In an interview by District Style, I was asked, "What have been some of your favorite new coffee discoveries in DC over the past year?" Here's my answer:
I rediscover M. E. Swing’s every time I’m there. It is the most authentic thing this city has to offer. Smack-dab across the street from the Executive Office Building (EOB) and White House, a passerby wouldn’t think twice about making a pit stop, nor would they know that it houses the District’s finest coffee. This place is real. It’s buzzing with government workers in the morning and, once noon rolls around, the line is out the door…I don’t know what it is about the place – maybe the old-world charm and the fantastic staff – but being in M. E. Swing’s takes you back to a simpler America. It’s how I picture the 1950s. Everyone is friendly. Everyone knows everyone. Everyone stops in for a cup of coffee. What I also love about this place is that many people stay and drink their coffee there. The bar is always packed. It feels like Europe where to-go cups are not a thing. I love it and truly think that, to fully experience DC, you need to get a cappuccino at this shop and sit there while eating a donut.
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La Colombe Coffee Roasters is a name well known in the coffee community. After opening shop in Philadelphia in 1994, La Colombe's reputation for ethics, goodwill, and good coffee has spread world-wide with shops in Philly, NYC, Chicago, Seoul, and now finally DC. The shop opened its doors in DC about two weeks ago and while Washingtonians buzzed with anticipation, it was entirely worth the wait.
The first thing you have to know if visiting La Colombe DC is that it's not on any main drag of the city; it's in an alley. Blagden Alley, just a few blocks west of the convention center. If you didn't know this ahead of time, you may easily miss the unmarked street and wind up coffee-less and confused. Luckily, I'm here to keep your coffee compass in working order and below I've included a photo of Blagden Alley's south entrance so you'll know what to look for.
I visited La Colombe the day after its big opening and the place was packed. While space was limited during the major rush, I was pleasantly surprised with how neighborly and welcoming the staff was as dozens of customers flocked in. They chatted with each and every person, making it feel as if this coffee shop had been in the neighborhood for years and I had visited every day. It is exactly how a coffee shop should be and it made me smile ear-to-ear.
I started with a cappuccino, and I'm glad I did because it was the best looking cappuccino I've ever seen. Usually, foam is made to look like a leaf or some sort of heart, and I've never been a fan of the dainty and symmetrical. Too frilly. It's something that may have never even crossed your mind when drinking a cup of coffee, but I am a firm believer that aesthetics can overpower any situation, subliminally or not, and they make up half of whatever it may be you're experiencing. For me, aesthetics are huge, and La Colombe contrived a perfect flow from the unknown alley, to the red brick facade and painted signage, to the industrial inside contrasted against the detailed hand-painted coffee cups, and ending only with the presentation of the coffee. From the time I turned down the alley until I sat down to take a seat with my cappuccino, it was like a perfectly executed performance, but retold for every customer entering in her own time. It's not something most people even consider when drinking a cup, but for a girl who lives for visual stimulation, La Colombe is a dream come true.
The taste of the cappuccino foam weighed in just as nicely as its presentation. Foam is a major component of any cappuccino, so I often dedicate space to it. Usually you'll hear me rave about the espresso-filled foam, while I barely ever touch on the white milked portion. That's about to change because this was the best tasting white foam I've ever had and I would order a cup of foam for desert if I could. If that wasn't weird.
After I finished my cappuccino, I noticed the baristas using a machine that had either been a prop in Mars Attacks or was transported back from the future by Dr. Emmett Brown. It had two large siphons pulling boiling water up clear vats until it was dyed brown and ejected into the pretty little coffee cup. I began chatting with the baristas and was told the machine is called a steampunk. We laughed at the name and then he explained how it brews coffee in a fashion similar to a French press, but unlike a French press, it allows the process to be repeated almost exactly with every cup.
The great guys at La Colombe soon had a cup of steampunk-brewed Ethiopian coffee for me to taste. When I say I have never had a cup off coffee like this, I mean that I have never had a cup of coffee come even remotely close to tasting this fresh, fragrant, bright, and overall amazing. I could actually taste berries and smell a bouquet of fruit with every sip I took.
I've always made it clear in this blog that I write more for my experiences than for the critiquing of the subtle flavors and brewing methods of a cup of coffee. While I've tried them all, I rarely taste a difference in flavor as much as I detected in this cup. It was phenomenal and for coffee snobs and casual drinkers alike, it is a cup of coffee worth your time and taste buds.