30 October 2018

Washington DC Coffee Guide: 2018 Edition

This is the third in my series of guides to speciality coffee shops in Washington, DC. Part 1 (2015) is available here and part 2 (2016) here, but the map below includes coffee shops featured in all three posts.

After two wintry visits to Washington, DC, in February 2015 and 2016, I was pleased when the opportunity arose for me to attend a conference in the city in the more clement climes of October. Although I had very little free time, I managed to visit seven speciality coffee shops — six that were new to me, and one that had undergone a major refurbishment since my last trip — mainly by getting up extra early and going for a coffee run. Most of the coffee shops I visited are part of increasingly expanding mini-chains, like La Colombe and Bluestone Lane — a big change since my last trip. This time, I was staying near Dupont Circle and working mainly in Foggy Bottom, areas where I'd already frequented most of the independent cafes. Next time I come, I'll have to find time to explore the coffee scene in the less central neighbourhoods.

Compass Coffee
I first visited the original Compass Coffee roastery and cafe in the Shaw neighbourhood in 2015, and enjoyed both the coffee and the pared-down design and branding, inspired by the founders' time in the Marines. I wasn't surprised to hear that they had opened more coffee shops since then, but it's impressive that the Compass army now numbers eight shops in DC.

I popped into the 18th & I location during a lunch break, where I enjoyed a lovely cortado, brewed using one of the Modbar espresso units on the long counter. I'd hoped for a pourover but they weren't on the menu at this branch. Still, an espresso-based drink was perhaps more appropriate when enjoyed Italian-style at the gorgeous, custom-made walnut high table. They have bites on offer and beans for sale too. On a Saturday afternoon, it wasn't too busy but I can imagine it's a different story during the morning rush.

Compass Coffee is located at 1776 I Street nr 18 St and various other locations. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

La Colombe
If you've ever been to the cities of the Northeast megapolis and are a fan of fine coffee, you'll be no stranger to Philadelphia roaster La Colombe. They now have five cafes in DC, so I was glad I had the chance to stop by the I & 17th coffee bar one rainy morning after an early run. The small coffee shop is beautifully decorated with a stunning marble coffee bar and light wooden accents. There were two filter coffees available as a pourover (an Ethiopian and a Costa Rican) when I visited and two batch-brew filter coffees — the darker-roast Corsica and a medium-roast coffee from Yunnan, China, which I tried at another La Colombe in New York later in the week. Instead, I ordered a cortado with the Nizza espresso blend. Although a little darker than I usually prefer, the coffee had a smooth, well-balanced flavour when brewed as a cortado. There is a large, wooden high table for perching, and a few smaller tables near the door.

La Colombe is located at 1710 I Street nr 17 St and various other locations. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Dupont Circle
When I can, I try to choose my accommodation based on proximity to good coffee shops, but I didn't have a choice of hotel on this trip. I was particularly pleased, then, to find that Emissary was only a few blocks away. The cosy, rustic cafe serves Counter Culture coffee by day, and then food and wine by night. I didn't get to visit at night time, but on a sunny Friday morning, it was a lovely place to visit. My cortado, brewed with Counter Culture's Hologram espresso, was perfectly brewed, and there was a great ambiance in the bustling coffee shop. Emissary have tried to foster a bit of the Swedish fika spirit in their cafe, and although I had a busy day of meetings, I did manage to take a few minutes to enjoy my coffee in one of the window seats.

Emissary is located at 2032 P Street nr 21 St. Website. Instagram.

Foggy Bottom
Swing's (return visit)
Soon after my last visit in 2016 — and just shy of its 100th birthday — iconic DC coffee shop Swing's Coffee closed for two years for a building overhaul. I was glad to discover that the renovated coffee shop in full swing on my return. Located just across the street from the White House, Swing's had a line of people out the front door when I first arrived on my walk in to my office one morning. I eyed the brew bar with envy but I was running late and needed to go for something quicker. I opted for the single-origin Nicaraguan coffee that was available on batch brew and was impressed with how good it was.

Inside, the décor hasn't changed a great deal — many of the fixtures features from the coffee shop's early history still remain — although it's a little sleeker. And it's still a must-do on any speciality coffee tour of DC.

Swing's is located at 1700 G Street nr 17 St and various other locations. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Blue Bottle Coffee
Another of the US speciality coffee mini-chains to have expanded in DC since my last visit, Blue Bottle now has five cafes in the city, including a handy location inside Union Station. I visited the Georgetown branch, which occupies a gorgeous red-brick building down near the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. I picked it partly because it was open at 7 am on a Sunday morning, but mainly because I was in the market for a really good pourover coffee, and Blue Bottle is usually a good bet for hand-brewed filter coffee.

Inside, the cafe is gorgeous, with light wood fixtures, plenty of seating (including some cool mini-booths at the edge) and large windows that let plenty of light stream in once the sun has risen. I was tempted by the avocado toast on the menu, but I wasn't quite hungry enough yet, so I stuck to a Rwandan Rulindo Bushoki coffee, brewed as a pourover. The coffee was very well brewed and had some delicious fruity flavour notes. There weren't many other customers that early in the morning, but I enjoyed listening to the baristas — clearly passionate about coffee and their work — chat as they prepped the breakfast dishes and dialled in a new decaf.

Blue Bottle is located at 1046 Potomac Street and various other locations. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Grace Street Coffee Roasters
Located just across the Ohio and Chesapeake Canal from Blue Bottle, Grace Street Coffee Roasters occupies a hip, industrial-chic part of Georgetown where red-brick exteriors house sleek, modern interiors. The coffee shop and roaster is one of several eateries inside 3210 Grace Street, and the open-plan space was bustling when I visited at lunchtime on a Sunday. I particularly liked the plant-centric decor.

They weren't serving any pourovers — perhaps because it was so busy — so I decided to try the Ethiopian Ardi espresso, brewed as a cortado. The plum and lemon notes of the espresso came through very nicely, and I enjoyed my coffee while indulging in a touch of DC people-watching, while sitting next to the small roaster at the back.

Grace Street Coffee is located at 3210 Grace Street nr Wisconsin St. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

West End
Bluestone Lane
I only found out on my penultimate day that there was a branch of the Aussie (by way of NYC) coffee and brunch mini-chain Bluestone Lane just a couple of blocks from my hotel. There's also one in Georgetown. Like every other Bluestone Lane I visited, the West End branch has gorgeous, turquoise-accented interiors, and there's a lot of seating in the high-ceilinged building on 23rd Street.

I went for a big breakfast on my last morning, enjoying a piccolo (hooray!), which tasted much nicer than its latte art might suggest. Convincing myself that I needed to up my fruit and vegetable intake while on my trip, I ordered the avocado toast, which was delicious, with great sourdough toast, perfectly smashed avo, heirloom cherry toms and feta. One of the reasons I went to Bluestone Lane was to try a fêted District Doughnuts doughnut, which they sell, but distracted my my avo toast, I forgot to pick one up. Next time!

Bluestone Lane is located at 1100 23rd Street nr L St and various other locations. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

For more DC coffee recommendations, head over to my 2016 and 2015 DC coffee guides.

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