If you live and work in DC, it's likely you spend a lot time in the Capitol complex. During the work day, whether your busy working for a member or making a quick trip to the Hill, it's hard to find time to walk the half mile to Ebenezers or down Penn to Pound. And with so many options inside the building itself, why bother?
If you work on the Hill in one fashion or another, you have probably heard rumors that the best place to grab a cup of coffee is Cups & Co. in Russel Senate Office Building. It's so renowned that when I asked my buddy who works on the House side to grab coffee, he said, Yes! Let's head to Cups!
Not only agreeing, but suggesting making the trek from Rayburn to Russell just to grab a cup of coffee speaks to how loved this little cafe is. In fact, on Secretary John Kerry's last day in the Senate, he turned down the member's dining room for a trip to Cups.
Roll Call, The New York Times, and The Hill have all published articles on the little joint. The Times wrote, "There are two crown jewels in the Capitol culinary complex. One is Cups & Company, a New York Korean-deli-style joint in the Russell Senate Office Building, which has been operated by Charles and Kathy Chung for more than a dozen years. Their excellent coffee (a rare commodity here) and demonlike efficiency with their hot sandwiches are Washington’s most convincing arguments for private enterprise on government property. Secretary of State John Kerry, on his last day as a senator, stopped at Cups for lunch."
The best way to get to Cups if you're coming from the outside world and not from deep within the endless tunnels of brick and concrete, you'll want to go to the Delaware Ave and C Street entrance, it looks like this:
Once you make it through security, walk straight down the brick hall and it's the first entrance on the left.
You'll quickly see that it's like any normal, crappy cafe. It's certainly not posh, but it's all we got, and it's what we like.
Everyone always says how cheap Cups is compared to Starbucks and other coffee shops, but I think they just say that to make themselves feel better about buying eight cups of coffee a day. Prices are the same as anywhere else.
I ordered 16 oz (smallest size they offer for cold beverages) iced latte with 2% milk and my friend got a small skim latte with two shots of espresso and two packets of Splenda.
We sat down at a nearby table and before talking politics, policy, and catching up, we discussed more important issues: the taste of the coffee. I tried a sip of his, and while I never-ever put sugar in my coffee unless its a mocha latte, I must say it tasted pretty yummy. And for Hill staffers, the extra sugar packet paired with the caffeine is necessary for making it through the work day... which often lasts until 9:00 PM.
My latte was very, very milky. I loved it, but that's because I love milk. It tasted more like cold milk with a hint of coffee than a strong and potent iced latte. If you want a jolt or something distinctly coffee flavored, I would not recommend the iced latte. However, if you're looking for a treat and don't want to go full out for a milkshake, the iced latte is the way to go. It would have been the perfect compliment for a warm, gigantic chocolate-chip cookie.
We had to run before I had the chance to finish even half my drink. I tossed the rest of it out on my way to the Capitol Subway, which might have been a good thing since it was so heavy and had started to make my stomach ache.
Making my way over to the Capitol itself, I was left pondering why everyone on the Hill, myself included, thinks Cups & Co. is the best coffee. It's good, don't get me wrong, but I'm not sure I would make the trip from the House side to the Senate just for a cup.
I think that when staffers say that Cups is the best, they mean Cups is the best... option we have. It is certainly better than the coffee offered at the small joint in Cannon tucked away near the tunnel to Longworth, (though the Cannon cupcakes are pretty phenomenal.) Cups is also cherished because Hill folks love tradition. This little cafe has been a staple for so long that it's become part of what it is to work in the Senate. In a building where people are always dressed to the nines and the floors are always shined and pristine, this little, crappy cafe that serves drinkable coffee is exactly what members and staffers are looking for.