Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Drinks | coffee shops in the District

One of my favorite things to do while traveling and exploring a new and unfamiliar city is to scope out its share of coffee shops, cafés, and bakeries. Marcus and I were fortunate enough to squeeze in three different spots during our long weekend trip to DC in late April.

Our first stop was to Peregine Espresso, which I had remembered reading about in Bon Appetit a few years back, where the magazine noted its offering of coffees is similar to microbrewed beer -- i.e., "several single-origin coffees" can be made to order. While I'm not a coffee aficionado or connoisseur (farrr from it!), I appreciate the art of it all -- definitely wanted to see it all in action!

{1} With three locations in DC, Peregrine Espresso first opened its doors in 2008 by Ryan and Jill Jensen. Ryan Jensen has over ten years of experience in the specialty coffee industry, where he began as a part-time barista during his university days in Montana. After moving to DC in early 2003, he worked as a barista through to general manager at Murkey Coffee, later leaving three years later to work as a customer relations representative in DC for Counter Culture Coffee, a wholesale coffee roaster based out of Durham, North Carolina. After winning the 2005 Southeast Regional Barista Competition, he has trained baristas at many of top cafés and restaurants throughout the Mid-Atlantic region as well as at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Additionally, Jill Jensen has worked at Common Grounds Coffee & Tea in Arlington, Virginia, as well as Big Bear Café in DC.

01 - Peregrine
{3} The interiors of Peregrine Espresso at the Mid City location has a great wall of exposed brick opposite the barista counter, which includes {5,8} a pourover station and {6,7} a legit espresso machine made by La Marzocco. Each morning, Peregrine offers "a smooth and balanced, single-origin, macro-brewed coffee" in addition to "a variety of single-origin coffees" available by-the-cup micro-brew. As the day progresses, only the micro-brewed coffees will be available in an effort to serve only the freshest coffee to its patrons. I love the coffee shop's name, as its meaning (i.e., "foreign, alien, roving, wandering, migratory") rooted in the Latin meaning for "wanderer/pilgrim/foreigner/being abroad" -- all appropriate for its specialty in micro-brews.

{4} In theory, I love mocha lattés, more so because I love dark chocolate, and it helps me enjoy coffee without too much bitter intensity. However, I find the problem with mochas at most coffee shops is two-fold. First is that the ratio between milk, espresso, and chocolate is imbalanced, resulting in something overly milky, too chocolatey, or extremely bittered with espresso. The other is that the quality of the chocolate sauce is lacking where it doesn't blend well with the milk and espresso. Plus, I don't usually drink coffee unless I'm in desperate need of caffeine (and tea won't be enough to get me through) or on a trip like this, boutique coffeeshop-hopping. Sometimes I am disappointed by inadequacy and reminded of how much I don't really enjoy espresso beverages (Starbucks is the epitome of this for me); other times, I am pleasantly surprised to the point where I can potentially resurrect my faith in a really good cup of joe (excuse me as I'm still feeling my way out of sugar-coated coffeeland). The latter doesn't happen often, but I had a moment of this while at Peregrine. I had a soy mocha, which not only had a pretty latté heart but tasted unbelievably perfect. It was so smooth, going down easy yet I could really appreciate the underlying macro-brew of coffee. The chocolate used was velvety rich and bittersweet, so it wasn't overwhelming in sweetness. If a cup of coffee could embody the word beautiful, this would be it. {2} Marcus had a plain ol' latté, which he found to be a little too intense and bitter for his liking. Our fault, though -- we definitely should've asked the baristas more about the other micro-brews so we could choose something more fitting. Next time!

Later that afternoon, we were getting post-lunch cravings for something a little sweet, so we made our way up to Adams Morgan, {1,8} to check out Tryst Coffeehouse Bar & Lounge, where its tagline is "No corporate coffee, no matching silverware." This coffeehouse stands in "stark contrast to the suburban culture and coffee chains that proliferate the country" as it has a single location, owned and operated by the same couple that started it back in 1998, where everything (both food and drink) is made to order.

02 - Tryst
{2,5Tryst is a charming little coffeehouse with an eclectic collection of furniture that reminds me of Central Perk, the fictional coffeehouse where the cast of Friends would always be hanging out throughout the series. The rich reds and woods from the walls and table/chairs gives a really warming and welcoming feeling upon sitting and sipping there. {3} Marcus had a frozen chai while I had {7} a regular chai latté. Both were great, as you can tell they were steeped using real chai tea leaves, not from a concentrate. As far as snacking goes, Marcus opted for {4} a chocolate croissant, while {6} I had an orange-pistachio biscotti. Really well-made pastries here! We spent a good amount of our afternoon chatting over our chai drinks and nibbles as the energy of this place was very positive and friendly. It's also worth noting that this place turns into a bar in the evening, with a dynamic offering of quality cocktails and a generous variety of craft beers.

On our last morning in DC, we made a stop into {1Chinatown Coffee Co. for some caffeine and a quick bite to hold us over until our brunch reservations later that afternoon. Chinatown Coffee considers itself a part of the Third Wave Coffee movement, where the focuses are to produce high-quality coffee and  to consider coffee as an artisanal foodstuff, like wine, rather than a commodity.

03 - Chinatown Coffee
{5-7}The interior design of Chinatown Coffee Co. was created by award-winning architect, Robert Gurney -- the light fixtures were certainly my favorite part of the space, which were industrial yet inviting. {3}It's so nice that they offer "Black Card Specials" during the week!

{2} Marcus enjoyed my mocha quite a bit from Peregrine Espresso that he ordered one for himself at Chinatown Coffee, along with a miniature croissant that the shop had delivered from Hawthorne Breakfast Pastry. His verdict was that he preferred the one at Chinatown Coffee, which really just came down to his preference for the variety of coffee used here. Croissant was good, too. {4} Though there was a "Black Card Special" for an iced chai, I opted for a hot soy chai latté because of the chilly weather that morning, along with a sticky bun. Decent chai here -- again, being steeped from loose tea leaves (from The Chai Co., to be exact) makes a chai that much more enjoyable -- and the sticky bun really hit the spot.

Findings: Where there are coffee enthusiasts, there will be places to find a legit cup of brew. This is no exception in DC, where the three spots we visited really embraced the Third Wave Coffee movement (officially or unofficially). The baristas really know their stuff, and the varieties offered are unique and made-to-order. There wasn't one café that I preferred over the other -- I liked them each in their own ways. Peregrine Espresso was most refined and laboratory-like; Tryst Coffeehouse Bar & Lounge was more warm, homey, and comforting; and Chinatown Coffee Co. would be the spot that I could see myself going to daily if I lived in DC (a blending of the first two).

I still don't know much about the world of roasts and pour-overs, but I'm slowly catching up! Hopefully paying pilgrimage to the hardcore coffee spots during my travels will help me get there. So if you're in DC, I highly recommend any and all of these spots -- you'll be paying a pretty penny for the special brews there, but it'll be worth the splurge!

Price point: $3.50-4 for each beverage at Peregrine Espresso; $4-4.50 for each beverage at Tryst Coffeehouse Bar & Lounge, $1.99-2.70 for each pastry; $4.25 for each beverage at Chinatown Coffee Co., ~$2.50 for each pastry.

--April 20-21, 2013

Peregrine Espresso
1718 14th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20009

Tryst Coffee House Bar & Lounge
2459 18th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20009

Chinatown Coffee Co.
475 H Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20001

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