Joel Finkelstein waited a long time to open the second location of popular Petworth coffee spot Qualia, but it wasn’t for lack of opportunity. He’s had dozens of realtors reach out to him, and even signed a few letters of intent over the years. But for the health policy reporter-turned-coffee-connoisseur, a quick expansion model was never part of the plan when he opened his small roastery eight years ago.
“You don’t get into this business for love of money, you get into it for love of coffee,” says Finkelstein. “I didn’t want to spend money on rent. I wanted to spend it on my staff and the quality of the product.”
Finkelstein had finally committed to a second shop when The Gale, a new apartment complex in Eckington, approached him with an offer. Immediately, he took to the neighborhood-y vibe, where he could count on residents to shop for beans, not just serve foot-traffic looking for a quick caffeine pick-me-up.
At just 1,200-square-feet, the new Qualia location is small like its predecessor, with an open layout and high ceilings. The central fixture of the space is an 18-foot bar, behind which servers will move freely with iPads. Many of the baristas will come over from the original location, and they’ll all be adept at every station. So the same person who takes your order can make you an espresso, a tea, or a drip coffee, and then cash you out.
The outpost doesn’t have its own roastery; Finkelstein will bring in beans from his Petworth location. He plans to offer 12 single-origin varieties on a rotating schedule, which means every six-weeks or so customers will have an entirely new selection. Coffee will be made using a Poursteady, an automated pourover system that enables baristas to make up to five cups of pourover at once and multitask while they’re brewing.
“Pourover, while theoretically more personalized and fresher, has a large room for barista error,” says Finkelstein, pointing out the importance of precision in water temperature and timing. “A brewed cup of coffee takes close to four minutes, so for someone to be doing everything they are supposed to be doing in a cafe environment, and focus on brewing a single cup of coffee for four minutes is difficult. It’s the worst type of multi-tasking.”
The new Qualia location will offer espresso drinks and teas, as well as a house brew that Finkelstein prepares in small batches to minimize the loss of aromatics and volatile compounds.
“Coffee is very dynamic, it changes a lot from when it’s harvested to when we get it to when it’s roasted to when it’s brewed,” he says. “When it’s brewed, it’s going through all these changes in the cup, and while you can do a really good job with a bulk brewer, you are only really getting half of the story.”
Also for sale will be local grab-and-go food offerings, including bagels from Poppy’s Stuffed Bagels and pastries from Paisley Fig at Room 11. But, like the former Qualia location, the coffee shop won’t be a hangout for freelancers or those looking for a second workspace. The shop doesn’t have a phone and won’t offer wi-fi—at any hour.
Qualia Coffee. 151 Q St., NE (at the corner of Eckington Pl., NE and Harry Thomas Way, NE). Open weekdays from 7 AM to 1 PM and weekends from 8 AM to 1 PM to start. Hours will eventually expand to weekdays from 7 AM to 7 PM and weekends from 8 AM to 6 PM.