Monday, December 12, 2011

Big Bear Cafe: First & R, NW


(The big bear.)

I was told about this small joint on the corner of First and R, NW a while ago but it took me a little kick in the butt to get myself down there. I thought it was going to be tucked away and hard to find in the ghetto section of DC, but I was wrong. It is in a very nice neighborhood up by Capitol Hill and I only have good things to say about this place.

I was told a few weeks ago that in my blog posts I tend to criticize more coffee shops than I praise. I'd say that is pretty accurate, mostly because when writing a blog and making comparisons I don't want to write, "It was so good and tasted just like coffee!" because what help is that to anybody? I try to critique, but I also make sure that my critiques are taken with a grain of salt (or sugar!), because everyone has a different palate and although I may not like one drink, some out there may think it is the best ever, which is why I try to offer a little insight and not just a thumbs up or down.

When people find out that I write a coffee blog, the first thing they ask is which shop is your favorite. Since I began this blog back in May 2011, there is one that always stood out from the others: M.E. Swing. It was almost sad in a way, because no matter how many places I have visited since, I have not found another that even comes close, until now.

The coffee speaks for itself (see photo below).

The drink pictured above is called a cortado. I saw it written in chalk on the black-board menu hanging on the exposed brick wall (sighh...) and asked the wicked nice lady at the register what's a cortado? Now I have heard of them before, and have even had one before. But I forgot and needed some explaining. Holding a tiny glass. she said it comes in this cup, has two shots of espresso, and is topped with warm milk, slightly more than a macchiato but less than a cappuccino. I said YES PLEASE!

I took it to a nearby table and sat down and began sipping away. It was unbelievable. The coffee was very rich with caramel undertones (I DO NOT mean caramel flavor. I use "caramel" to describe the charicteristics of the coffee: smooth and has little bitter qualities, both suggestive of toffee and caramel.) It is made with warm milk, not hot milk, so you can really taste the espresso and the quality of the bean. I am absolutely obsessed with this drink. Everyone, go go go go! I will go with you.

Even though it was a small drink, it lasted a while and each sip was as good as the first. Almost as good as the first I should say. As you know by now, I love good foam. Mainly on cappuccinos, but even on espressos because when made well, espressos have a tiny paper thin layer of foam on the top that is so rich and decadent that you want to savor it forever. This cortado had just the right amount of foam.

Besides the coffee, the shop itself was perfect too. Different from M.E. Swing, which is your grab-a-cup-of-joe-on-your-way-to-work type of place, this one was a little more or a social cafe style where-I-go-when-I-want-to-write-a-paper-or-feel-inspired type of place. One neat detail about the decor were the paint-splattered wine glasses hanging above the windows. I think my one complaint about Big Bear Cafe would be that I wish they used clear coffee mugs instead of wine glasses (though the shop does sell wine too).

I also loved all the different coffee cups I saw everywhere! Like wine, the flavor of coffee is effect by the container. Or at the very least, it feels that way.

You could even order your very own french press!! (Pictured above.)

The cafe attracted the "artsy" type I would say.

There were video photographers...


And sitting outside reading a novel.

And to top it all off, newspapers for the taking. But what truly made the experience (next to the perfectly brewed cortado) were the people. The customers and the servers were all just so nice. Sometimes, when you travel into one of these chic bohemian places the "locals" or the "usuals" as they like to think of themselves loveeee to judge every new body walking through the door (cough, Baked&Wired, cough). But here, even with my camera snapping photos all around, nobody gave me bad looks. Quite the opposite, one guy tried to help me with my camera, one lady was very interested in my blog once I told her why I was snapping photos, and the employees where the cheeriest I have ever met. I was very impressed, and I am not easy to please.


  1. As a BB enthusiast, I must say this was a delightful read. Mostly because your post was about how awesome it is, but even more so for all of the nuances you observed (and keenly articulated) that many of us in the neighborhood have come to love. Please come back anytime. And if you care for a partner in cafe exploration, well you found me on Twitter.

  2. Big Bear is my go to shop... It helps that it's only 3 blocks from my house. I really need to branch out more. But it's just SO good! If you ever want to come with me love, just let me know! I'm there far too often!

  3. In one of your previous posts you said that you've got to pick your drink based on context. For example, at a artsy espresso place, you go with a latte, at a simple coffee shop, stick with simple coffee. I think that makes it impossible to answer the question "which is best" or rather, it just begs another question "best for what?".

    I'm generally not a big fan of Counter Culture coffee, but find that the places that serve it do tend to not have identical tasting drinks. Big Bear is one of the better Counter Culture joints.


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