David Gwathmey points with pride to the pine floors and original beams of his Alexandria coffee shop—the building dates from the 1800s. They were freed from layers of linoleum and wallpaper when he and his wife, Sheera Rosenfeld, opened Grape + Bean (118 S. Royal St.; 703-664-0214) in February.
The Old World atmosphere is balanced by Gwathmey’s other source of pride: a high-tech brewer called the Clover. The one-cup gizmo, which cost $11,000, is programmed according to cup size, brew time, and water temperature to maximize the flavor and clarity of every bean or blend.
“As with chocolate, breads, and other specialty products, people will pay a premium for more flavor,” says Gwathmey, who charges up to $3.75 for a Clover-brewed cup.
Gwathmey’s shop is creating a buzz among connoisseurs who can taste the difference between an herbal Ethiopian bean and a citrusy South American blend. But Gwathmey isn’t alone. In fact, two of the best sources for high-quality beans in the area are Alexandria neighbors of his:
Old Town Coffee Tea & Spice (215 S. Union St.; 703-683-0856), near the river, has been around almost 30 years. Teapots, cozies, French presses, and coffee paraphernalia pack shelves. Bean fiends gravitate to owner Frank Poland’s 20 or so varieties of coffee—plus more than 200 loose-leaf teas. Beans from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, with the unusual flavor profiles of prized single-origin beans, are the pick of serious home brewers.
Far from the boutiques of Old Town is the roasting facility for the M.E. Swing Co. (612-D S. Pickett St.; 703-370-5050), which traces its origins to 1916. More than 20 single-origin roasts are offered, including its best-selling blend, Mesco. The blend is also available at Rodman’s, Whole Foods, and M.E. Swing’s store in downtown DC (1702 G St., NW; 202-628-7601), where, in addition to the aroma of freshly roasted beans, customers find vintage counter stools and wooden coffee bins.
This article appeared in the May, 2008 issue of The Washingtonian.