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Food critic Todd Kliman mourns the eradication of a simple morning brew. By Todd Kliman
Photograph by Alexander Smushkov/iStock Photo

There are so many great and interesting developments in the world of food and drink these days. But that’s for another column. Give me a moment, now, to talk about one of the worst.

I hate how coffee is going the way of beer, in becoming more and more like wine.

Here’s what happened the last time I visited a place not named Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks.

Scanning the printed sheet of ten coffees, each accompanied by long, detailed tasting notes identifying the provenance of the beans and the particular “profile” of the brew, I asked the guy behind the counter for a little help.

A tight-laced sort with a mien more suited to puzzling over Wittgenstein than pouring coffee, he replied that I should instead tell him what I like in a coffee.

What I like in a coffee: a coffee that tastes like coffee.

“Dark, round, mellow, intense,” I said.

He chewed his lip—clearly this was a conundrum—and recommended “the closest thing we have.”

I read the description on the sheet, stopping when I got to the phrase “notes of citrus and cherry.”

“No citrus,” I said, joking that I didn’t care to mix my morning coffee with my OJ.

No laugh or smile, but oh, my goodness—the frown! It was as intense as the coffee wasn’t.

Look, I love the idea of not giving my money to a corporate multinational like Starbucks. But that’s not to say I want what so many indie coffee shops—including DC’s Wydown and Slipstream and others—seem intent on providing.

As if to position themselves as far as possible from the mainstream java behemoth, they’re turning a cup of joe into something it never was—something esoteric and precious, which, in the foodie world these days, means something more deserving of our close scrutiny and, therefore, worth our extra money.

In the past month, I drank one cup that put me in mind of a Belgian sour beer, one that tasted like a chai dashed with lemon, and one—strangest of all—that was like a cross between a cup of tea with milk and a Beaujolais on the verge of turning.

I know I’m not alone in my simple needs.

I mean, right? In the morning, we want our caffeine and we want it now, and we really don’t care to ruminate on what we’re drinking. As long as it’s full-bodied and strong. And when we want something to lift us out of our post-lunch lethargy, yes, of course we want something delicious, but it’s just as much about taking the time out to warm the hands, breathe in the hot steam, and luxuriate in the comforting taste of something rich and mellow.

There’s a time and a place for “notes of citrus and cherry”—and that time and place is summer on the patio with a nice crisp glass of rosé while the steaks cook.

This article appears in our March 2015 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 06:00 AM/ET, 03/03/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Mockingbird Hill’s iced brew named among the nation’s most innovative. By Anna Spiegel
Photograph by Flickr user Eric Fidler.

Coffee in DC: not so “meh” after all, according to the New York Times. While the a writer for the paper dismissed the District’s caffeine scene in a recent 36-hour travel guide, calling it the m-word, coffee expert Oliver Strand finds a brew worth celebrating in a roundup of “6 Innovative Iced Coffees” around the nation. The local winner among drinks “that are inventive, refreshing, and delicious”: Mockingbird Hill’s Kenya Cola.

“Kenyan coffees are prized for their complex acidities, especially phosphoric acid, which is a key flavor in Coca-Cola,” writes Strand. “In this intricate drink, Kenyan coffee with a little sugar is chilled in an ice bath, mixed with three kinds of bitters (tiki, Spanish and black walnut), then poured in a glass with ice and topped with soda water. The result is less cloying than a soft drink.”

Mockingbird Hill owner/barman Derek Brown recently launched an in-depth coffee program with specialist Cory Andreen, rounding out an extensive collection of sherries. The menu includes hard-to-find pour-over coffees, nonalcoholic mixed coffee drinks such as the Kenya Cola, tasting flights, and a seasonal iced coffee on tap. While the full bar remains an evening affair, you can satisfy your caffeine craving starting at 8 AM daily. And yes, there’s wi-fi, so you can read the New York Times along with your beverage.

Posted at 10:29 AM/ET, 06/13/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
And other highlights from its 36-hour travel guide. By Anna Spiegel
You won't find latte art at the Tune Inn, but there's plenty of non-"meh" coffee in town. Photograph via Shutterstock.

The New York Times just published its latest Washington travel guide, and while 36 hours in the city yielded plenty of good finds, coffee wasn’t one of them. The writer, who sticks to Capitol Hill, H Street, and the Navy Yard for dining, recommends breakfast at the Tune Inn, but not the hot brew. Not just there, but anywhere, really.

“The coffee is meh—a problem throughout much of the city—but the French toast tastes of nutmeg, the Irish omelet with grits is legitimate and the service is professional,” reads the guide.

Maybe try a cup at Peregrine, Pound the Hill, or anywhere besides a spot known for its fried burger? (Side note: nothing against Tune Inn, one of the best dive bars in town, not known for its latte art).

It was not all bad news from the Grey Lady. Culinary highlights include fried oysters at Rose’s Luxury, foie gras from the Atlas Room, Market Lunch’s blueberry pancakes, and dinner at New York import Osteria Morini. It’s up for debate whether the author hit Toki Underground after expressing annoyance at the no-reservations policy and referring to the menu of Taiwanese ramen as “sublime Japanese food” (we can agree on the sublime part). Drinking stops around H Street include tried-and-true places like Biergarten Haus and The Pug.

Posted at 02:01 PM/ET, 05/16/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The California-based chain debuts a store by the White House. By Anna Spiegel
Peet’s plans to make Washington its biggest market outside California, and is now the official coffee of the Nationals. Photograph via Peet’s Facebook page.

Move over, Starbucks, the Peet’s Coffee & Teas are coming! The California-based coffee chain plans to open 23 locations in the Washington area this year, with the first debuting today at 1701 Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest. The launch marks the biggest expansion yet for the company, which opened its first store in Berkeley 48 years ago, and the beginning of the largest presence for Peet’s outside its native state.

Many branches, including the inaugural one by the White House, will move into former Caribou Coffee spaces—but don’t expect the lodge-like decor to carry over. Each location will have different design elements to reflect the neighborhood, and many will have spaces dedicated to tutoring and writing workshops due to a partnership with the local education nonprofit 826DC. Peet’s also partnered with various companies for the menu, with baked goods provided by Sterling’s Baguette Republic and Hawthorne Fine Breakfast Pastry in Severna Park. Rounding out the selection will be daily-made items such as salads and sandwiches, as well as the extensive lineup of coffees, lattes, teas, and more.

In a “go big or go home” approach, Peet’s is also now the official coffee of the Washington Nationals. Look for the coffees to be served at several locations within Nationals Park, joining the many new dining and drinking options in and around the stadium.

Read on for the full list of planned Peet’s locations and potential opening dates for those debuting this month.

1701 Pennsylvania Ave., NW (April 7)

601 13th St., NW (April 14)

1101 17th St., NW (April 21)

435 11th St., NW (April 28)

1156 15th St., NW (April 28)

7629 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda

1316 East West Hwy., Silver Spring

110 Shawan Rd., Hunt Valley, MD

1 N. Charles St., Baltimore

332 E. Maple Ave., Vienna

7516A Leesburg Pike, Falls Church

4115 S. 28th St., Arlington

3985 Pickett Rd., Fairfax

7707 Fordson Rd., #102, Alexandria

8938 Burke Lake Rd., Springfield

11947 Grand Commons Ave., Fairfax

42385 Ryan Rd., Ashburn, VA

12713 Braemar Village Plaza, Bristow, VA

8150 Leesburg Pike, Vienna

Telegraph Rd. and Beulah St., Alexandria

1400 14th St., NW

7101 Democracy Blvd., #9012, Bethesda

1800 M St., NW

Posted at 12:00 PM/ET, 04/07/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Beat the heat fatigue with this locally made refresher. By Anna Spiegel

Growl: A good summertime alternative to the watery iced coffees at mega-chains. Photograph courtesy of Matthew Snyder.

I love iced coffee, but lately I’ve been drinking it for all the wrong reasons—namely that the ice helps dilute the acrid-tasting brews poured by mega-chains. A trip to local shops like Filter or Peregrine Espresso makes the afternoon, but sating a caffeine craving is like going to the dry cleaner—it’s about proximity, and unfortunately venti iced Americanos are more accessible than Ethiopian microbrews. Fortunately I found a better solution on a recent trip to Smucker Farms, which sells locally produced Growl cold-brew coffee (see more sources below).

Describing Growl as an “awakening” is an understatement: Not only is the chilled brew delicious, but a single bottle packs enough caffeine to make those 100-degree slogs to the Metro feel like a breeze. In fact, should you drink a whole 16-ounce bottle in one sitting, you may sprint past the stop. Growl brewer Matthew Snyder currently sells his cold-brew concoction as a concentrate, with an average bottle yielding four to five servings when diluted with water and/or milk. (A mixture of equal parts still yields a robust cup.) Sealed properly, the coffee should keep well for a few weeks.

“Local” isn’t a wholly accurate description when it comes to coffee production, but Snyder sticks as close to home as possible. The beans are a South and Central American blend from Ceremony Coffee Roasters out of Annapolis, and the small-batch production is set up in Dupont’s Marrakech restaurant*. The coffee steeps for 16 hours and is filtered as little as possible to avoid removing natural flavors and oils, resulting in a nutty, chocolatey brew that’s reminiscent of a mocha when mixed with quality milk. Trickling Springs tastes deliciously rich even in nonfat form, and is sold at Smucker Farms and Union Market, where Growl is also available. (At Union, pick it up in Salt & Sundry.)

The usual coffee additives aren’t the only options. Snyder recommends stirring in vanilla soy milk for a sweeter drink, or pouring the coffee over ice cream for a riff on the Italian treat affogato. You could add sparkling water for a soda-like sip, reduce the concentrate to make coffee syrup, or add booze such as whiskey or Kahlua. You also don’t have to drink it cold. Sticking a cup in the microwave will still perk you up, but doesn’t quite have the bracing effect of the potent, chilled brew.

A full list of shops where Growl is sold is online.

*This post has been updated from a previous version.

Posted at 10:55 AM/ET, 07/16/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
A Euro-style cafe doubles the size of the neighborhood restaurant. By Anna Spiegel
Big Bear alum Lenora Yerkes is now pulling shots at Kafe Bohem. Photograph by Dakota Fine.

Good news for Shaw residents looking for a post-Labor Day caffeine boost: Monday marked the opening of Kafe Bohem (now apparently spelled with a K), a Viennese-style coffeehouse adjoining Jarek Mika’s Eastern European eatery, Bistro Bohem. While the latter is one of the few places in DC to chase chicken schnitzel with an absinthe cocktail, the new 40-seat cafe features European cafe specialties such as einspanner—black coffee topped with fresh whipped cream—and other sips from Vienna-based coffee producer Julius Meinl.

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Posted at 10:30 AM/ET, 09/04/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()
Head to Mr. Yogato for coffee and pastries in the pre-work hours. By Jessica Voelker
Vigilante pops up at Mr. Yogato today. Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

Local coffee roaster Vigilante—poured at places like Dangerously Delicious Pies, Smith Commons, Granville Moore's, and Boccato in Arlington—unveils a pop-up in Dupont Circle today.

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Posted at 08:50 AM/ET, 09/04/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()