stand’- this community-oriented collaborative space would function as a small bar, coffeehouse, art gallery, and live performance venue. We all sensed this growing DIY creative community that was taking root in DC, and we wanted to be part of it, foster it, and contribute.”
Although the original plan didn’t take root, Nico and Jeff kept after the idea and eventually started roasting green coffee in their apartment.
“It was a lot of trial and error, but drinking a cup of coffee that you had personally roasted provided unparalleled gratification. We now had a certain level of control in flavor development, and we became obsessed. We then began taking roasting classes through the SCAA at the Academy of Coffee Excellence at Williamsburg Coffee.”
They have learned how difficult the roasting process is, found the craft in it, and are passionate about bringing that to the masses.
Jeff and Nico aim to bring you a cup of coffee as satisfying in the morning as finding that lost sock you’ve been after. Their design was created by Gem Mateo, whom they met through a mutual friend and who works for Levi’s in San Francisco. The name and design are simple yet thought provoking, and a testament to their fervent passion of the brand.
I recently caught up with them at Timber Pizza Co. in Petworth where they have been hosting a pop-up since the beginning of December. Originally slated to run one month, they’ve extended through January as the restaurant and community have relished their presence. Other than their single origin coffee offerings, I also had the pleasure of trying Cascara tea, a type of tea made from the skin and pulp of the coffee cherry (gently caffeinating its recipient at 1/4 the intensity of coffee). They also serve hot cocoa made from Undone Chocolate (a DC award winning chocolatier) and their homemade vanilla syrup. Timber makes their wood fired bagels (first boiled in New York – what they say about the water is true) and breakfast empañadas.
Future plans include suiting up a VW van to be a mobile espresso/coffee bar, popping up throughout town.
“Our main goal, however, is to establish ourselves as a respected specialty coffee roaster and increase our presence throughout the city.”
Keep your roaster radar tuned for upcoming pop-ups featuring Lost Sock Coffee!
Mill City Roaster
How many batches per hour:
Lbs per week/month:
Bean sourcing (direct trade/importers):
Collaborate with a small number of importers as well as a couple direct trade collectives.
Hand stamped fully recyclable brown kraft bags.
Online : delivery within the District and ships nationwide. In stores/pop-ups at Peach Market, Odd Provisions, Small Chop, and From The Farmer. More to come!
Personal favorite region:
Lately the Kenyans but will always have a soft spot for really fruity, floral, and bright Ethiopians.
Recommendation that’s on the shelf now:
The Nicaraguan Lovo! Also some very exciting new offerings coming very soon including a Kenyan and a Rwandan.
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!