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

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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

Coffee in Charm City

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!

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Coffee Cocktails at Ceremony Coffee

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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…

The OG’s     

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Neo-Con…Um..Neo-Coff…

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.

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.

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)