Nota Bene has moved!

Check out our new site:

My Other Mistress Has a Nice Mug, Too

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

There are two great loves in my life.  The first is wine, which wears many different dresses in many different shades, whose beauty often leaves me intoxicated.  The second is wine's distantly-related, more robust cousin: coffee.  Whereas an evening with wine will usually end with my rolling over and falling asleep, coffee picks up my spirits and puts the spring back in my step.  Very different mistresses, indeed.

I know it's a bit early in the year to be deviating from what I'm paid to write about, but I've received many questions over these past two weeks about where to get a decent cup of joe in this city.  This can seem like a daunting task-after all, this ain't Berkeley (or Portland or Seattle or New York or even Los Angeles).  Most of the suits seem to enjoy their burnt Starbucks; most of the tights-wearing undergrads seem to fancy the venti non-fat sugar-free frappuccino concoctions that are, by the way, so 2001.

But where should the serious coffee connoisseur go for his or her caffeine fix?  Where can you enjoy the art of coffee as embodied not only by a fine cup but an exquisite piece of latte art?  I suppose it depends on what you are looking for in a coffee shop.  Fortunately, DC does have a number of options.

If your primary concern is getting caffeinated conveniently, look no further than Bourbon Coffee (2101 L Street NW).  This is a very new establishment, having opened its doors in July.  It specializes in Rwandan coffees and allows you the option to get a quick pre-brewed cup or a single-brew pour-over.  They have iced coffee sangria, which is iced coffee in which sliced oranges have been soaked, as well as regular iced coffee (which, despite not being cold-brewed is still better than S-Bucks). You also can't go wrong with free Wi-Fi.

Another convenient location is Illy Café (1143 New Hampshire Avenue NW), which is in the Renaissance Hotel and by the Aston.  It is staffed by sassy European types in sassy black berets, but they make a mean cappuccino.

Further from campus, you should check out Georgetown's Leopold's Kafe (3318 M Street NW).  This is an Austrian café/restaurant which serves food such as excellent steak frites and Kaiserschmarrn, decadent Viennese desserts, wine, German beer, and delightful coffee.  Try the kleiner Brauner (basically a macchiato) which seems the essence of espresso. It's a wonderful place for a Saturday lunch or for a late-night date.  Be prepared, however, for the brutally-efficient service which turns off some people but is a plus in my book.

Those of you in Adams Morgan should check out Tryst Coffeehouse, Bar & Lounge (2459 18th Street NW) if you haven't already.  It's not really the type of place where you could go and study.  Rather, it's a place to chat (loudly) with friends over French presses of coffee or flights of Scotch.  Just a warning, though: it gets very loud and very crowded in the evenings.

Now.  Let's escape our normal GW haunts and really explore the coffee landscape.  If you are willing to take a few Metros to and walk through a few blocks of the Bloomingdale neighborhood you will come across a little gem: Big Bear Café (1700 1st Street NW).  The surrounding neighborhood may not be, um, very tony, but inside the Bear's welcoming arms you will find a collection of hipsters that would make Silver Lake, California proud.  Get one of their delicious expensive sandwich platters and wash it down with a cup or two of single-origin coffee, which you can choose to have brewed in an artsy Chemex filter.

Finally-my favorite café in DC.  It's not even in Northwest, but Peregrine Espresso (660 Pennsylvania Avenue SE) is worth the trip.  Hop on the blue or orange line and go east to the Eastern Market station.  I love coming here in the late morning, grabbing a croissant or baguette with butter and a pour-over single-brewed cup of coffee, then heading over for some shopping at the Eastern Market Farmers Market.  Peregrine uses beans from Durham, North Carolina's Counter Culture Coffee, one of the most reputable roasters on the East Coast. While at Peregrine, be sure to try any of the offerings from Ethiopia-depending on the specific region, these have unmistakable aromas of blueberry or citrus.

As a closing note, you will be able to get whole or ground beans at Bourbon, Illy, Big Bear, and Peregrine, just in case you need to feed your addiction in the privacy of your own home.  If, like me, you decide to brew some coffee in a French press for your friends in the hard lounge, save me a cup and I promise to do the same for you!