Washington, DC has in recent years birthed a competitive, thriving contemporary coffee community. From regular barista throwdowns (including grudge-match competitions against other cities like the similarly coffee-blossoming Philly) to a regular infusion of delicious, challenging coffees from roasters nationwide, you no longer have to be a coffee diplomat to get something exotic in this town. Here are a few of the best places to explore.
Though the snobbiest palates may hate to admit it, great coffee shops are made of more than the tasting scores of their coffees and percentage of total coffee particle extraction: they're built on a sense of positive energy and inclusive enthusiasm, which both of Peregrine Espresso's intimate locations have in spades.
From the coffees—some of the best executions of city-strongholder roaster Counter Culture Coffee exist here—to the friendly, super-skilled staff, everything at Peregrine is top notch. Whether it's at their longstanding Eastern Market outpost or their newest location in Logan Circle, the cafes deliver just the right combination of service and charm, with a rotating cast of espressos and a pourover menu that clocks in with staggeringly low prices. We were floored by a juicy, fruitfully acidic pourover of Kenya Karatu, which only got more and more beautiful as it cooled.
Baked & Wired
A shop that's both a perfect marriage and a split personality, Baked & Wired is a two-compartment shop. The south compartment houses high-calibre artisanal cupcakes. And behind an annoyingly placed wall is the north compartment, hiding a sophisticated cafe staffed with more baristas than the wee counter can handle and more selection than you can wrap your mind around. (Four espressos to choose from? Really?)
A revolving cast of filter-brewed coffees impresses as well, with representation by Stumptown, Intelligentsia, Ceremony Coffee and Barismo on a recent visit. A Ceremony-roasted "Destroyer"-based macchiato was bakers-chocolate nutty, a solid backdrop for the sugar rush waiting on the other side of the partition.
1052 Thomas Jefferson Street NW, Washington DC 20007 (map)
One of DC's first attempts at the ambitious multi-roaster platform, Chinatown coffee is a capacious room that's looking, shall we say, a bit shabby and down-at-the-heels these days. Boasting all kinds of accoutrements—gear! mocha Mondays! their very own app!—you'd almost believe this was the coffee shop of the future, if not for the telltale hipster signs of chipped china, disaffected baristi and ample indoor bike parking. The coffee's fine though—smooth cappuccinos poured with Intelligentsia's Black Cat espresso are flanked by seasonal drip offerings from a variety of talented roasters, like San Francisco's Ritual and Portland's Heart, as well as Counter Culture Coffee. A worthy stop in the Chinatown/Downtown areas. Also licensed for alcohol.
FIlter Coffeehouse & Espresso Bar
Almost secretively hidden below ground in the Dupont Circle neighborhood is tiny, suave Filter, a simple and effective cafe space run like a tight ship—a small tight ship. Offering espresso and drip coffees from Annapolis, MD roaster Ceremony Coffee (the artist formerly known as Cafe Pronto), this corridor of a cafe focuses on service and quality. Espresso, an ultra-smooth blend of Brazilian and Panamanian coffees, paired nicely with a diabolically sticky and satisfying maple-pecan croissant. Opening a second location in the District soon.
While you're in the capital, there are many more cafes to check out, including Big Bear Cafe, one of the district's earliest specialty coffee shops (and one of the best) serving Counter Culture brews in a super-cozy setting, Tryst, Flying Fish, gelato-and-coffee chain Dolcezza, and Arlington's wine-and-coffeebar concept, Northside Social. With so many great cafes continuing to add to the DC scene (look for Michigan roasters MadCap to expand their empire to the region soon), let's hope the next President of the United States is a coffee drinker.
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently compiling photographsof the best coffee in the world to be published by Presspop later this year.