A Women-Owned Coffee Shop and Natural Wine/Cocktail Bar Is Opening in Clarendon

Rako Coffee Roasters debuts its first all-day cafe with baklava lattes and espresso martinis.

Rako's "Coco Spritz" with sparkling water and coffee. Photograph by Drago Tomianovic

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Sisters Lisa and Melissa Gerben launched Rako Coffee Roasters nearly two years ago, roasting sustainably sourced, single-origin coffees at a green production facility in Lorton, Virginia. Since then, the specialty coffees have made their way into local grocery stores and trendy restaurants such as Maketto and Oyster Oyster. Now, the duo are ready to grow Rako one step further with an all-day cafe in Clarendon, which will serve an array of coffee drinks as well natural wines, caffeine-infused cocktails, and seasonal plates. The cafe is slated to open at 2016 Wilson Boulevard by late summer.

Melissa, a certified specialty coffee roaster, says the seeds for Rako were planted when she and Lisa visited Guatemalan coffee farms as teenagers. The two have since traveled to Ethiopia, Burundi, and beyond, creating relationships with coffee farmers, many of whom they directly import from. Even in the pandemic, the Gerbens traveled to Guatemala to directly source a new line of coffees, which will launch with the shop along with three new certified-organic Rako coffees.

Rako Coffee
Rako will offer an array of specialty coffee drinks. Photograph by Drago Tomianovic.

The 65-seat, indoor/outdoor spot is designed to serve patrons morning through night. Early risers can pick from specialty espresso drinks, pour-over coffee, drip varieties, iced coffees, and nitro cold brews. Fun creations include a baklava latte made with cinnamon, cardamom, and clove-infused honey syrup. For coffee nerds looking to splurge, the pour-over bar can produce cups of luxe geisha coffee—a variety known as the most expensive in the world.

For something a little stronger, the sisters teamed up with somm Woong Chang of 6ft Wine Club to curate a list of natural wines, whose themes will change seasonally. First up: “Summer Crush,” a lineup of crushable wines from women growers and winemakers. Glasses and bottles can be paired with plates from All-Purpose alum Marc Jaster. Dishes include cucumber gazpacho, lemon zest-pea-goat cheese crostini, a French lentil sandwich, and mezze and cheese boards.

An espresso martini highlights local ingredients at Rako Coffee. Photograph by Drago Tomianovic.

La Jambe’s Stephanie Dissette helped create the cocktails—and yes, there’s an espresso martini in the mix. Lisa describes their riff on the uber-trendy cocktail as a “love letter to DC” mixed with locally made Civic Vodka, Rako’s Sidamo Ethiopian coffee, and Cotton and Reed allspice dram. Coffee also makes its way into a negroni where Campari is infused with Guatamalan Txol Witz coffee for 30 hours before getting mixed with gin.

The Arlington shop is the first, but it won’t be the last. A second cafe will open in partnership with Studio Theater this winter, and the Gerbens say they’re scouting more locations around DC.

Rako Coffee
A negroni made with Campari infused with Guatamalan Txol Witz coffee for 30 hours. Photograph by Drago Tomianovic.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.