Re-Doing the District

I (Daniëlle) am sitting at Dolcezza, at the new DC Wharf, contemplating how much DC coffee has changed since I left for Alaska last summer. When I knew I was returning I asked Lauren where I should go first – what HAD to be my first stop back in the District? Since I got here in January, I’ve made every effort to visit as many new places as possible. What’s crazy? That using Lauren’s last post as a guide, it’s taking nearly two months to make some progress! A few other places have also popped up just since she published her post early January (Elle, Bluebird, Bluestone Lane)

Allow me to run through a few of the beautiful cafés I’ve had the pleasure to get to recently:

Qualia. We were excitedly anticipating this opening practically from the first time we wrote about them – it had been a long time coming. An early Saturday was the perfect time to soak up the sun through their big windows and take over the arm chair corner and linger. With tons of single origin offerings just like at the at their first location, it added up to a perfect morning.

Blue Bottle in Georgetown. DC became the hub for West-Coaster ‘Philz’ to start launching its East Coast expansion, so it was exciting to see Oakland-native Blue Bottle make its way down. They opened in Georgetown last summer, and are set to open a second location soon, near Union Market. If anyone has ever flipped through James Freeman’s book, you’ll know he takes his coffee, and his cafes, very seriously. They didn’t skip a beat in creating a beautifully simple and bright space in Georgetown to sit and enjoy some millennial toast and a pour-over.

Velo Café. I don’t know how bikes and coffee came to be a thing, but it certainly is a thing. Serving up Vigilante Coffee alongside their bikeshop and small hardware store is the perfect one stop shop. District Hardware has been around for decades and their warm and friendly staff reflects this mom-and-pop feel.

Bluestone Lane in West End. Reportedly the largest Bluestone Lane in the US, their newest café co-located with the West End Community Library is stunning. When I visited, some of their corporate managers were there and it was delightful to hear the Australian accented individuals talk about their passion for coffee. I think it’s part of the culture. Flat whites, avo toast, and table service all around.

The Cup We All Race 4. Instagram photos of this café led me to the Line Hotel in Adams Morgan – I may not have found it, were I not actively searching for it! Perhaps the mystery is part of the allure. The Cup We All Race 4 is in the front lobby of the hotel, but you are welcome to enter through the doors into the main lobby and linger while you sip on your Counter Culture cappuccino. Super friendly bar staff will even come by and bring you some water to sip on. The hotel also boasts two bars and a restaurant.

Little Pearl. I have been a fan of the coffeeshop part of Pineapple and Pearls since its inception, and the beautiful space at their new location came at no surprise. Paired with some of their famous baked goods, adorable cutlery and bright openness, our morning there was heavenly. And they serve wine in the evenings, so win-win! 

Café Chocolat. They serve La Colombe coffee here, but do yourself a favor and also order the drinking chocolate! They come in three different varieties and they’re as beautiful as they are delicious. If you have the chance, engage in conversation with the shop owner about craft chocolate- I’m a relative newbie to the culinary category but I can tell you I’m here to stay. Craft chocolate is in my future!

Pluma by Bluebird Bakery. It’s no secret that I have a slight obsession with croissants and I’ve always held the bluebird bakery ones with the highest esteem. I was thrilled when I heard they were opening up a store front, and it met all my dreamed-up expectations. Beautiful décor, Stumptown coffee, and perfectly situated in the seriously exploding Union Market area.

Dolcezza at The Wharf DC. All the Dolcezza locations are so instagrammabe and their newest location is no exception. Giant windows with spectacular views, I can’t wait to see it during Cherry Blossom season! Dolcezza also serves Stumptown and they make all their gelato from scratch.

Gregorys (three locations). Did Gregorys kind of sneak into the District without a big fuss? Allow me to add a little fanfare by explaining that DC is the first place outside of the New York City area where Gregorys is making its mark. That’s NY- 26, DC -3 . Pretty impressive that they saw the DC market as being the one to focus on next. Try their mylks – activated charcoal is on the menu folks!

Swing’s on G Street. Swing’s closed their oldest location about 18 months ago due to renovations being made to the building, but they sure did their best to keep with the classic charm of the original while sprucing up the broader space. They also have bins and bins full of whole bean coffee where you can customize your blend.

I did make it to Crimson Diner (with Lauren!) but we got there too late for espressos. Fried green tomatoes anyone? (they were amazing. And HELLO there’s a whisky bar downstairs!)

I still have a handful of cafes to explore and while initially I was in a rush to get to them all immediately (clearly, and I had to get this blogpost done!), I’m going to slow down and revisit a few of my other favorites too. And a couple more are slated to open soon, so I’m not running out of new places yet! It’s good to be back, even if just for a little while.

 Let us know which of the newest cafes have tickled your fancy!

 Stay grounded,

Daniëlle

 

 

 

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A Coffee Snob’s Guide to Crossing the Continent

Aeropress. Check.
Hand grinder. Check.
Freshly roasted beans from your favorite local roaster. Check.

You’re all set!

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Ok just kidding.  Crossing the continent can take a day or it can take 17, depending on your mode of travel. There might come a time when you’re tired of nearly going into muscle failure hand-grinding your coffee, or you’re done trying to juggle two devices and too many coffee beans to make a cup for your AND your travel partner. You’re desperate. You want a coffee shop. Your Instagram account is in serious need of a new latte art shot.

It is best if you have other coffee snob friends who have paved the path before you and can guide you to your next single origin espresso. But in case you’re not so lucky….

Here are the 5 steps to take to get your fix.

Equipment required:
– smart phone
– indulging partner willing to take a significant detour
– some manners.

1. MAPS

Locate the “maps” app on your smart phone and ensure your Location Services are on. Find yourself on the map. Enter “coffee” into the search bar.

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2. STARS

Do not bother with anything less than 4 stars. Reviews can be a biased and unfair, but remember, we’re desperate and only have one shot to get this right as we’ll soon be in the middle of nowhere again. Follow the stats.

3. PICTURES

Squint and try to decipher the little thumbnail photos of the cafes in the area. Do you spot latte art? Do you see a bright space? Are you lucky and do you see some manual brew equipment on the wall? Be careful not to click on the photo as you may be redirected to the inescapable rabbit hole called Yelp.

4. DESCRIPTIONS

Bypass any cafes where the reviews starts out with “the mint, nonfat, extra whip, unicorn mocha frappe latte was excellent…” They do not serve real coffee here. Instead look for key words like “locally roasted” or “chemex.” Alternatively look for the names of award winning roasters you are already know about. These will make you feel at home.

5. INSTAGRAM

If you’ve made it this far and found a coffeeshop that passed through all the steps, proceed to open up your Instagram. Go ahead and smile to yourself as you feel that flutter in your stomach in anticipation of great success. Search for the coffeeshop and hopefully you’ll be rewarded with more latte art shots, pourovers, and other highly instagrammable features. Take it a step further and click on a few hashtags. Your arms can rest today. You made it.

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** In the highly unfortunate case that there is no Instagram account or all you see are pictures of foamy fluffly cappuccino, don’t give up. Go back to step 2 and stay resilient. Your diligence will be rewarded in the end.

 

A word of warning….

It is best not to go into a coffeeshop and ask “do you do latte art?” This means you have reached a real low point. It’s time to check yourself- do everyone a favor and go through your photo feed on your phone, find an old latte art pic, and post it to Instagram with a sappy nostalgic caption. This will buy some time for you to recompose yourself, and find your manners (see the equipment list, above). Tsk tsk. Bust out the Aeropress and make yourself a coffee. You don’t deserve the cappuccino today.

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Best of luck in your search for cross-country specialty coffee.

What other methods do you use to get your specialty coffee fix while traveling?? Help us get ready for the next road trip !

Stay grounded,

Daniëlle

Neighborhood Crawl: Union Station

When Lauren and I first began collaborating about this blog, one of the topics we were so excited about were Neighborhood Cafe Crawls. With so many fantastic neighborhoods in Washington DC, it was always hard to pinpoint where to start. Then it occurred to me that a great place to start would be where many start their time in DC: Union Station.

While not necessarily a mecca for specialty coffee, we’re here to celebrate coffee AND the District, so read on for how to fill a few hours doing both.

1- Start out at Ebenezer’s with a vanilla rose latte. Feel good about your purchase as their proceeds go directly back into the community, and enjoy a relaxing setting with a book or a friends and some people watching.

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2 – Head over to Union Station and admire the newly rejuvenated main hall. The station celebrates its 110 year-birthday this year, and some original building material can be found in the antique train gates in the Train Concourse. Enjoy some shopping in the bustle as you admire the 36 Roman Legionnaires watching over the main hall.

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3- Pay a visit to the underrated Smithsonian Postal Museum. Even if you don’t have time to go into the atrium with a 90-foot-high ceiling to see the 1851 stagecoach and 1931 Model-T mail truck, you’ll be glad you stepped in just to take in the magnificent historic City Post Office Building that was constructed in 1914. (PS – It’s a Smithsonian Museum so it’s FREE!)

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4- Walk east on the outside of Union Station this time and admire the Capitol Building from directly in front of the train station. The arches on the south side of Union Station are magnificent, and the Capital peeking through the flagpoles is breathtaking.

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5- By now you’re parched for more coffee so head over to Union Kitchen Grocery where you an pick up a handcrafted Compass Coffee espresso drink, and a few bags of  fresh coffee to take home from one of the many local roasters sold there.

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{Disclaimer: Technically not a neighborhood, Union Station is actually in NoMa (North of Massachusetts), which to many DCers implies H St NE.}

TIP: If you’re traveling by car we hope you’re lucky to find some parking near Ebenezer’s and UKG- otherwise park at Union Station and have your ticket validated at the machine before walking back out to the garage. It’ll get you two hours for $6.

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Where else do you like to stop in while near Union Station?

Stay grounded,

Daniëlle

 

Election Day: Vote Chocolate!

It’s Election Day, go vote! Then read this blogpost. (Or read it while standing in line :))

I (Danielle) am an Army Veteran (and the family tree of other service members is almost freakish), so with Veteran’s Day right around the corner I convinced Lauren to run with a Veteran theme for the week. Where to start?

Vote Chocolate!

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Our first stop was at Harper Macaw, craft chocolatiers:  Half of the partnership consists of a Marine Corps vet, Colin, and the other half is his wife Sarah, a Brazilian culinary goddess (we haven’t actually met but I’m convinced she’s a goddess). Yep, this is a coffee blog, but we’ve mentioned before that craft chocolate is really not far removed. 

Our interview starts a little late because Colin was delivering bulk chocolate to Little Red Fox across town – they are going to be using it in their craft mochas and drinking chocolate. Local supporting local! I didn’t mind waiting, as I was offered a choice between Zeke’s brewed coffee and a nitro cold brew from Confluence Coffee Co. that incorporates Harper Macaw cocoa nibs.

{Confluence Coffee Co. is an “experimental coffee company focusing on pushing the boundaries of sensory experience.” They’re based in Richmond VA and use Blanchard’s coffee. The Mocha cold brew has three ingredients: organic fair-trade Honduran coffee, water, and those direct trade Brazilian cocoa nibs.}

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Mocha Nitro Cold Brew Kegorator at the factory

Their office space is open and welcoming – really the kind of place where you’d want to come to work (again, that nitro cold brew kegorator helps..) They are open on weekends for shopping and tours (another plus is that they’re next to the DC Brau factory – more kegs!)

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Made in DC – Shop Local!

Along one wall is a map of Brazil – it’s where they source all their chocolate from, and that’s where we start our visit.

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Colin showing me the different estates where they source their cocoa beans.

They source all of their chocolate through direct trade. “Our producers are at the avant-garde of cacao agroforestry, with crop maintenance and pre and post-harvest practices that not only yield tremendous quality but are both environmentally and economically sustainable.” That’s a mission we can get behind!

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Bags and bags of beans!

 

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Large factory in NE

 

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You see what they did here with the “M”en’s and “W”omen’s bathrooms?

The factory is large, and it is obvious that Colin and Sarah have big plans for their business – their space is one they will grow into. Once they invent scratch-and-sniff smart-phones I’ll add the cocoa scent into this blogpost – the tour was delightfully cocoa fragranced!

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Open factory, room for expansion.

Part of the conservation efforts includes paying workers better wages and offering better working conditions. Harper Macaw pays 2-3 times the commodity rate for their cocoa beans. They purchase fine flavor cocoa beans that are genetically superior to your average bean, and they use natural fermentation processes. Their staff consists of people in food science and culinary fields. Making their unique craft bars includes a ten-step manufacturing method is a labor intensive process and this hard work and diligence to producing the best chocolate is reflected in each bar.

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Cocoa beans as they arrive at the factory
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Perfectly tempered and molded chocolate

Their chocolate can be found all over the DMV area, and quite a few coffeeshops offer their bars. Good news if you have a hard time spending more on the chocolate than you do your coffee: they are about to release a single-serving bar that will perfectly accompany your afternoon pick-me-up.

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Mini bars coming to a coffee shop near you!

[Speaking of $$. Allow me to speak (write!) candidly for a moment. Colin can see that it can be difficult to consider buying their chocolate as it is on the pricier end of the spectrum. Unlike specialty coffee that is maybe twice as expensive as what you find at your corner store, craft chocolate can be four or even eight times more expensive than a grocery store candy bar. He hopes people will choose for their quality, fine flavor, and fair and personal relationships with the farmers. Good quality craft chocolate bars are not candy and they’re so rich and decadent that they are not meant to be consumed in a single sitting. Another friend once told me when I had a hard time justifying the expense of craft chocolate to consider what we spend on dessert after a nice meal at a restaurant. $9 to savor a delightful and ethically made chocolate bar doesn’t seem so bad in this light.]

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VOTE CHOCOLATE

The folks at Harper Macaw partner with DC graphic design company Design Army for their beautiful packaging ideas and their marketing. When they went looking for something incredibly DC oriented, Vote Chocolate came about, perfect during election year.

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The VIPs of election year

The names of the bars correspond with the unique flavorings: Red State has strawberry and raspberry, for example, whereas the Filibuster bar has pretzels and peanuts throughout. Of course I asked Colin if certain bars sold better than others, depending on the party affiliation. The Flip Flopper (milk chocolate with butter toffee and sea salt) has been their best seller whereas the Tea Party (sprinkled with Early Grey tea) has performed least favorably. The funny thing? In blind tastings (like at the wildly popular pop-up at Union Market in July) the Tea Party bar was the biggest hit.

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Earl Grey Tea Party Chocolate
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Setting up my own blind tasting for an election party.

Vote Chocolate has been a fun and whimsical campaign for Harper Macaw, all the while highlighting the uniqueness of DC (one bar is Taxation without Representation: dark chocolate with cocoa nibs) and also bringing light to their efforts of conservation in the Brazilian rain forest.

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I asked about what happens after the election. They will continue producing the bars until they complete all their Vote Chocolate packaging, and then they will turn on the creative processes again and come up with something new. With their educated staff, quality fine chocolate, brilliant partners like Design Army, and enthusiastic and loyal clients/customers/consumers, we are confident and excited to see what they will come up with next!

PS – Have you tried their chocolate? Which bar has YOUR vote? Sound off!

[Tune in to two more Veteran themed posts Friday and next Tuesday.]

Stay grounded,

Daniëlle