Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chinatown Coffee Co.

Rise and shine, it’s cappuccino time. Located just a few blocks away from the Chinatown Metro, Chinatown Coffee Co. (CCC) is an undiscovered sensation in the heart of Washington, D.C. I stumbled upon it one day when I was very thirsty and looking for a drink of water. I happened to be walking down H street and ran across CCC when I went in and asked for a cup of H20. Since then, I have stored the shop in the back of my mind but, I had forgotten about it until recently when starting this scrum-diddly-umptious coffee blog brought it back to my attention.

I work very close to Chinatown, so this morning I decided to wake up a bit earlier than normal and stop by for a cup o’ jo. I walked in at quarter past eight and there were a few folks sitting in the shop discussing whatever the morning air blew their way. I walked straight up to the counter without having to wait in a line – unlike the Starbucks a block down whose line is practically wrapping around the White House by this time of day. Standing at the counter, I decided that I was in the mood for a cappuccino, which brings me to my first point: 

1. A friendly face
The strapping young lad taking my order had to be one of the nicest workers I have ever encountered at a coffee shop; friendly, charming, and personable, all before eight thirty in the morning. People say that when you go out to eat the type of service you receive either makes or breaks the meal – the same goes for coffee. There is nothing worse than starting the day with a sourpuss for a barista, it just sets a negative tone for the whole day. Furthermore, attitude at a coffee shop is indicative of the coffee it serves. This was not a corporate cafe, it was personal, and the type of place that would have your order waiting if you become a frequent visitor, which is very important in choosing your go-to coffee shop. 

2. The Price is Right
It just so happens that the very day I decided to get me morning cappuccino at CCC cappuccinos were on special. I had ordered my drink and then I noticed a chalk board behind the counter that said cappuccinos were on special for $2 for black-card holders, so of course I inquired. I was told if you are a frequent visitor to CCC you can sign up for a black-card and get these deals; I immediately registered.

3. Presentation is Everything
After ordering, I sat down at one of the small, unobtrusive tables and started reading the paper while waiting for my cappuccino. I say I was reading the paper, but in this day-and-age I was actually reading POLITICO on my iPhone... #wonk. I soon saw my order on the bar and brought it back to my table and boy-oh-boy did it look dandy. Out of all the espresso drinks that can be made, a cappuccino gives a barista the most room for using his artistic license. CCC is known for serving hand-crafted cappuccinos elegantly prepared from rich, specially chosen espresso beans. It looked so pretty that I barely wanted to take a sip…

4. …but I did.
A cappuccino is prepared by adding freshly brewed espresso to steamed, frothed milk. This produces a decadent foam which sits atop the hot liquid beneath. As a result, the first taste you encounter with a cappuccino is of the foam. Since the milk is frothed first, (in my case, whole milk) and the espresso is added second, some of the white froth becomes stained with the richly colored brown espresso. Some coffee shops try not to stain the foam with the espresso, leaving a pure white layer to lessen the bite of the bitter drink beneath. However, shops skilled in the art of espresso prefer to soak at least a portion of the froth with leaving a silky, strong layer of pure perfection. Now, this isn’t to say white foamed cappuccinos are bad. If made correctly, the white froth can be so smooth and untainted, filling the mouth and then turning to cream as it slides down the throat.

As I sat reading the “paper” I casually sipped my cappuccino enjoying the glory of the morning. The minutes ticked away and I drained my cup, ready to face the day, having begun it, “well and serenely, with too high a spirit to be cumbered with [any] old nonsense. This new day is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste [one] moment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Overall rating:

Impeccable. Served as a cappuccino should be served. The customer is visually able to see the time and care put into every drink through the hand-crafted detail of the foam. Next to the simple black and white mug is a small glass of sparkling water, allowing you to cleanse your palate between sips and taste the full on flavor of the espresso with each tip of the cup.

Soft. Smooth. Slightly sweet. I hate the taste of sparkling water; however, here it brought out the sweet underlying flavors of the espresso.

Subtle. So subtle that I can’t really remember…

Regularly $3.09, but with the black card special take a dollar off!

Rugged-urban. A hole-in-the wall joint making the most of the prefabricated architectural details: the long hall, the exposed brick wall, and the beautiful bay window in front where you can sit and watch the passersby. Very clean.

Like a quick chat with an old friend. A simple exchange of words giving life a greater meaning.

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